Donald Trump and Joe Biden were athletes who got deferments and dubious medical-based exemptions to participating in the mass slaughter of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian men, women, and children.
The common criticism of one or the other of them, based on partisan loyalty, is that he should have participated in mass murder. Questioning this notion results, most often, in ad hominem attacks against the questioner: but you weren't there, you can't know what you would have done, etc.
But we know what thousands of young men did: they refused to go. Many chose not to use available deferments, preferring to refuse to go.
On October 8th, you'll be able to screen online the film The Boys Who Said No.
Why would people risk 5 years in prison to take a stand against mass murder?
Were they all losers and suckers, as Trump might claim?
Watch the movie and see what you think. Listen to them speaking for themselves. They made a conscious and deliberate moral choice, and articulated it clearly and persuasively. It was a publicly knowable option that Trump and Biden chose not to take.
Dan Ellsberg visited a draft resister in prison and was inspired if not shamed into releasing the Pentagon Papers. Neither Trump nor Biden seems to have been moved in any way.
A young man in the film who could have failed a physical, just like Trump and Biden, chose instead to refuse the draft, explaining that he wasn't dodging anything, he was confronting it.
Draft refusal was often inspired by the courageous nonviolent activism of the Civil Rights Movement a movement critically birthed by nonviolent actions against segregation within prisons taken by resisters to World War II. Many in the movement for peace and justice at the time of the American War, as the Vietnamese call it, opposed both racism and war. SNCC promoted draft refusal, and was denounced for it by most of the civil rights groups. SNCC produced a comic book to promote it anyway.
The risk in refusing induction was real. The average prison sentence was three years. Yet the number of people refusing induction grew year by year during the war. The movement to resist the draft overwhelmed the courts. People were not convicted or not indicted as a result of their numbers. 570,000 resisted or evaded. 200,000 formally refused. 20,000 were indicted. 8,000 were convicted. 4,001 were sent to prison.
The Boys Who Said No shortchanges other parts of the peace movement, but does a terrific job on draft refusal, with footage from the time of actions taken and reasons why, of flyering young men outside draft offices, of the impact that had, of the minds changed, of those who refused induction at the last possible moment, of rallies with the burning of draft cards, of blocking buses full of inductees, of the significance of public figures like Muhammad Ali, Joan Baez, and Benjamin Spock, of the actions taken by the Berrigans.
This is an important story well told. Watch it.
But do not draw the wrong lessons.
The film mentions U.S. deaths but not Vietnamese. That's inexcusable. The U.S. dead were 1.6% of the dead. A 2008 study by Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated 3.8 million violent war deaths, combat and civilian, north and south, during the years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The civilian deaths outnumbered the combat deaths, amounting to about two-thirds of total deaths. The wounded were in much higher numbers, and judging by South Vietnamese hospital records, one-third were women and one-quarter children under age 13. U.S. casualties included 58,000 killed and 153,303 wounded, plus 2,489 missing. The 3.8 million out of a population of 40 million is nearly a 10% loss. War spilled into neighboring countries. Refugee crises ensued. Environmental damage and delayed deaths, often due to Agent Orange, continue to this day. The figures above do not include Laotian and Cambodian deaths, or the deaths of Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, and Americans later from war-related injuries or war-related suicides.
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