brucine (broo'-seen), 1) n. Pharm., Chem. a bitter, poisonous alkaloid, C23H26N2O4, obtained from the nux vomica tree; 2) n. Bruce Bortin's 'low-impact' weblog

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Draft Dodger

Draft Dodger, originally uploaded by dumbeast.

ca. 1971

My sister asked me to set down the story of my experience with the draft during the late 60's & early 70's...

Vietnam: I started looking into conscientious objector status probably around my freshman year in HHS (67-68). It seemed simple enough. Just convince the local draft board (Port Washington in this case) that you're opposed to war & killing in any form, and that it's a deeply held (not necessarily religious, but if you were a Quaker, it wouldn't hurt) conviction that's non-circumstantial.
"But suppose that there's a Vietcong and he's about to kill your mother! You'd kill him, right?"
"What about a Jap, then?"
"Still nope"
"Useless hippie scum. Okay, you're I-O."
I-O was the Selective Service System's classification for conscientious objectors:
"Conscientious objector to all military service. A registrant must establish to the satisfaction of the board that his request for exemption from combatant and noncombatant military training and service in the Armed Forces is based upon moral, ethical or religious beliefs which play a significant role in his life and that his objection to participation in war is not confined to a particular war."
It corresponds to I-A for the kids who had to go, IV-F for medical deferments, or II-S, the deferment for students which was getting discontinued right around my 18th birthday.

The application process involved turning in a form, and then an essay. I quoted Thoreau, Martin Luther King & Ghandi as influences. There were also letters of support from civic leaders. Mr Scott from Homestead wouldn't write me one. I think Mr Randall & Mr Chesney did.

Rabbi Brickman wrote me a nice one, but in talking to him about the Six Day War, I did my final break with Judaism.

What about that thou shalt not kill business, huh, Rabbi?

Well, if you understood Hebrew, Bruce, you'd realize that what the Lord told Moses wasn't "Thou shalt not kill", it was more like "thou shalt not kill unnecessarily." What would you do if an Arab was about to kill your mother?

Then you have to appear before the Local Board. I think I remember driving up to PW and letting the geezers on the board look me over. I had to re-iterate what I'd written down for them, and then pass their fiendishly clever word-games. They approved me, I got a bottle of Ripple wine from somewhere, went down to the beach at Virmond Park and celebrated.

On the home front, there had been a few problems. This was hard on Mom & Dad--when I first brought it up, they really felt that it was wrong. If some guys had to go, then everybody should have to go. Mort wondered what it would do to his standing in the community. Eventually, I was able to win them over to my side, and get their support. At a certain point in the process, though, I decided that I'd had it with trying to justify myself to the Armed Services, and maybe I should head to Canada or something. This didn't go over well. One night, Mort burst into my room.

You'd better decide what you're going to do about this, Bruce. Suddenly! All this indecision is killing your mother!
Hard times for mothers.

My draft physical took place my first year at Madison. I took the Badger Bus into Milwaukee, because that's where I was registered. Big building downtown. A cohort of maybe 70 guys being processed that day, standing around in our jockey shorts, except for one black guy who didn't have any underwear and had to hold his hands over his crotch. The draft physical brought some things home to me. I knew I was safe, as I already had the I-O in my pocket. But looking around, I realized that the war was about to get extremely real for the rest of those guys real soon. This was one of my first inklings of the enormous privilege I'd grown up with.

Didn't keep me from acting like an asshole, though. Making jokes about the soldiers running the physical, questioning authority. There was a written exam, asking about drug allergies, childhood diseases, medications, that sort of thing. For medications, I wrote that I occasionally took marijuana & LSD, but only for medicinal purposes, ha ha.

After the hearing test, a soldier took me aside and told me that the Lieutenant would like to have a word with me. I met with him in a small fluorescent office. He had my file. Explained to me that even though this was kind of a lark for me, he'd appreciate it if I kept my mirth a little better contained, as it was kind of serious for everybody else there.

When an army doctor with a stethoscope came down the line listening to everybody's heart & lungs, I told him about my heart murmur. He made a notation, and sent me to a specialist's office for further testing. So I got to walk over to the Wells Building, and meet the cardiologist who the SSS had contracted with. Mischa Lustock. He's looking over my EEG, turns to me, sez, "You're Mort's son, right?" I walked out of his office with a IV-F medical deferment, on top of my I-O conscientious objector status. This meant that I wouldn't have to spend the next 2 years doing community service, i.e. helping the homeless or working in a hospital.


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