My Draft Resistance

I recorded all this in an email to someone in the 90s, and it's a good thing I have this documentation because my memory of that long ago incident is getting fuzzy and having that to read was very helpful in remembering all the details.

In 1969 in Seattle, Washington, I refused induction into the U.S. Army. I had taken a semester off from college, which caused my draft classification to be changed from 2-S (student deferment) to 1-A (available for the draft). Prior to this, based on my view of war being immoral and unethical, I had applied for Conscientious Objector (C.O.) status, but at that time the application form expected your beliefs to be based on religious training. Since I'm an atheist I couldn't complete this form (which I believe was later ruled unconstitutional) so I sent the draft board an essay explaining my values of non-violence. (Click to see the form and my response.)
Perhaps I would have been denied C.O. status anyway, because the U.S. Supreme Court stated that
   "An objector could not pick and choose which war he found morally repugnant." 1
and also that
   "80 percent of C.O. applications were approved prior to 1967, but none had been okayed so far [by June of 1967]." 1
My draft board apparently didn't appreciate what I had written in my essay and subsequently sent me a notice to report for a physical exam (which I passed) and a short time later I received my draft notice. (Ironically, later that year they started a birthday-based lottery, and the number resulting from my birthday, 262, would have exempted me from the draft.) I got a lawyer, who told me it would be in my best interest to show up and refuse to take the oath. Apparently if I had followed my initial urge to flee to Canada, I would have compounded my situation negatively and could be charged with multiple crimes, including some things like "Failure to report" and "Fleeing to avoid prosecution."

So I went down to my induction, which consisted of going to a series of stations for more physical exams and many written questionnaires. On one form I was asked to read over a multi-page list of organizations (supposedly with subversive ties) and sign the statement at the end that I had no association with any of them. I refused to sign this "loyalty oath" because my lawyer had advised me not to sign anything that day (and be inadvertently inducted?). Well, the draft people told me they couldn't proceed with my induction if I didn't sign, and I told them again as I had been saying all day, "I am not going into the Army anyway so it doesn't matter." They went off and discussed this, and when they returned I was told to move on to the next station.

At the end of the day all the draftees were led into a carpeted room containing a raised podium and flags where everybody except the draftees was wearing an Army uniform (that was a little unnerving, because I was concerned that I when I took my stand not to go in, without a civilian witness they could just deny that it had happened). An Army officer stood at the podium and read us the oath, and then read the name of each inductee one at a time. When your name was called you were to step forward which meant you were accepting the oath (at that moment I guess you were officially in the Army). I was third to last of a few dozen people, and when my name was called I stood still. He repeated my name a couple of times, and when I didn't step forward I was escorted out of the room to another room and told to sit at a table and wait.

After I had sat there for a short time the door I had just come through opened again and the next draftee after me came in. After a moment, the door opened again and the last draftee came in. They both had their little shaving kits, as did all the other draftees who intended to go off to boot camp. I had met neither of these guys before, and they said when they saw me refuse to take the oath that they had each thought to themselves, "Wait a minute—you mean I don't HAVE to go into the Army if I don't want to?" and they impulsively followed suit. As we sat there waiting, the rest of the inductees were led into an adjoining room we could see into through an open double-doorway where they sat around a big long table where they were told things about going off to boot camp, and I believe more of their personal items were collected from them. Some of them looked through the doorway at us and there was probably some hatred ("you cowards, traitors") but probably also some envy ("Wait a minute—you mean I don't HAVE to go into the Army if I don't want to?").

My fellow resisters and I shared our experiences of the day and I told them what I had done in preparation for this day. They were a little concerned not knowing what lay ahead for them, but I knew they would look back on this day and know they had done the right thing. After we had chatted for a time we were split up, and I was interviewed, after which I was told I could leave and I would be contacted at some later time. I assume at this point the Army notified my draft board that my induction notice had not been fulfilled. Over the next year some of my acquaintances were spoken to by the FBI, and both my parents were interviewed separately. Everybody said what a good, wholesome, honest, caring guy I was.

After about a year had gone by my lawyer called me and told me the government was not going to press charges! Apparently when they gave me permission to go to the next station when I had refused to sign that form, they were not legally allowed to do that because I might have been a security risk! So I had not broken the law, they had just screwed up my induction.

I started celebrating with my friends but after a few weeks of "freedom" I received another draft notice in the mail. I called my lawyer, who spoke to the draft board, and he was told it was all legal because my first induction had not been "completed" and this was the same notice being re-issued. This time around I wouldn't be asked to sign the "loyalty oath" because the FBI investigation had shown I was not a security risk. I should have told my friends to say some bad things about me, like mentioning there were these shady people with foreign accents coming around to see me all the time—but who knew?

During this year, at the suggestion of my lawyer, I had a private complete physical exam where I was found to have high blood pressure. The doctor asked me if I had ever had high blood pressure before and I remembered that it had been high once on a high school physical. He prepared a letter stating I had a "history" of high blood pressure and when I went to my 2nd induction carrying this letter I was told I would have to have my blood-pressure taken twice a day for 2 weeks to get a very accurate reading. As a result of these readings my BP averaged out higher than allowed and my draft classification was changed to 4-F (registrant not acceptable for military service). Yay!

So that is how I stayed out of the army—draft resistance that ultimately led to a 4-F—and all that time I had thought I might end up in prison. Amazingly, in all the decades since this happened I have never met another of the 570,000 draft resisters.

1 Rites of Passage, a Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle, Walt Crowley, pgs. 94-95