CALLED TO SERVE: Stories of Men and Women Confronted by the Vietnam War Draft (Levellers Press, 2011) by Tom Weiner had its release in May. Weiner was drafted in 1971 and since that time he has sought to document the wide range of Vietnam War draftees’ experiences. He found that lives were often changed irrevocably by the decisions young men and women made in response to the war. Sixty-one men and women were interviewed. Mostly Pioneer Valley residents now, their draft boards were scattered across the country at the time of the war. Thirty testimonies make up the book. Weiner carefully researched the introductory material for each chapter and provides a useful appendix and chronology as well as a history of the draft and of conscientious objection. Charlie Clements, a Vietnam War veteran and long-time anti-war activist wrote the preface. Activist and Unitarian minister Victoria Safford provided the afterword.
Weiner found the interviewing process to be intensely emotional. In many cases the experience of telling the story allowed for healing that has been elusive for these individuals. Many books deal with the Vietnam War, but here, for the first time, the stories of those who served and those who chose various routes not to serve are collected in one volume. The stories cover a wide range of human experience. In one case a man’s mother hid his draft notice in the hope she could protect him only to make his service inevitable. Stories of those who fled to Canada and what awaited them there are followed with interviews of those who went to jail to express their deep commitment to ending the war. The last chapter chronicles the challenges and struggles of “Those Who Loved, Counseled and Consoled.” Several women who accompanied their man to Canada were interviewed as well as one who began a draft counseling center in Northampton. The lottery, of course, features prominently as many lives were changed by the randomly selected number associated with a birthday.
It is the author’s hope that the reader will come away with a deeper understanding of what motivated his subjects to pursue the course of action he or she chose. Whether the reader is someone who has been affected by the war or someone who wants to better understand those who were, the book is an invaluable record. Further Weiner suggests, it seeks to promote the healing that has yet to occur for the country forty years later. There is also the backdrop of the tumultuous 60’s and early 70’s. The music, the sexual revolution, the drugs, the civil rights struggles and the generation gap all feature prominently.