I understood the war to be an atrocity visited upon the people of a small country defending itself against foreign invasion by colonialist powers, first the French and then by the most powerful nation on earth, my own beloved U.S.A., causing untold suffering also to our own people who had to risk life and limb fighting it. There was no way I would participate. When my student deferment expired I knew I would have to deal with it one way or another. I was resistant to the idea that I would need to subvert my own life plans by cooperating with this corrupt system such as by heroically going to prison or becoming an expatriate. Or, perhaps I lacked sufficient courage and virtue for the pursuit of these options. Anyway, I had no plan yet as I entered my senior year for dealing with the looming challenge of avoiding this abomination.
So, on lottery night, gathered around the crummy TV at our Brearly Street house with friends of varying political stripes and harboring diverse attitudes towards the war but sharing a determination to avoid the draft, we received the intimations of our fate. Although bloody serious, it was somehow surreal at the same time, as was so much of life in that late 60’s zeitgeist.
I was among those whom Fortune smiled upon that evening. Being assigned number 303, and knowing they would never draft that high the next year, I voluntarily relinquished my 2-S, rendering myself eligible for the draft in theory, but safe from being called according to reliable projections. Just like that, the dark maw that had gaped before me for so long, ominously obstructing my future, disappeared. The war, however, did not, continuing to waste the life and limb of so many fine young American men and women, and among the Vietnamese, even children, too.
The tragedy persists as our society has yet to confront and acknowledge the aggression we perpetuated upon people who were absolutely no threat to us, and how we brutalized the unwilling conscripts we forced to kill and die for it. Denial and avoidance of clear-eyed assessment of the war are with us to this day. I hope this project will stimulate some personal and collective reflection and help in some little way with this reckoning.