Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Confession

I am a reformed/repentant pacifist. During the Viet-Nam war I was a passionate and proud follower of Gandhian pacifism. I not only dodged the draft, but made a personal cause-celeb of fighting the draft in a dramatic and public fashion. My hometown (Riverside) paper featured an article about my plans to refuse induction into the armed services. A Los Angeles based draft attorney and I had dreams of taking an appeal of my case as far up the judicial chain as possible, perhaps to the supreme court. He was a real ACLU-style attorney, motivated more by ideology than money (For his services I payed him one Fender Jazz Bass guitar).

From 1968 to 1970 I worked at organizing anti-war activities at my high school, attended meetings of the Students for a Democratic Society, joined the Peace and Freedom Party and marched in massive anti-war demonstrations. I can still hear the chants of "Ho, Ho, Ho-Che-Min--the Viet Cong are going to win!" David Harris came to our city and his speech convinced me to return my draft card to the draft board and to refuse induction if drafted. I was duly drafted and, after moving to the revolution's mecca, Berkley, I refused induction at the Oakland Induction Center. After doing so I was shunted to a little side room where a kindly FBI agent, in his 60s with graying grandfatherly hair and very calm demeanor, asked me, "Son, do you realize the seriousness of what you're doing, and the 5-year prison term you will serve if you are convicted?" I told him I did and politely declined his invitation to change my mind. The indictment and trial I so eagerly looked forward to never did materialize. It seems the courts were so clogged with similar cases they were only taking a few high-profile ones in order to make an example of them. I felt cheated, ignored and disrespected. That calm conversation with the nice FBI man was the last dealing I was ever to have with the U.S. government regarding my draft case.

As a pacifist I of course had a great and profound love for all humanity (in the abstract) but also great (righteous) hatred of whole swaths of it in reality: the evil U.S. government--and all who loved or supported it; the military; capitalism; the police, the wealthy; all Republicans, right-wingers and Christians, along with most main-line Democrats. These all were summed up as The Establishment. For those who have not indulged in this sort of spiritually delicious hatred, it's pleasure is difficult to describe. Its main intoxicant for us revolutionaries was the way it made one feel so pure and morally superior to one's enemies. And not them only, but also all the common folks who could not see with our enlightened clarity the evil of the whole American enterprise.

The reformation of my thinking as it regards pacifism has taken some time and has a number of causes--which I will leave for some future post. Here I will only note that I can now, thirty-nine years later, observe Memorial Day with deep appreciation and gratitude for all the warriors who fell in battle. Whose lives were given for a country which treated me so gently when I was railing against it. It was difficult for me to let go of my pacifist/Gandhian identity--for it was a very important aspect of how I understood myself and how I wanted others to see me. It was also a sacrifice to say goodbye to my cherished hatreds and ideological righteousness. They were heady but adolescent pleasures, and so had to be left behind. This Memorial day I am at peace with my anti-war past. Although I judge my actions from back then quite differently now, I am neither proud nor ashamed of them. They have been given a decent and properly respectful burial under a shady tree which watches over a little green field in my soul. That revolutionary young man may not have died in battle, but he did die. He had to lose his life--in order to find it.