HELL, NO, WE DIDN'T GO!

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“We were the last American generation,” writes Greenbaum, “in which lives and careers were interrupted and placed on hold, redirected, overturned, damaged, or even ended” due to the “whims” of government officials committed to winning a war. Today military service is voluntary, but until 1973, it was luck of the draw. From 1960 to 1973, by the government statisticians’ reckoning, nearly 2.5 million American men joined the military, about three-quarters of them draftees. There were also some 209,000 draft resisters—evaders, runaways, all lumped into the category “draft dodgers,” with another 100,000 deserters added into the mix—of whom only a very small number were ever prosecuted. Greenbaum looked up old friends and queried strangers alike to present stories, many of which were only reluctantly shared. Indeed, as one doctor began to speak, his wife urged him to be silent, fearful to this day that “some nut will be at our door trying to hurt us.” Some stories emphasize the inarguable fact that the war was fought by minorities and the poor, two groups that lacked the student deferments and sometimes-questionable medical exemptions. Most successful conscientious objectors were white, while the most famous of them, Muhammad Ali, was “a significant example of the legal machinations, religious and racial prejudice, and Selective Service bumbling that sincere conscientious objectors had to endure.” Many resisters left the country, never to return, and found that authorities abroad, from French detectives to Canadian customs officials, were sympathetic to their cause. In the end, Greenbaum notes, while it took courage to fight, it also took courage to “say no to the Vietnam War machine, to a government and its systems that were geared to use you.”



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