Draft Dodgers : Staying Behind Now Catches Up
Sarge, I’m only 18, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse.
I got an aching back and my feet are flat
And my asthma’s getting worse..
--"Draft Dodger Rag,”
Phil Ochs, 1966
Roland Mousaa was 19 and living on a ranch in Denver in the spring of 1968 when his draft notice came. Go down to the post office, the government said, we’ll pick you up. Mousaa was terrified. Guys were dying in Vietnam at a clip of 200 a week. He wanted no part of it.
He had this vague, crazy idea. He split, hitchhiked to New York City and made his way to Bellevue Hospital, the mental institution, where he wandered around until somebody believed that he belonged there. Soon he had what he wanted: a record of confinement.
The Selective Service caught up with him, but by then Mousaa had his ammunition. He took his Bellevue paper work to the induction center, acted as disoriented as possible and convinced armed forces medical examiners that he was unfit to be drafted.
Hundreds of thousands of men continued going to Vietnam. Mousaa went on with his life. He worked as a musician and as an equipment man for folk bands. He set up one business repairing word processors and another setting type.
A few years ago, New York City threw a big parade to honor Vietnam veterans. Mousaa went to watch, but where he stood was as important as what he saw. He made sure to stand on the steps of the old induction center. What he wanted, he explained, was vindication.
“I just wanted to see all the crippled people passing by,” he said matter-of-factly. “I needed to do that to come to the realization that I was in the right. I felt that I had won.”
These sort of emotions clash disturbingly with the national movement to pay homage to the men who served in the Vietnam War, to put aside longstanding divisions over the righteousness of the war, to separate the war from the warrior.
Seldom Voiced in Public
They are the kind of sentiments seldom voiced in public. Yet they run deep through hundreds of thousands of men in their late 30s and early 40s who fought a dirty, little-publicized war with their government in a desperate attempt to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam.
By various estimates, as many as a million physically fit young men took calculated steps to make themselves ineligible for the draft during the war by acting or dressing strangely at pre-induction physicals, mutilating themselves, exaggerating minor ailments, claiming to be homosexual, going to graduate school, taking teaching jobs or simply filing a string of insincere appeals with their draft boards to stall off induction until they had passed the maximum age of 26.
These draft dodgers far outnumbered the 50,000 men who confronted the draft by refusing induction and the 40,000 others who fled to Canada and other countries.
They were people like Stanley Hoffman in Brooklyn, who did not bathe for 10 days before hispreinduction physical and then urinated in his long johns; Jim Martin in Los Angeles, who carried on a paper work blitz to stall his induction and eventually found a dentist to put on braces, an automatic deferment; Doug Brown in North Dakota, who sped up plans to start a family because men with children were not yet being drafted, and Don Strachan in Los Angeles, who lived on shrimp, skim milk and a box of raisins a day for two months to starve his 5-foot-11 frame from 156 pounds to just below the Army minimum of 122.
A Genuine Shock
They were, in the main, the educated sons of well-to-do, white families who grew up with the assurance that they--not the government--were in control of their destinies. For that reason, the specter of the draft was not only frightening but a genuine shock.
As they struggled to manipulate the system, they lived in a climate of fear and desperation that felt as genuine as the bloody war reports on television or the small, periodic notices in every American newspaper about the combat deaths of local men.
It was a time in which deceiving or lying to the federal government was done with absolute certainty, since all evils were minor compared to the ultimate evil, the war itself. It was a time in which it was fashionable to brag about your success and sneer at the dimwittedness of that gray mass of “losers” who failed, or did not try, to beat the draft and got taken.
But now, with so much attention being focused on the men who went to Vietnam and the way the war fragged the lives of so many of those who went in place of the draft dodgers, most of that bravado has disappeared. It is harder to be cocksure about one’s past. Few men still talk about how they dodged the draft. It has become a very private matter, yet with important consequences. The retrospective arguments and rationalizations posed by many of the 50 draft dodgers interviewed for this story betray a lingering, invisible gulf that seems likely to forever divide the so-called Vietnam Generation in terms of those who stayed and those who went.
Ever since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington in 1982, American society has been implicitly challenging the draft dodgers with a tough question:
If the men who went to Vietnam are heroes or victims--a message repeatedly reinforced by a wave of movies, books, television series and commercials that have sprung up in the last several years--then what does that make the guys who found ways to sneak out of the draft?
Roy Lynn is one of those grappling for the answer.
Lynn beat the draft in 1969 in Little Rock, Ark., by staging a suicide attempt. He took a bunch of sleeping pills, threw up and called a friend, who called mental health authorities. Then, playing the same angle that Mousaa used but with more finesse, Lynn checked himself into a mental hospital. It wasn’t so bad. He made a couple of nice ashtrays. A psychiatrist there wrote a letter to his draft board and that was it.
Lynn went on to become a college teacher in a small, conservative Pennsylvania town. A couple of years ago he met a man who had served in Vietnam and was bitter about the downward spiral of his life. Lynn heard these tribulations under ironic circumstances--a group therapy session, where both men had come to tackle psychological problems.
The more Lynn heard, the more he thought about how he had avoided the draft, and the harder it became to suppress the thought that the guy sitting across from him had done what Lynn had been afraid to do. True, this was a ridiculously oversimplified way of looking at the world, because it did not factor in the horrifying circumstances of Vietnam, or whether the vet ever wanted to be there in the first place.
Yet in Lynn’s gut, the black-and-white equation could not be denied.
“The feelings people like me have are that maybe at a certain level I wasn’t a real man because I never did what that guy who went to Vietnam did,” said Lynn, who spoke on the condition his real name not be used.
“I don’t think it’ll ever go away, all these feelings,” he said.
He is not alone in having second thoughts.
Greg Zimmer--another alias to spare himself embarrassment--said he is “not real proud” of buying dinner for a draft board medical examiner the night before his pre-induction physical in a Midwestern city.
Now a would-be screenwriter who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, Zimmer said that even though he turned down the examiner’s request for homosexual relations, the doctor subsequently certified a bogus hearing loss that resulted in a reclassification to 4-F--permanently impaired.
Art Lesher, who asked to use an alias because he is now a college English teacher and a “very conservative person,” looks back in astonishment at his decision to wear a diaper to his pre-induction physical in Knoxville, Tenn.
‘I’m Very Ashamed’
It worked--he got his 4-F--but “sometimes I’m very ashamed of doing it. . . . I protestedagainst the war later, but at that point--1966--I was most likely lazy and chicken.”
Steve Wallace, a Bethesda, Md., paperhanger, is still very glad he was able to convince draft board medical examiners that a chronic skin problem on his nose, which created very brief, periodic nosebleeds, made him unfit. Still, he recognizes that “I manipulated the system for my own good, and in many ways that’s just as bad as participating in it.”
Men like these outnumbered the combined number of men who were killed in action during the war (47,244), died from accidents and disease (10,446), were hospitalized for wounds (153,329) and were wounded but did not require hospitalization (150,375).
Such numbers underscore the fact that nearly 90% of the men of the Vietnam Generation did not wind up in Vietnam.
11 Million Served
Of the 26.8 million men who came of draft age between 1964 and 1973, less than 11 million served in the military. Only 2.2 million of them were drafted.
Only about a quarter of those on active military duty--2.5 million--served inside the borders of South Vietnam. The majority of them saw combat, but only about 500,000 were regularly exposed to it.
Left untouched were 16 million men, about 9 million of whom were deferred or exempted and about 7 million of whom were disqualified, half because they received high lottery numbers after the national draft lottery began in 1969.
As a result of this statistical imbalance, the segregated social patterns that shaped draft dodging continue to be felt today.
Draft dodgers and veterans are, in many instances, two different classes of people. Unlike the aftermath of World War II, when burdens were almost universally shared, it has been easy for many draft dodgers to live the last two decades without being personally touched by the prolonged hardships of the war, such as high rates of emotional readjustment problems and homelessness among veterans.
The social aftermath of the war is as incoherent as the war itself.
Virtually all the draft dodgers interviewed for this story professed to be sorry the veterans suffered the tragedy of war and the cold shoulder of society when they returned, but many hotly objected to the notion that their refusal to participate had any impact on the men who were drafted. Many maintain circles of friends that are devoid of veterans. Others admit that they are intensely curious about the war yet hesitant to ask Vietnam-related questions of vets they know. And some have found more polite ways to say the same thing they were saying in the ‘60s: too bad, sucker.
“I don’t know anybody who went to Vietnam,” proclaimed Peter English--another alias--who beat the draft by giving phony, neurotic answers to questions during his pre-induction physical and claiming to be a bisexual. As a result, it is easy for English, now the owner of a New York publishing company, to be brusque when confronted by the argument that he benefited from a system in which the lower classes were cannon fodder.
‘An Unfair Position’
“I think people who don’t understand things and aren’t able to use their own ingenuity invariably wind up in an unfair position,” he said, “but that’s what life is about.”
Such views are disheartening to those who have worked to heal the national wounds from the war.
There remains “an unbreachable gap, separating those who went from those who stayed home. . . . How can such people understand one another, let alone share values, goals and responsibilities for the common good?” wrote Dr. Arthur Egendorf, a clinical psychologist now in private practice who served with Army intelligence in Vietnam, in a 1985 book, “Healing From the War.”
“It’s as if the very basis for community has been undercut by a wound that extends more broadly than any psychological diagnosis can reach.”
The people who went to Vietnam and the people who struggled to avoid being sent there both lost their innocence. Vets live with their own set of bad dreams--blood, chaos, burned villages. Draft dodgers have another collection of dark images, but it always comes down to the memory of being hunted by a huge, unforgiving enemy: the government.
In ways that are impossible to explain to younger generations, life and death revolved around whether a draft notice came in the mail, whether a sympathetic lawyer and physician could be located, whether one’s eyesight or weight fell below minimum standards, whether an oversight by a draft board clerk had resulted in a procedural error that would suddenly free a young man completely.
You lived in limbo--not months, but years--as your paper work floated back and forth, from the local board to the state appeals board and back. That was good, because it ate up time and kept alive the surreal possibility that somehow the war might end before you were snatched away. But the wait was agonizing.
“I feel like they just stole a lot of my life,” said Michael Cazel, the controller of a small real estate company who spent years appealing his Louisiana draft board’s refusal to grant him a conscientious objector deferment.
“It was pressure, it was anxiety. I was living in New York and at any time, with short notice, I might be required to travel back to Louisiana for another hearing and stay there for weeks. And I feel like it screwed up my life for several years. I couldn’t pursue any kind of career. I ended up driving a cab for three years. I felt like my entire life was on hold.”
It was maddeningly arbitrary. Sure, there were Selective Service rules for all this, but each of the nation’s 4,000 draft boards was made up of local civilians and, when it came to evaluating appeals, each board had its own biases. The mystery was anticipating them.
“You had to plead your case. It was kind of like an act,” said Elliot Jaffa, an Arlington, Va., psychologist who stayed out with an occupational deferment teaching the children of military dependents.
“I remember one draft board member saying to me, ‘Young man, as long as you’re working in that institution, Uncle Sam won’t be putting a gun in your hands.’ I felt, Jesus, my future’s in this guy’s hands.”
Chris Schuller, who asked for anonymity because he fears reprisals from “military types” in the New York post office where he is a manager, remembers a moment of terror during a draft board hearing. He, too, was applying for a conscientious objector deferment but was surprised when he entered the hearing room and saw that a man who went to his church was a member of the board.
During the hearing, the man asked Schuller the name of their church’s recently retired pastor.
Schuller, whose C-O application was less than perfectly sincere, could not remember.
“I blanked, and I felt like if I couldn’t remember he wouldn’t believe I went to church every Sunday. My life hinged on one simple question.
“Fortunately he rephrased the question and I saw the light.”
Differences Among Centers
Each city had its own armed forces induction center, where pre-induction physicals were given, and there were differences there, too.
By 1968, when the Army was drafting men at its peak rate, it was considered impossible to convince doctors at the Los Angeles induction center to exempt you on psychological grounds, real or otherwise. They had seen all the acts, heard all the stories.
But in Albuquerque, the induction center did not have a psychologist; it used a local doctor, and as a professional courtesy he would defer to the opinion of a colleague. If you brought a note from your shrink saying you were unfit, you had it made. So if you had the time and money to travel, you notified your draft board that because of personal convenience you wanted to take your physical in Albuquerque.
For reasons that draft lawyers never clearly understood, but deeply appreciated, Seattle’s induction center seemed to reject anybody who brought a letter citing any grounds for deferment.
Easy and Legal
Or, if you were a freaky-looking rock star with a documented history of drug use, you could try Beckley, W. Va., where patriotism ran higher and the draft board could meet its quota without your help. It was easy and it was legal. You did not have to prove residency to take your physical away from home.
Sometimes the tricks worked. Usually it was a shock, like tunneling to freedom.
“My insides exploded at the news,” said one man, remembering the moment an Army doctor believed that his Methedrine-induced high-blood pressure was real and told him he would be 4-F.
“I don’t remember a happier day in my life,” said another of the day his draft board officially gave up on him because he was a few days short of 26.
Sometimes, people went outside the law.
In 1970, the former secretary of the Miami Beach draft board told of being offered luxury trips to the Bahamas and Europe by parents desperate to obtain deferments for their 1-A sons. In 1971, a Canoga Park dentist was charged in federal indictments with putting braces on scores of young men’s teeth to disqualify them. He served two years in federal prison.
Lawyers Got Rich
Draft lawyers--the best of them--would provide you with winning strategies.
In Los Angeles there were 20 of them making a full-time living at counseling young men, charging retainers of $300 to $400. Some lawyers got rich, signing up scores of men a week. A hundred of the leading draft attorneys here met every three weeks to share tips. A companion network of sympathetic physicians--some motivated by social conscience, others by financial gain--also evolved.
The lawyers made it sound so easy. At worst, they told you, you could file an endless stream of appeals that would waste years. The only people who had to go to Canada, they said, were the ones who did not get any counseling.
But to those at the mercy of the system, confidence was the hardest quality to muster.
Joe Adamson, a screenwriter, remembers the day he showed up at the Broadway induction center in downtown Los Angeles, answering his induction notice. His draft counselor had told him that the draft board had made a procedural error and that he would win, and that he should refuse to take that vaunted one step forward. But about 7 a.m. somebody in charge asked him a question he did not know how to answer. He called his counselor’s home. A woman answered and said the counselor was asleep and Adamson should call back.
‘4 1/2 Years of Pure Agony’
“I remember saying that if I called back later I’ll be in Vietnam,” Adamson said. “That got him to the phone. . . . I went through 4 1/2 years of pure agony, stalling a month or two at a time.”
Gordon Lobodinsky, a civil engineer from Conyers, Ga., remembers riding his motorcycle from Ohio to California in 1970. He was fresh bait. The previous fall the government had held the first annual draft lottery. Birth dates were drawn out of a bin and paired with numbers 1 through 366. The odds were you would be drafted if your birth date drew a number below 190. Lobodinsky’s was 31.
He was riding West because he wanted to move to San Francisco in case he ran out of appeals and had to refuse induction. He had heard federal judges there were more sympathetic. They were. Until 1969, the typical sentence for a draft offender in San Francisco was probation, and Selective Service officials complained vehemently about judicial leniency.
Starvation Attempt Failed
Lobodinsky remembers his appeals drying up and his attempts to starve himself falling short. “I needed to get down to 118, but I hit 122 and just couldn’t get any lower. I figured my skin, bones and organs all weighed 122.”
He remembers psyching himself into believing that he was going to go to jail, so it would not come as a shock. “I’d see people walking around and say, ‘Man these guys are so damn lucky to be free.’ ”
He remembers the year he spent working in a machine shop, trying to earn enough money to get back into Ohio State to get back the student deferment he had lost. “My boss was this crusty old guy who hated the government, he said he’d tip me off if anybody came in asking questions about me.”
Finally, in a bureaucratic gesture that still baffles him, the Selective Service classified him 1-H--essentially, too old to be of prime use--even though he was a couple years short of 26. He did not ask any questions.
Despite his struggle, Lobodinsky says he would like to see the draft reinstated.
“It sounds strange, but I’d like to see it done with no exemptions, except for bona fide medical exemptions or C-Os--none of this student deferment stuff,” he said.
“One of the reasons I feel strongly is that the younger people I work with are real conservative, they want to bomb Libya and invade Nicaragua, and I say ‘Why don’t you join the Army and do it?’ And they say, ‘I don’t want to get killed.’ If people saw that our foreign policy was going to get them killed they might think a little bit, rather than perform all these adventures with soldiers so poor they can’t get a job.”
Steve Gorelick was as ready to manipulate the system as Gordon Lobodinsky. Luck spared him. As a college sophomore, he was cursed with a low draft lottery number, but President Nixon ended the draft a few months before Gorelick’s student deferment expired with his graduation from UCLA in 1973.
Nevertheless, those years gnaw at Gorelick. When he looks back, he does not much like the young man he sees.
He grew up in an upper-middle-class West Covina neighborhood of hillside, ranch-style homes built in the early 1960s around South Hills High School. Kids from these homes went to college.
On the other side of the tracks--the San Bernardino Freeway--were neighborhoods of smaller, cheaper tract homes built a decade earlier and populated by blue-collar workers, including many second- and third-generation Latino families who were moving out of East Los Angeles. Kids from these homes usually did not go to college.
‘They Were Going to Die’
“I’m ashamed to say it, but this was recognized as a great thing,” Gorelick said, “because that meant they were going to die and I wasn’t.”
The young men who lived in the hills knew the system. They had the name of a savior in their phone books: William Smith, the most famed draft lawyer in Los Angeles and one of the most respected in the nation. The word was that nobody who went to Bill Smith went into the Army. Nobody. You went to college, took your student deferment, kept your grades up and kept the guy’s phone number handy.
Gorelick went on to marry, have two children and secure a job as a lobbyist for the City University of New York. He saw the same Manhattan Vietnam veterans march that Roland Mousaa saw. But where Mousaa saw cripples, Gorelick saw contradictions.
“There is a little guilt when you see how disproportionate a number of blacks and lower-class people were in Vietnam,” he said. “That parade . . . " He paused. “There was just an eerie feeling of guilt that just by the luck of the social class draw I went into a first-class educational country club, UCLA. I’m glad I’m alive, but there is a strange feeling when you see how class-based it was.
“Part of it is that I can’t look back and say my not going to Vietnam and my getting acollege deferment was an act of political conscience, I can’t do that. I basically have to look back and say I did everything I could not to die, and I would have done anything I could.
“I wish I could look back and see more political courage in my behavior, but all I can see is that I was out to save my behind. I wish I could look back and say I stood in front of the Oakland induction center and burned my draft card . . . but I think the reason I didn’t was because I thought it would put me in more jeopardy. I look for political courage but in my worst moments I see cowardice.”
Spent Year in Vietnam
In New Jersey, Ed Vosseler, a 38-year-old electronics company trouble shooter, said he hears more of that kind of talk these days.
Vosseler was not as lucky as Gorelick. The Army got him in ’68, before he started college. He tried to get out by claiming flat feet, but it did not work. He spent a year in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division, came back with a bronze star, went to college and now lives in a comfortable suburb. He has a lot of friends who managed not to go to Vietnam, and he said he is not bitter about it, but he notices something about them.
“They have--I don’t know if it’s envy but I sense a feeling like that--a feeling like they had missed something, and they’re very curious about my experience,” Vosseler said. “Among the people I know who are in the higher socioeconomic groupings, ever since the memorial and ‘Platoon,’ a lot of people’s minds seem to have changed. When people like that get to know you and they know you served, they say: ‘Gee, maybe I should have done my part.’ ”
Hardly the Consensus
However, such confessions were hardly the consensus among the draft dodgers interviewed for this story.
Listen to Stanley Hoffman, the guy from Brooklyn who did not bathe for 10 days before his physical exam to avoid the draft. He can boast of the same kind of class contempt for the war that Steve Gorelick grew up with--"In our group, the feeling was, ‘This is a total joke’ . . . all of us got out"--yet express no ambivalence about his actions.
“If there was any guilt I felt, it was not being able to convince more people to get out,” he said.
That is not because Hoffman was any more politically active than Gorelick.
“I never marched in protest,” Hoffman said. “Someone I told about how I got out said, ‘Oh, you did a real political act,’ but I never thought of it that way.”
Listen to Morton Redner, a writer who stayed out by carefully claiming graduate school, marriage and children as successive deferments before those exemptions were closed.
‘Backlash of Pride’
Redner, who attended Hobart College, a small, private, liberal arts college in upstate New York, is horrified “at the so-called backlash of pride that the Vietnam veterans have.” He likes to make bold pronouncements, such as: “I question why soldiers fight, why young men join armies and fight.”
Of course, in Vietnam a lot of the young men joined armies because they were drafted.
“That’s a failing on my part,” Redner acknowledged. “Because I’m such an urbane type, I fail to understand how helpless many people are. I remember when I saw ‘Norma Rae,’ the movie about those textile workers in the South, and you say why don’t they just leave? It’s hard for me and my class to understand that some people can’t leave.”
Listen to Jim Heaton, an unemployed boilermaker from Toledo who does understand why men fight, because he works with people who went to Vietnam. Heaton obtained a 4-F classification after insisting that he was addicted to marijuana and had myriad psychological problems, and he pays for it whenever the story is told around the men he works with.
‘They’re Still Questioning’
“My union brothers have always been on my ass,” he said. “They’re still questioning, ‘Say, why did I have to go and you didn’t?’ I basically have to show them that the war was something that was done to everyone.”
Few will question Heaton’s assertion. But to Arthur Egendorf, the Vietnam veteran who wrote “Healing From the War,” the massive resistance to the draft carried with it a troubling philosophical consequence.
During the war, he wrote, “millions of the most gifted men and women of the largest American generation in history saw greater virtue in proclaiming ‘Hell no! I won’t go’ than in vowing ‘Yes! Count on me!’ ”
It is not that these people should have necessarily endorsed the war, Egendorf said, but the fact that they identified themselves by negativism.
“Years later, many of these people still talk cynically about their lives and the world, as if committed to the ideal of no commitment. Over and over in our interviews, men who came of age during the war years complained about unsatisfying relationships, unfulfilling jobs, lackluster national leaders and the loss of idealism,” he wrote.
“To many, these disappointments justify their inaction in the public sphere, and so they focus on narrow interests and neglect the needs of the communities where they live and work. They are resigned to a sense of impotence about themselves and to deep resentment toward those whose beliefs differ from their own. A healing question for them is to ask what it would take to increase their options, so that saying ‘Yes!’ to serving others could become a self-respecting choice.”
Every month for years, it seems, someone who wants to make a movie or write a book about draft dodgers telephones William Smith, the dean of the draft lawyers. He is still specializing in military law, practicing out of an extremely modest one-story office on Beverly Boulevard near downtown Los Angeles and dressing like a college professor.
Smith had worked as a public defender, then joined a Los Angeles law firm to specialize in personal injury cases. The firm did civil liberties work, so by 1966 draft cases were coming in. Smith started to handle them, largely for philosophical reasons. He never expected to make a living from it.
In those days there was still a purity to the resistance movement, an idealism fashioned primarily by leaders of Students for a Democratic Society. For these war protesters, it was not a matter of chasing a 4-F. It was a matter of saying no to the war machine--refusing induction.
Counseled 3,000 Men
By mid-1967, Smith was doing nothing but draft cases.
He figures that he counseled about 3,000 men through the end of the draft. “I can only recall one person who I counseled before the critical stage--before they sent you an order to report for induction--who even ended up in court,” he said.
His reputation grew enormously. “60 Minutes” put him on television and suddenly there were 500 letters, almost all from rural areas where no expert counseling existed, begging for help. “I turned away 90% of my phone calls,” Smith said. “We had to change our phone system. We had to hire someone to refer the calls to other lawyers.”
Sometimes it was not all that different from his days in personal injury work. After all, you still had to find the right doctor to examine your client and write a sympathetic letter.
“My favorite doctor would not so much exaggerate as simply know what could get somebody out of the draft and know the regulations and know what to look for,” he said.
Simply Wanted Out
As monthly national draft calls soared, the purity of the resistance movement began to vanish. Forget the political rap--most men simply wanted out, principles be damned. The creation of the lottery was the nail in the coffin. Millions of men, instantly freed and very relieved, no longer had a personal stake in ending the war.
“Most of the kids we kept out went on their merry way,” Smith said with obvious disappointment. “I thought this would be the start of a movement, but it turned out to be misplaced enthusiasm. . . . Most of them--regardless of what they said--were primarily motivated by not having their lives interrupted. It became very obvious to me that it was mostly a personal, selfish thing.”
The racial implications of the draft ate at Smith’s conscience. Blacks, often lacking economic and social resources, were more likely to simply fail to register for the draft than fight the induction process. He and other lawyers set up a free clinic at a church in Compton, but well-off white men from the Westside were as likely to come as local blacks.
‘The Effort Failed’
“Frankly, the effort failed,” Smith said. “The whole concept behind getting counseling involved many factors. Did you question the war? Was there a cultural belief that you could affect your life? People with money believed they could buy their way out. I don’t think it would have occurred to the average black teen-ager that there were lawyers who specialized in getting people out.”
Virtually all draft dodgers, no matter how ruefully they look back on their actions, say they would do it all again to avoid that war.
Bill Smith is not so sure.
“If I were to do it again today, I would have a lot of second thoughts,” he said. “What you’re doing is shifting the burden (of military service) to the poor, the way a tax lawyer operates. . . . We could just about guarantee we could get anybody out, and we did--but somebody always went in their place.”
There probably is a movie to be made about all this, about a tale of life under the gun, about bitter choices and mixed emotions. The problem for the scriptwriters will be whether they want to deal with the legacy of draft dodging, with the cynicism that it left behind, with the consequences of pitting a generation against its government and against itself and hoping that somebody will let bygones be bygones.
You can hear the aftermath in the voice of Doug Brown, the guy who beat the draft by having a kid earlier than he otherwise would have. You can hear it when you ask him how he explains his history to his son, the one who’s going to the Air Force Academy.
“I cheat on my income tax, too,” said Brown, now the owner of a funeral home in Larimore, N.D. “He’s got no problem with that.”