I remember being none-too-pleased with the number I received in that first lottery. Fortunately I was a fairly methodical person even at that age and reacted by figuring I’d have to come up with a systematic way to approach the matter. I was a junior at UCLA, so I had more than a year to think about it.
I wasn’t an anti-war activist, but I didn’t support that particular war and couldn’t envision myself participating. Neither could I envision myself trying to "buy my way out" of the draft. I didn’t feel that was fair to the economically disadvantaged young men who had no hope of doing that. I eventually determined that a strategy of using all available administrative remedies within my own means was the way to go.
I did consult once with an attorney and visit once with a physician who tested me for allergies and other conditions. After being reclassified to I-A upon my 1970 graduation, I appealed even though I knew I didn’t really have much grounds (unmarried, no children, no grad school).
When that failed, I was called for a physical in Oakland (I was registered in the Bay Area). I managed to get that transferred to Portland, OR (which delayed it several months). That turned out to be an otherwise unhelpful maneuver, since Portland’s induction center was run by a hardliner who didn’t brook minor excuses. My little collection of allergies and maladies were just that in Portland.
So I appealed the results of the physical and transferred the appeal physical back to Oakland, figuring it would be logistically more convenient for someone based in Venice (LA). In the meantime, with the clock ticking, the next – and last – non-medical step available was a Conscientious Objector appeal. Again, I knew that without a formal religious grounding in a religion such as Quaker, it was unlikely to be successful, but I filed it anyway.
I took the appeal physical in Oakland and remember not feeling like it was going to deliver different results than Portland did. But a couple months later my mother called me one weekday evening to tell me the results had arrived in her mailbox and did I want to hear about them. She then told me I’d been reclassified 4F!
Since I thought the appeal physical had been inconclusive, I concluded that perhaps my draft board had decided I was bureaucratically just more trouble than I was worth, since I’d already strung the process out over 18 months. It was one of those questions I ultimately did not need to know the answer to, given that I was sanguine with the outcome.
Several years later I disposed of my draft card, though the SSS hadn’t yet been shut down. That was as close to an act of protest as I ever got.
By the time the process had ended, I’d obviously been confronted with having to think about what I would have done if I’d been drafted. My inclination was to tell myself I would not leave the country (Canada seemed to be the destination of choice in that era), but neither would I "step forward" to be inducted, thus risking prosecution. I’ll never know if I had the guts to actually do that.
Nowadays, as a public sector employee who respects the workings of government (while retaining a healthy skepticism about many aspects of it), I look at the encounter with the SSS as an example of successfully using the authorized procedures to optimize my end result based on my preferences at the time. (I guess you’d call it "working the system.") But I’ve come to know and respect people in my age group who, for whatever reasons, either volunteered or were drafted during that era and went through experiences that I can only imagine in very unpleasant daydreams and, if they were very fortunate, still returned more or less in decent shape. Then there were those who weren’t, and in some cases still aren’t, in decent shape. And then there are those who died.
I just saw the film "Frost/Nixon," whose climactic confrontation with Nixon included Frost’s concise summary of the havoc Nixon’s decisions wreaked. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the personal price so many Americans – and so many more Vietnamese – paid for those decisions. And in some ways our whole country still pays a psychic price for that era in the way we conduct our politics and view ourselves. Perhaps that’s what motivated me to finally write something for this project. I don’t feel guilty, but I’m glad the whole experience is something I don’t, and don’t have to, think about very often, or perhaps I would.