Paul Wiley (unedited – not in CALLED TO SERVE)

Paul is a retired principal of the Crocker Farm Elementary School in Amherst, MA.  He is a father and a husband.  In addition to his work as an educator, he consults in the areas of school leadership, team building and conflict resolution with a diverse array of clients including schools and businesses. 

In ‘67 I graduated from high school.  I always had this consciousness about what was going on politically. Issues of freedom and justice and people’s rights, especially as it pertained to African-Americans, became more prominent.  Everyone I knew was becoming more politically aware and knowledgeable.  I attended Bowdoin College in New England, which is private and was then also almost all white and all male. I was one of very few African American students in the class of ‘71.  We, and some African students, were all trying our very best to bring cultural, racial and political awareness to the college.  This was the atmosphere leading up to my situation with the draft.

Students knew the U.S. was heavily involved in Southeast Asia.  We knew or could feel that we were going to need troops and that we were going to have a draft.  There was much anxiety about this.  We knew some people were not expected to go.  If you were a doctor, a minister, or a teacher even, you probably wouldn’t be drafted.  However, those of us who were not going into those fields didn’t feel even the least bit protected.

It was a very unsettled time.  For me, personally, it was a time of trying to decide what to do.  What route would I take?  If I was drafted, would I go?  Part of me said, “No, I wouldn’t go.”  Then the other part of me would say, “Yes, you should go,” because my dad was in the Army, eventually retiring as a major, and I really respected him.  I aligned very heavily with him and his experience in a lot of ways, except on this issue of war.  Not that he liked war either.  He talked about it very little, which gave me the sense that he didn’t like it or wanted to forget about it.

So, leading up to the draft there was a lot of angst about what to do.  If you signed up you’d be honoring your country. If you avoided the army, you’d be dishonoring your country. Choices: honoring your friends, dishonoring your friends; honoring your family, dishonoring your family.

For me Vietnam was not as much a war for people’s rights and greater justice in the world, as it was a battle to give the U.S. control in that part of the world.  The length of time we spent there, the way we fought the war and the reaction of some of the people around the world furthered my belief that it was wrong.  In addition, at a very basic level, I know killing is wrong, so I had a reason for not wanting to be put in the position where I had to kill someone or be killed.  Could I do that to another human being?  My answer to myself was no, so, if anything, I was leaning toward not going.

While what was happening in Vietnam was feeling very wrong, there were also a lot of wrongs in America that needed to be addressed.  Justice was still not being served: African Americans and women still did not have equal rights. Even children’s rights were being denied – no  access to a decent education and health care.  Awareness of all of this was growing in me as I was trying to decide about whether I should go or not go.  I didn’t really feel that on the world stage we were doing the right thing.  Rather, it felt like what was happening in Vietnam was almost mirrored here in the U.S.. Political warfare with people getting hurt and killed while they attempted to gain basic rights and freedoms, was going on here as well as there.  It was a two-tiered battle happening.  I didn’t like what was going on here and I didn’t like what was going on in Vietnam.

At this time Malcolm X was critiquing and analyzing America’s role at home and abroad and this influenced me as well.  Malcolm was trying to get people to see how the United States government was actually exerting a negative influence, an oppressive influence, over the entire world, not just here. Malcolm was trying, through the Nation of Islam, to get people not only to join together here, but to join with our African brothers and sisters and our Asian brothers and sisters, because the U.S. was imposing its oppressive will on people of color throughout the world.  He knew you couldn’t isolate your argument to black people anymore because black people were also poor people and there were also white and Latino poor people.  All these folks weren’t being treated fairly, and, by the way, they’re all fighting the same war. With these views and the approach he advocated, he was really a threat to the U.S., and you know what happened to him at the hands of his own people.  In his last few years Martin Luther King, Jr. also came to the same realization about oppression and poverty.  Dr. King also spoke out strongly against the war in Vietnam and, he too, was assassinated.  For me, both men were very influential. Both spoke out about the truths of America, and I wasn’t surprised that they were both assassinated.

In the midst of all this I recall having a conversation with my father.  At that time, you could avoid the draft by joining the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps).  You’d go through the motions and you’d be in the service, but you wouldn’t get drafted right out of college and go.  However, being in ROTC was definitely not something that reflected my values, so it didn’t seem right to join.  My father and I talked about it, but he came from a whole different time.  He served in World War II and he had fought in Italy.  It was even a different way of fighting.  There was a large part he couldn’t relate to – the issues involved in Vietnam, and the particular frame of mind of the government and military leaders.  However, he did say pretty early on, that he didn’t think that it was a war the U.S. could win.  This was a pretty profound statement coming from my father.  He had served in a cannon battalion in Italy during World War II.  Part of his job was to figure out which places you could capture and contain from a tactical point of view.  He believed that from a military point of view, capture and containment was not really possible in Vietnam, because we were fighting in an environment that we couldn’t control and for reasons that were not well articulated.  It clearly became confusing not only for people here, but even for soldiers, the guys doing this fighting.

Had I had a lower number in the draft and chosen not to go, I think both of my parents would have supported my decision.   I believe that because there were a lot of things that happened over many years that they supported.   I knew what they would support and what they wouldn’t support while I was growing up.  What they respected was a decision that was well thought out, made sense and wasn’t just shooting from the hip.  They would grill me to find out whether I’d thought about it or not, but if I came through that grilling, it would be fine.  They would support it.

In December of ’69 I remember that they held the first lottery.  We were in WBOR, the radio station on campus and the ticker tape came across.  We weren’t watching CNN and there was no Internet so we were watching the ticker tapes come through the machine and my birthday came up, it’s June 15th, as 180.  That was right in the middle, so at the time I didn’t know what that meant.  I had no idea how deep into the numbers they would need to go.  As it turns out they never went that deep to get the people that they needed, so I never had to go.  But I knew people who did.  There was a guy sitting in the room there who was number 4.  I remember when he saw his birthday come up. He was very distraught.  He just could not fathom the thought.  He knew he’d be going.  We all thought if you were in the top seventy-five to a hundred, you were going. As it turns out he ended up going to Canada and could still be there now, but I lost touch with him.

So for me, with number 180, immediately it’s this sense of relief.  At the same time, it was such an uncertain time, you weren’t sure if they were going to just keep going deeper until they satisfied what they needed.  There was a moderate sense of relief, but there was still more anxiety, more worry, more concern.  It actually heightened the fervor around the political doings of students on campus as I recall.

I was very involved in the African-American Cultural Society at Bowdoin.  It was a very political group.  We spoke out about a lot of issues around civil rights and justice that were pertinent, particularly for African Americans.  When we saw our friends getting drafted, we started speaking out against the war.  It was across the sea, but it was an atrocity being done to people of color particularly.  It was a vision we had that as African American students we not only had a responsibility to ourselves, but a responsibility towards other people who were subject to these kinds of atrocities.  The Malcolm influence.  We now saw people we knew personally having to leave, having to go over there.  So, yeah, when you start out thinking about a relatively high number like I got, it’s like, ”Oh, I didn’t make it, thank God”.  I can go about my business, but in fact it actually highlighted what you had to do. The thought became, if you weren’t going, you could at least put the energy into taking political stands and being vocal on this side for those on the other side.

There was one young black man I spoke with who decided that, if he was drafted, he would go.  I think he had this idea because he felt ultimately it was his duty.  He felt that if the government called him he would go.  He felt that he would serve his time and he’d come back. He didn’t approve of the war.  He was just doing it out of obligation, and I don’t believe anything happened to him. I believe he did come back. He did whatever his time was, but he was one I remember.

There were other groups besides the African-American Cultural Society that were opposed to the war.  There were some active SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) people on campus. There were other folks who were very much anti-government, and were always trying to get people not to participate in the war.  These groups were able to prohibit the armed forces from doing a lot of recruiting on campus.  It was just a hotbed. If recruiters had shown up, there would have been a lot of trouble because there were so many people who were against them.  People were always talking with folks about the wrongness in all of what was going on, hoping they’d decide that participating in the war was wrong.  It was different from coming out and telling them they were wrong.  It was trying to say, “Here’s this information.  Consider it carefully and then make up your mind.”

With all this in mind, I wonder about the possibility of another draft lottery and reinstating the draft to deal with the current wars.  The thought of another draft immediately brings me back to where I was in 1969.  Thinking about the feelings then and the feelings now, it’s the same thing, but I’m looking at it from a different perspective.  Unless we get really desperate, they’re not going to draft me.  Is that the relief again? Maybe.  At the same time I am now wondering, are they going to be drafting my daughter and her friends who are 20, 21, 22 year-old kids?  Are they going to be dragged into something that I don’t politically approve of?  There’s no great upswelling from this group because there is no imminent danger until someone says, “Hey, there’s a draft lottery.”   Then you’ll probably get a big reaction.

I’m feeling that that whole experience with the draft and Vietnam has never been forgotten and if I roll that carpet out from that point to now, I continue to feel the same way about war. I don’t approve of it. I don’t approve of killing people.  It also influenced me greatly to get into some other areas of interest that I have.  A large part of what I do now as a retired educator is that I work with schools and other organizations on matters of leadership, team-building, multicultural issues, conflict resolution and dispute management .  That’s a contribution, because for me, it’s teaching people a different way of battling problems.  I feel that I am contributing to that field rather than to the field of war.  That’s one outcome of living through Vietnam for me.  I’ve been able to work with students and adults and even organizations and companies. It’s a whole different way of dealing with conflict. I would love the opportunity to do it with government.   I just don’t think that’s going to happen, but that’s been the influence of those times on my life and work.

I think sometimes about whether there could be a just war.  For me the two words don’t go together at all.  My father probably felt World War II was a just war. When you think about it, you think about Hitler and later on about the Soviet Union. When you think about all those things that were going on at that time in Europe, does that warrant a war?  You certainly could say, yes. What better way to get rid of someone like Hitler than to kill him, for all the things that he did.  Is that just? I don’t know. When we start claiming that we’re the ones who can determine what’s just and what’s not just, I think we’re on dangerous ground. That’s where my thinking is on the just war thing because we never know what happened prior to the start of that war. Did we do everything possible to make war not happen?  If we compare the times between World War II and now, the level at which we can communicate very rapidly with each other is such a gift for the communicators.  We found out about things in World War II through newsreels.  We didn’t have embedded reporters back then. We didn’t have electronic communications that would get information instantaneously to you.  So, communication and negotiation and conflict resolution, with the level of communication ability that we have, we should be doing a lot more of these.

So, a draft now?  Let’s draft a whole lot of people who have the skills to go into a place and begin to work and negotiate with people and do groups.  Let’s get kids thinking and get politicians to start re-crafting how they organize their governments.  Let’s draft conflict resolvers rather than fighters and strategically put them in places where there’s a good chance that they will be able to make a difference.

Instead, of course, there are recruitment ads built around getting the attention of young people and hitting them in areas they’re going to react to.  High-tech music, high-tech graphics.  Lots of glitz and glamour.  Lot of power and authority. Lots of control.  All the kinds of things kids want, and especially kids who are poor, especially kids who are black, especially kids who are Latino.  The ads are very misleading because they promise they’ll pay for college and you can go on these amazing Navy ships and you can do all these wonderful things and you dress really great and everybody loves you, because you stand up for your country, but the other part of the job is that you could get killed.  They don’t tell you that, which is misleading. That’s my fundamental argument with the advertisements. I wouldn’t care if they advertised it, but put the disclaimer somewhere on there that they do with cigarettes. “This job is really dangerous to your health. You could lose your life doing this job,” and then let people really think about it from that perspective.  I would like to see, and I’ve thought about this from a kid’s perspective, but if you ran the military ads parallel to the news footage that we see coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, you could ask a young person to tell where this matches up. What do you see over here and what do you see over here? What are they telling you and what’s actually happening.  We’re not going to get that.

The ads are one piece and the other is the live recruitment strategies that have been documented.  Things were shown on television, special mini-documentaries, on these street recruiters.  They go right into impoverished communities with high unemployment and high drop out rates.  They admitted themselves those are the places they need to go because they have easy access and a better chance to fill their quotas.  They’re not going to go marching through the white suburbs doing this.  There would be nobody to talk to.

As for a lottery if the draft is reinstated, there’s supposed to be something inherently fair in a lottery.  The only thing you can say is that a lottery is a lottery.  We know it is arbitrary, but that doesn’t make it fair.  I think what happens and what our history shows us is that, say look at June 1st and the number comes up in the lottery and everyone on June 1st is going in for service.  Who’s going to be in that June 1st pool of people?  Once they are in there, how are they going to be utilized?  In the service of this nation with its on-going injustice and mistreatment of people of color? What are these draftees going to do?  Do all of the Black and the poor and the less educated young people become our infantry? Or are they sitting behind a tech desk feeding information off to people?   Questions but no answers.

It definitely would be interesting if we needed to make sure we have the armed forces necessary to protect this country and we feel that in order to do that, we are going to need 100,000 troops over the next 3 years and we just asked who would like to join? What do you think would happen?  We know what might happen especially given the climate of what’s going on in Iraq. You might get 25,000 people – I’m just making this up with the numbers – who’ll say, I’ll be happy to go and we let them go, but we need 75,000 more. People say, “Well, I know you asked, but no, I’ve got something else I want to do” Then you’re stuck.  Then you’ve got to force people.  You’re just flipping the coin basically and saying let’s put something out there and put the lottery out and it’s an unlimited source of people if you cover all the birth dates.  You keep going until you hit the number needed. Then you’ve got everybody; it isn’t an issue.  You could do it every year because you’ll have other people coming up at that same age the following year.  There’s nothing fair about that because we’re basically stripping ourselves of our young people. We’re not asking them to serve in ways they could contribute to this being a better place. The only way, the only option we are giving them is fighting.  The United States, given its capacity to do so many different things, really ought to be giving people lots of different options.  There may be some folks out there, who knows, who just love to fight.  Maybe that’s what they want to do.

But maybe there are some folks that feel that a better way for me to do this would be to clean up the environment or to go to Africa to help sick populations of Africans.  They could go over there and work for a period of time and all we’d need to do is feed and clothe them and they would do the rest.  Wouldn’t that be worth trying instead of what we do now?