Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Friday, May 01, 2015

TGIF: Avoiding Vietnam Without Regrets

Hard to believe that 40 years ago the U.S. war in Vietnam ended. Actually, the war was against Indochina: remember Cambodia and Laos. (With previously unexploded ordnance from American cluster bombs killing people in those countries to this day, did the U.S. war really end?)
It’s hard to believe because I can remember when I and the people around me thought the war would never end. It seemed like a permanent part of life. Night after night we’d turn on the network news and watch the reports of body counts -- always more of “theirs” than of “ours” -- yet we had no sense it would ever really end, despite talk of “victory.”
When the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” occurred in August 1964 I was getting ready to start high school. I was only beginning to become politically aware. Being from a moderately conservative Republican family and hearing little or no dissent to that point, I assumed “our” involvement in Vietnam was necessary and proper. (I cringe now at what Barry Goldwater, whose pro-freedom rhetoric moved me, was saying about war, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union.)
Proper or not, however, I knew I didn’t want “our” involvement to become my involvement. Members of my extended family who were military age looked without shame for ways to avoid what was obscenely called “service,” that is, the draft. Flunking one’s physical or finding refuge in the National Guard was an occasion for copious sighs of relief. Patriotism was a virtue, sure, but let’s not take it too far -- that was the attitude. The members of the older generation around me thought the war was a good thing -- the communists had to be stopped -- as long as no one they knew had to go over there, especially their kids. Dying in a jungle? If it had to be done, that was for other people’s kids.
I didn’t have Vietnam on my mind constantly while in high school, though I was surely aware that if you didn’t get into college, you'd be gone and quite possibly a goner. I just can’t recall obsessing about it, or even discussing it with my friends. I guess any effect the war might have on me seemed too far in the future to think about in the present. Maybe we told ourselves that somehow it would be over before we came of age -- even as we thought it would remain a fixture of life forever. It was weird; that’s all I can say.
Late in high school I bumped into libertarians for the first time, and that’s when I started hearing antiwar talk. Back then most libertarians were still entangled with conservatives through Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). So I heard lots of prowar talk also. I remember that when YAF prepared for its national conventions, two committees considered updates to its policy statement, one for domestic policy and one for foreign policy. Each time, as I recall, the domestic-policy committee called for abolition of the draft, while the foreign-policy committee strongly endorsed the draft and the Vietnam War. To jump ahead for a moment, at the 1969 national convention in St. Louis -- the great showdown between the majority conservatives and minority libertarians -- a guy got attacked for (legally) burning a copy of a draft card. (Brian Doherty reports on the incident in Radicals for Capitalism: A Free-Wheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement.) Thank goodness that was the end of the libertarian participation in the conservative movement.
The draft. That was the big, fat looming factor in our lives. You’d better get into college, or you’ll find yourself on the way to an induction center with the next stop Vietnam. Once I entered college, in September 1967 (Temple University in my hometown, Philadelphia), I had Vietnam on my mind more often. The protests were in full swing. The Cold War propaganda I’d absorbed in earlier years was being erased by my encounters, both in person and in writing, with the likes of Murray Rothbard, Leonard Liggio, Karl Hess, Roy Childs, and others. They helped me make sense of the traditional leftist critique of the war. I now had an ideological reason to refuse to be part of that criminal operation, aside from simply not wanting to die over there. (Like Dick Cheney, who got multiple grad-school deferments from the Vietnam draft, I had “other priorities.”)
At one point I sought counseling about conscientious-objector status from the American Friends Service Committee. I always enjoyed sitting down with the bearded guy in an army jacket who explained the application process to me. The antiwar culture was comforting; I felt at home. I remember filling out the paperwork, though I was pessimistic I’d ever be granted CO status. Back then your antiwar convictions had to be part of the tradition of a recognized religion. By that time I had no religion, no god. (The rules have since changed. In theory, members of the armed forces can apply for discharge as COs on nonreligious moral grounds.)
In my senior year I had a job interview with a newspaper in Ohio; I wanted to be a reporter. The interview went well, but the editor told me that until I was clear of the draft he could not offer me the job. That drove the point home. My future was shrouded in uncertainty because the state claimed the authority to seize me and send me thousands of miles away, where I would be ordered to kill perfect strangers who never even threatened to do me, my family, or my friends any harm.
One day I got a letter from the local draft board ordering me to report for a physical exam. Now this was getting a little too close for comfort. The abstract was becoming concrete. I duly reported for what would be the most depressing and humiliating day of my life. But I went in with a strategy. First, I had my doctor write a note explaining that I had severe hay fever, a condition that would make me a “liability” to the armed forces. (I had hay fever but it was not exactly severe.) Second, my parents knew a civilian doctor who helped administer physicals for the draft board, so I planned to position myself in order to present my doctor’s note to him. I guess I was supposed to mention who my parents were, and that would prompt him to give me a medical deferment.
Things did not work out as planned. After I-don’t-know-how-many hours of being poked and probed while in my skivvies by authoritarian army medical personnel, I looked at the several doctors in white coats who were ready to hear our excuses for why we should not be classified 1-A. Unfortunately, none of them looked like the doctor my parents knew, and I saw no name plates. Now what? I picked the oldest one, thinking that must be him. (It wasn’t. He apparently wasn’t on duty that day.) I sat down at his desk and gave him my note. He looked it over, showing no recognition of my last name.
“Well,” he said, “I’m going to need more information from your doctor, such as the date of your last allergy attack and what medication you took.”
My heart sank. I’ll have to come back to this place?
But then he interrupted himself, stood up, and left the room. When he came back a few minutes later he said, “We get contradictory instructions every day. This [note] is fine.”
Then he added, “This morning your blood pressure was high. We’re supposed to take it again now, but I’ll leave it as high.”
He classified me 1-Y (not the more preferred 4-F: “Registrant not acceptable for military service”). 1-Y meant:
Registrant available for military service, but qualified only in case of war or national emergency. Usually given to registrants with medical conditions that were limiting but not disabling (examples: high blood pressure, mild muscular or skeletal injuries or disorders, skin disorders, severe allergies, etc.).
He could have entered an expiration date, requiring me to have another physical, but he left that space blank.
I was free! What had been the bleakest day of my life ended as one of the most joyous. I don’t know who that doctor was or why he did what he did. But I will always be grateful.
So, yes, I dodged the draft and avoided Vietnam. Do I regret it? You’ve got to be kidding! Amazingly, some members of my generation say they do regret it. I recall that a couple of journalists associated with Charles Peters’s neoliberal Washington Monthly wrote articles lamenting that they had ducked out of their generation’s greatest challenge and confessing that this shirking of responsibility haunted them. After all, they wrote, their fathers rose to their challenge, World War II. How could their fathers’ sons hold their heads high knowing that when the heat was on they found shelter in the safety of a college campus?
I don’t understand that view at all. Vietnam doesn’t deserve to be called a generation’s great challenge. It was a criminal war of aggression waged against innocent people by American politicians and bureaucrats without a trace of honor or decency. Millions of Indochinese people were murdered. Nearly 60,000 Americans died. The blood stains on America will never be washed off.
If anything, avoiding that war was a moral duty. Thank goodness I was able to avoid it.
Sheldon Richman keeps the blog "Free Association" and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

You should read "Republics: Ancient and Modern" regarding military service and citizenship. Okay, so you feel great avoiding service. I served in Vietnam, but am ambivalent about it. Three out of four in Vietnam were volunteers like me; three out of four were draftees in the "Good War." My family and ancestors have all volunteered since the Revolution. Be glad somebody else does the service so you can be "free," as you stated.

Anonymous said...

Anon @7:39: James Madison, a guy who knew a thing about republics had this to say about the relationship between war, freedom and liberty in a republic: "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied: and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

Ted Foureagles said...

I considered the Vietnam War illegal and immoral, and was not about to go kill or get killed for dubious reasons. Most of my ancestors, both Scot and Cherokee, had served in wars from time out of mind. Dad served under Patton, and Mom on a ship in the Pacific. They both shared my ambivalence about the current war, though Dad thought that I should serve anyway.

I decided that the most viable course was to never sign up for the draft in the first place. I went and lived like a bear in an old mine tunnel way up in Colorado until the world was safe from Nixon, then came down and joined the Army. There I taught winter mountain survival to the 2/75th Rangers, using skills learned while draft dodging. So I actually did contribute to the war machine after all.

I feel that I made the right choice in not joining in the disastrous Vietnam War, but for quite a long time wondered whether I'd done it out of morality or cowardice -- probably some of both, to tell the truth. I took a lot of foolish chances in the following years, possibly to prove to myself that I wasn't afraid to die.

These days when I talk with young people who are considering joining the military, I tell them that no matter what the recruiter says, their first responsibility will be as a warrior and so they must be committed to following orders whether they agree with their reasons or not. And so they should familiarize themselves with their nation's history and current foreign policy and decide whether it's something that they are willing to kill or die for.

}}}}

Anonymous said...

A nation whom can't find volunteer citizens to fight a particular war, does not have a security threat to war against. Self evident. The "volunteers" , I recall, were predominantly potential draftees whom were lied to by the army. Believing they would get safer duty volunteering. Service in Indochina did not protect my freedom. No thank you. Our constitution does that. Put those responsible for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in prison, that protects our freedom. I will be at the front, if and when our nation is attacked. I chose to ignore SS registration during that war, wish everyone else had done the same.

Anonymous said...

I have no respect for a system that discriminates with respect to who should serve. We have to live with ourselves. I remain proud and grateful for the privilege to serve. You have no idea what I did, but we know what you did, you told us so!

Anonymous said...

Be glad somebody else does the service so you can be "free," as you stated.

Sorry, but I see this from the exact opposite point of view. That there were (and are) willing volunteers allowed (and allows) that sort of insanity to continue, growing the state, and destroying our freedoms. If there were not enough bodies for the state to fight these absurd wars, perhaps they wouldn't be fought. This is not a theoretical question when it comes to Vietnam -- who would have been worse off had there been no volunteers?

Anonymous said...

Would you fight for Judea?

richard vajs said...

I served in the Navy at the start of the Vietnam War. Not out of choice - in Feb 1962, I was in the San Diego County jail, awaiting sentencing for violating some old "anti-Okie" laws that were still in effect in California - namely walking around without cash or a permanent home. The court was giving me a choice - join the military or spend 3 to 6 months in the state prison farm in Chino. (back then, California was a very conservative state - consider Dick Nixon was very popular then and there). The only good that came of that experience was a personal, life-long distrust and rejection of all of what is called "patriotism, law and order, and duty". "Fortunate sons" never experience the cruel side of the State and thus never learn how fragile and rare freedom is - they grow old still trusting their masters - watching FOX News and voting GOP.

Anonymous said...

Big deal you don't respect America because your a vagrant and were in the Navy the rest of us carry people like you and richman

Westmiller said...

Rather amazing that our life stories are so much in sync. Same age, meeting American Friends, and the trauma of induction ceremonies.

The difference is that I had no medical excuses and ended up going to Canada (where I helped found the Canadian LP).

Anonymous said...

The trauma was in Vietnam no induction

Dr. Crow said...

I didn't dodge the draft but I wasn't about to volunteer for the military either; I lucked out and wasn't called. Vietnam was an absolute nightmare without any sense to it whatsoever. Older army and marine friends who came back told me not to go. I took their word for it. All that war served to do was destroy a small third world country. Millions dead, agent orange and ordnance still killing, all for statest b.s. reasons. Didn't protect my freedom whatsoever nor any other american's. It was all one big LIE!
And I'm absolutely glad I took my veteran buddies' advice and didn't go.
The Man lies to you every day of the week...

Anonymous said...

Another wall flower who would not dance and they blame the band for the poor music,

Anonymous said...

Another man had to take the place of everyone of you!

Sheldon Richman said...

Anon, wait a minute. Are you saying that if I lock my door and a burglar hits the house next door instead, I'm responsible for that burglar's actions? That can't be right. The burglar is responsible. Therefore, the state is guilty for drafting someone else in my place, not I. It's the state that put young men into an "every man for himself" position.

Sheldon Richman said...

I see question-begging everywhere. When you folks say you "served," tell us exactly what you served?

Anonymous said...

I say you have a duty to at least call the police! Myself I volunteered for the draft, attended to the wounded as a Combat Medic, I too am against War! A large part (not all) of the Anti-war movement was selfish and narrow minded, attacking the State as if it was composed of something other then you and I.

Sheldon Richman said...

"attacking the State as if it was composed of something other then you and I."

But it is composed of something other than you and I!

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, in part we were forced to serve each other, politics is absent during a firefight. The American Civil War in large part was fought to abolish Slavery, yet there were many who refused to be drafted or bought there way out. Did they justify there actions by attacking the State and if they did, were the correct?

Anonymous said...

Who then composes the state?

Sheldon Richman said...

"In my opinion, in part we were forced to serve each other, politics is absent during a firefight."

This makes no sense. If no one was sent over there to kill, the "need to serve" would not have arisen because no firefights would have occurred. The "service" was concocted by a bunch of hack politicians and bureaucrats who presumed to dispose of other people's lives while couching their nonsense in nationalist and altruist terms. Can't you see through that? It's a vicious fairy tale.

"The American Civil War in large part was fought to abolish Slavery,"

Who are you talking about? Lincoln's goal was to preserve the Union not abolish slavery. He said so.

Sheldon Richman said...

"Who then composes the state?"

A ruling class, the governing elite. Not all of the elite are formally in office.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln surely had more then one goal, there were many others if not Lincoln who fought against slavery, including black soldiers, the elite and the privileged generally do not fight or participate in Americas wars,

Anonymous said...

If I follow your logic, America has no enemies, needs no military! Name calling, slander detracts from your point of view, Should we have not responded to Hilter?

Anonymous said...

As the American Civil War raged on between the North and South, President Lincoln decided that abolishing slavery was the best recourse for winning the war and preserving the Union. The victory of the Union forces against the Confederate army in the Battle of Antietam was pivotal to the enactment of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Afterward, the War for Union also became the War for Freedom.

Anonymous said...


I didn't know this about 9-11
AFTER FLIGHT 77 hit the Pentagon on 9/11, the following incident occurred:
A chaplain, who happened to be assigned to the Pentagon, told of an incident that never made the news. A daycare facility
inside the Pentagon had many children, including infants who were in heavy cribs. The daycare supervisor, looking at all the children they needed to evacuate, was in a panic over what they could do. There were many children, mostly toddlers, as well as the infants that would need to be taken out with the cribs.
There was no time to try to bundle them into carriers and strollers. Just then a young Marine came running into the center and asked what they needed. After hearing what the center director was trying to do, he ran back out into the hallway and disappeared. The director thought, "Well, here we are, on our own."
About 2 minutes later, that Marine returned with 40 other Marines in tow. Each of them grabbed a crib with a child, and the rest started gathering up toddlers. The director and her staff then helped them take all the children out of the center and down toward the park near the Potomac.
Once they got about 3/4 of a mile outside the building, the Marines stopped in the park, and then did a fabulous thing - they formed a circle with the cribs, which were quite sturdy and heavy, like the covered wagons in the Old West. Inside this circle of cribs, they put the toddlers, to keep them from wandering off. Outside this circle were the 40 Marines, forming a perimeter around the children and waiting for instructions. There they remained until the parents could be notified and come get their children.
The chaplain then said, "I don't think any of us saw nor heard of this on any of the news stories of the day. It was an incredible story of our men there.” There wasn't a dry eye in the room. The thought of those Marines and what they did and how fast they reacted; could we expect any less from them? It was one of the most touching stories from the Pentagon. It's the Military, not the politicians that ensures our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's the Military who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag. If you care to offer the smallest token of recognition and appreciation for the military, please pass this on and pray for our men and women, who have served and are currently serving our country, and pray for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

Anonymous said...

This is what I mean by Service

Sheldon Richman said...

Does anyone have evidence to believe that the average Union soldier fought to free the slaves? Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves under Union jurisdiction. It merely declared the slaves under Confederate jurisdiction to be free. As we all know, Lincoln said that he would do anything with respect to slavery that was necessary to preserve the union, including keeping them in chains.

But haven't we lost sight of the subject? The question is whether the state may force an individual to fight a war he does not wish to fight. Will someone argument in the affirmative?

Sheldon Richman said...

"If I follow your logic, America has no enemies, needs no military! Name calling, slander detracts from your point of view, Should we have not responded to Hilter?"

The government makes enemies for the American people. Just look at its post-WWII Middle East policy for details. No American should have been prevented from organizing an effort to fight Hitler.

Anonymous said...

Indeed FDR did just that!

Anonymous said...

The State has created the Volunteer Army, in effect since 1973

Anonymous said...

Sheldon - if you lived in Vietnam today you could not oppose the government, or its ruling elite . The same holds true in Putins Russia ,China and many other countries including most of the middle east. You can thank those that serve for your freedom.

Dr. Crow said...

"The government makes enemies for the American people"
Exactly right! Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 911 but- the people were lied into a war there. And it still goes on. Some elites (which in fact are those who rule this nation) would have us continue our mideast folly by going to war against Iran too. Idiocy! Sacrifice the blood and treasure of the US for what exactly? Obviously not to bring democracy to the mideast, that's for sure. We've been an abject failure in that self-appointed global mission since Korea. The volunteer armed forces is what allows this to happen. Unfortunately, too many people are involved in the military which makes it feasible for these continuous wars to bleed our county dry. Cut the Pentagon budget and reduce the armed forces population and this nation could begin to behave like a civilized nation and not like King Kong on meth. Almost half our tax dollars now go to military spending of one form or another. Criminally stupid in my view and it keeps the US on the wrong track as a nation.

"The fault, dear friends, lies not with the puppets but in the souls of the puppeteers."

Anonymous said...

The Iraq war was a huge mistake, in this there is no doubt. What I don,t get is this belief that those who serve in the armed forces make this possible.

The focus is on the leadership or lack of! The American military is ordered by the president into combat. When we all know this is the duty of the Congress

You should dwell on the Military Industrial Complex, now there you have the connection between the elected prostitues and these pimps who profit from war.