Seniors and the Draft


The draft blew through the hallowed halls of the Ivory Tower this year and seniors who will have to face induction within the next six months are getting cold feet.

Usually at this time of year Harvard seniors are eagerly awaiting graduation, busy working on their dissertations, and looking forward to graduate school. But things have changed. While in the past an eavestdropper might have overheard discussions about Shakespeare or Keynesian economics, this year almost every conversation focuses on one topic: the latest vogue in avoiding the draft.

Many of the schemes seemed improbable at best. Some twenty seniors planned to start a truck farm in upstate New York in order to obtain an agricultural deferment until they were told by their draft lawyer that they would probably be classified delinquent for "evasion." Others were desperately trying to lose weight, practicing a grotesque pigeontoed gait (deferred on the grounds that anyone who walks with his toes pointing in would not be able to march long distances) or considering the relative merits of lopping off their trigger fingers. It was all pretty far-fetched, but to a significant number of students at Harvard the alternative of fighting in Vietnam was even less palatable.

Until now, however, it was impossible to estimate the number of students who actually planned to resist the draft. The recent poll given by the CRIMSON to Harvard seniors indicates that about one out of every four students say they will leave the country or go to jail if all their applications for deferment are rejected.

Of course saying that one will go to jail on an anonymous poll is very different from actually refusing induction and risking incarceration. But even granting that the number of people who intend to go to jail if necessary is vastly larger than those who will finally end up in prison, intentions nonetheless can tell us a great deal about the extent of disaffection on campus.

An Anguished Choice

What does it mean when a student says he would rather go to jail than fight in Vietnam; when he would rather leave the country than be part of what he feels is an immoral, illegal war? Regardless of what he actually does, it shows the depth of his protest. Few people understand that students who are seriously considering going to jail are tortured by the choice they face. No one looks forward to spending the best years of his life behind bars. Of course at first he might think of going to jail as a heroic act, as a kind of martyrdom, but as the actual decision draws closer there is nothing attractive about a federal penitentiary.

Even more disturbing are the students who say they will leave the country if they are called for induction. What these people are saying is that can no longer live a moral life in the United States and that the war is forcing them to flee. Many of these students understand that they will probably never be allowed to return to their homes, that once having made the decision there will be no turning back. These are the people who have given America up as a lost cause and are leaving to find peace.

Above all, the simple statistic that one out of four will resist reveals that a significant number of students at one of the U.S.'s most prestigious universities feel that there is an enormous gap between their personal values and the jobs they are being trained to hold in the future. How can a student who says to himself that he must go to jail in order to live morally in his own country ever see himself as filling a position of responsibility and power in the future? In spite of this, the student elite is told time and time again that they will man strategic positions of power in both the government and business of the future.

One out of three students who expect to be drafted indicate that they will refuse to follow orders which send them to fight in Vietnam.

Anyone who is drafted and then refuses to follow orders is in big trouble. No wonder few seniors are looking forward to graduating this year. Receiving a college diploma used to be an exciting experience, something to look forward to, a challenge; now it is beginning to look like an induction notice.

Three out of four of the seniors polled say that they do not expect to be drafted next year.

To my mind this is like finding that three-quarters of the Harvard senior class believes in Santa Claus. The message doesn't seem to have gotten through to these people: graduate school will not be an automatic deferment next year, teaching jobs will be flooded with applicants, it will be increasingly difficult to obtain conscientious objector status once out of college, and the draft boards will be wise to the draft dodgers' classic evasions--carrying a purse to induction, singing Alice's Restaurant, and showing up in black pajamas shouting "I want to kill, kill, kill." In a word, it will be extremely difficult to stay out of the Army next year.

Ninety-four per cent of the students polled do not approve of present U.S. policy in Vietnam. Of these students only one per cent feel that the war should be escalated. All the others are for greater efforts to achieve a negotiated peace and/or a de-escalation of the war.

After this there can be little doubt in anyone's mind as to the extent of anti-war sentiment at Harvard. What is surprising is that 38 per cent of those who are against the war are now calling for immediate withdrawal. If anything, this shows that radical solutions are becoming eminently respectable among students. Another 42 per cent said the military effort should "be reduced on the assumption that it will lead to a negotiated peace," indicating that a vast majority of those polled were in favor of some form of military pullback.

Three out of four students say that they will only join the Armed Services with "reluctance." Less than six per cent of the graduating class plans to enlist next year.

This must certainly represent some new kind of low in enthusiasm for the military under war-time conditions. Not only are students failing to flock to the recruiter, there are definite signs that they are actually avoiding him. For obvious reasons, the military has rarely aroused enthusiasm in academia; nonetheless it is interesting to note how far students have moved towards active dislike for the image of our fighting men abroad.

Of the few students who plan to join the military voluntarily in some capacity next year, the overwhelming majority disapprove of present U.S. policy in Vietnam and some of them even say that they will refuse to follow orders to fight in Vietnam. What this proves is that there are a number of students who are joining the military in order to avoid being sent to Vietnam. Crazy as this may sound, there is some logic to the madness. If one enlists, joins the Reserves, or enters some kind of officer training, there is a better chance of choosing the kind of job and part of the world to which one will be assigned than if one is drafted. Apparently the majority of Harvard seniors who have said they are going to enlist have this kind of motive in mind.

One hundred and thirty-seven students will apply for either a physical or psychological deferment--approximately one out of every four students polled.

Now certainly not all these students can be as sick or as crazy as they profess to be. There are undoubtely those among this group who are perfectly healthy. Most are at least as sturdy as the Southern farm boy who has just enlisted or the Black from one of our many ghettos who has just been drafted. The only difference is that the poor can't afford to have their ills diagnosed and recorded; they don't know that a migraine headache might get them out of the Army, they only know that they don't feel good sometimes. Most medical deferments, and almost all psychological deferments, are a luxury of the rich.

But if the poor are not "officially" sick, the rich man's burden is that he spends so much time convincing the draft board that he is unfit for military service that in the end he begins to believe his own put-on. There have been students who have gone through so much to convince their draft boards that they were crazy that in the end indeed they were.

What kind of society is it that rewards the young people who emphasize their mental and physical deformities? What is happening to the future elites of our society who are busy convincing themselves that they are misfits, irrelevant to the jobs for which they are being trained?

These are the real questions which seniors at Harvard and all over the country are grappling with this year. The immediate future is no longer the challenge that it should be in our advanced society. Instead it has become a series of moral confrontations. Our society preaches freedom and peace while it practices repression and violence. The wonder is that not more than one out of every four Harvard seniors sees his immediate future as anything less than an apocalyptic nightmare.