Death The Numbers Game
MONDAY was the first day of December and the first real snowfall. It was cold and quiet and flavored with post-vacation inertia. Monday night the U.S. government, as if waiting for a tranquil moment, pulled oil the piece de resistance of all its absurdities.
It drew capsules from a large container. It read a date off of each capsule. It compiled a list of the dates in the order in which they were drawn. And from this list it made the Master Plan that dictates which of its citizens are to gave two years of their lives (maybe the last once) to murder and brutality and hared.
It was fairly hard to take seriously. That's not a new quality for the workings of the Selective Service System. It has always been difficult to realize than that system took its male youth to fight and die for interests that were incomprehensible or vile to many of them. The distance of this mighty bureaucracy and its indifference to what its recruits thought or wanted never quite ?bed with what we were taught to think as "American."
The old SSS worked in strange and wondrous ways. It was arbitrary, erratic, and unpredictable. The disposition of thousands of lives was enigmatic, inscrutable for mere mortals. You heard directly contradicting cases of IVF qualifications, of C.O. is won and lost, of prosecution of resisters. The moods of your board-members, the weather on the day your case came up the length of your hair, and most important. you finances were all factors that played on your draft situation. You couldn't know anything until they came to your case.
Despite what the SSS would have us believe, you still can't. All the variable will still have their influence. The new lottery, m???. Nixon, eliminates all kinds of irregularities. It rectifies elitism and discrimination in favor of the rich and the students.
But the same upper-middle class will be hiring the same hot young lawyers to win freedom for their sons, while the same ghetto class accepts induction like bad medicine. And the student deferment system remains intact. Confrontation with the I-A status is still postponed as it was before. until after graduation. The unofficial strings that post-graduates have pulled to stave off the draft entirely can still be pulled.
The new lottery. Nixon says, gives us a good indication of our chances for induction. Ever concerned with our psychic well-being the SSS has "reduced" to one year our liability and has tipped its hand on how badly it wants us. But the fine print effectively destroys any new sense of security. Any board can proceed as far down the date-ranking as it chooses. And if you do manage to escape your year of prime liability, you are shuffled into a "secondary pool" of eligible I-A's until age 26 (35 if you've held a student deferment since 1967).
There are three factors relevant to this government loop-hole, which amounts to a continued carte blanche on our young bodies: 1) 1970 draft calls show no sign of decreasing. 2) all exemption and deferment categories are still in full force. and 3) few are the local boards that don't exhaust their source of healthy. undeterred I-A's. We have to conclude that most boards are going to march well down the rank list to fill their quotas, and that only the blessed gentleman at the very end of the list (with birth day numbers of, say, over 325), can breathe deeply again. Maybe.
THOUGH we can only surmise until the draft calls come in, Monday night's drawing appears to be a barren and deceiving charade. And an implication that a "rationalization" of the draft (which the new system clearly is not anyway) justifies that draft is merely icing on the cake.
The lottery ushered in at least one change, if only an impressionistic one. It has nothing to do with the policies of conscription or resistance. The SSS has pushed their denial of our human autonomy to the logical extreme by ranking us as numbers in what is clearly a Game. The United States is now using the same method to decide the future of human beings that the Rotary Club used to pick winners of color T.V's. that the B'nai B'rith uses to name sponsors of trees in Israel.
Now in terms of real power, we of draft age are no more impotent than we were before. But somehow the new medium that they have chosen, this Surreal Raffle, is absurdly funny even as it is degrading. It is a parody that the Proposition might offer of government's evaluation of human life.
Monday night my birthdate came up second out of 366, smashing my hope of painlessly escaping a system whose purpose and methods appall me. I had seen the opening: parlaying four years of an elitist deferment with an unreachably high birthdate number, which would carry me until my liability ended. Instead, a random grab at pile of capsules has permanently cemented the alliance between my self-interest and my most detached political beliefs. I think draft resistance would have remained my political position after it no longer had to be my personal position. As it is. I'm not given the chance to find out.
I can rationally observe that my future draft status is no shakier than it was on Monday afternoon. I can calmly expound on the illusory nature of the differences between the old and new systems. I can playfully belt my roommate, who drew =336, or the guy upstairs, who ranks =366 (for real).
I can joke: I put on a quiz-show contestant grin and burble "Golly, Hugh, I've never won anything before. "But I can't seriously cope with the fact that I look like a raffle ticket. albeit a choice one, to my own government.