Something dramatic happened almost every day in the Sixties. Whether it was on the news, in our personal lives, or on the street, change was in the air. It was up to us to create new ways to respond to civil rights, women’s liberation, education, corporate America, drugs, sex, and rock & roll. But the Vietnam War overshadowed everything, and it was important to heighten public awareness of the antiwar movement and the ongoing catastrophe in Southeast Asia, so I put myself on the front lines of the anti-war campaign. Since the war ended, I have not led a public life.
As I present my story here, it is not my intent to write a history of the time but rather to let the lessons of history illuminate the evolution of my youthful naiveté into committed antiwar activism. I hope to explain how a young man came to the moral decision to engage in civil disobedience, and what compelled him to risk five years in prison. I'll do my best to explain the gravity of the situation for the individuals involved in draft resistance, and for the nation as a whole. This was a tumultuous time. Lives were lost. Souls were saved. It mattered where you stood.
The draft has been over for a long time, but young men are still required to register with Selective Service when they attain the age of eighteen, and it appears that women will shortly be required to register at the same age. At present, there are actually some members of Congress proposing to reinstate the draft. I cannot stand by without speaking out publicly against this. I still maintain that conscription is antithetical to the very concept of a democratic republic that respects individual liberty. There is no way the United States government could have fought the war in Vietnam without the draft to feed coerced bodies into its war machine. If our government truly is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” then the government cannot force the people to fight a war they know is contrary to the best interests of themselves and their nation. Forced service of any kind isn't “service,” it's involuntary servitude.
When I first started to hear the crazy talk about re-instating the draft, I wanted to do my part to make sure we did not repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. As I contemplated my options, I came up with an idea of ordering the transcript of my 1969 trial for refusing induction, and to then present the trial as a play on the stage. The play would include a character called Me, which would be the present-day Daniel Holland, who would act as an Our Town type of stage manager with the ability to stop the action on stage and comment on the situations or characters in the play. I decided to call the Daniel Holland of 1969 Danny, the name I answered to in those days. Danny defended himself in court and called as his witnesses Vietnam War veterans and other draft resisters to testify about how the draft and the war were devastating to all of us. There was also a fair amount of banter between the judge and Danny, some of it actually funny. Accordingly, it was not a typical trial, and I thought it would make an entertaining as well as an illuminating play.
I telephoned the clerk of the Minnesota district federal court and asked how I could obtain transcripts from a court case in 1969. The clerk informed me I could find those records at the US National Archives and Records in Chicago and provided me with the contact information. A very friendly woman there explained I could come to Chicago and make copies of the records myself, or her staff could make the copies and send them to me for eighty cents per page. I used my American Express card to pay $113.60 for 142 pages of records. While I was waiting for my records to arrive, I started to organize an outline of the trial from memory and began to research how to write a play, which I had never done before. I could barely contain my excitement about the project and began pumping myself up to take on the role of Me myself, even though I had no professional acting experience. But I thought I would be perfect for the role.
Then the package from the National Archives arrived. There were a lot of pages to go through, so it took me a while to discover that the transcript of the actual trial, i.e., the testimony of witnesses and the opening statements and closing arguments by me and the assistant U. S attorney who prosecuted the case, were missing, replaced by a one-page handwritten synopsis:
“Mr. Holland opens and states case to the court and jury on his own behalf.”
“Mr. Koenig sums up the case for the court and the jury on behalf of the Gov’t.”
The 142 pages were mostly pre-trial and post-trial motions, the judges jury instructions, and an appeal handled by an attorney on my behalf. I called my contact at the National Archives, and she explained very nicely this was standard procedure in court cases and was implemented to save space. Seriously? Forty pages of the record included an exact copy of the appeal filed in the George Crocker case. Simply replacing those pages with a 3 x 5 card with a handwritten note saying “See George Crocker appeal” would have saved enough space to preserve the content of my trial. It did me no good to tell her they destroyed the important pages of the historical record and saved the irrelevant ones. “I told you,” she said, “you could come down here and copy the pages yourself. Then you would know what you were getting before you paid for them.”
I won’t say I fell into a deep depression, but my mood definitely dampened. My stepson, Noah Tabakin, and my wife, Gini Holland, have always encouraged me to tell my story of resistance. Now they sat me down and convinced me it was not the play itself that was important but the message it conveyed, and I would still have to tell my story even if I had to rely on my memory rather than a transcript. Of course, they were right, so I hereby maintain they are responsible for the book you are holding in your hands. Another culprit would be my good friend Paul Caster. Paul teaches drawing and video at an accredited art institute, and I approached him with the idea of a video documentary. Following a very engaging meeting, Paul requested an outline. When I presented him the list of topics I intended to cover, his response was, “You should write a book.” OK then.
So, the chain of events I will present here comes directly from my memory of those years, but also the memories of friends and other participants in the anti-war movement, as well as newspaper articles and photographs, court records, FBI files, books, magazine articles, internet postings, and letters both to and from me. Many memoirs come with a caveat about the fallibility of memory, and there's been much research in the fields of medicine and psychology about its shortcomings. A rehash of the topic is not necessary here. As I write this preface, however, I must mention the February 2014 issue of Scientific American, which has an article about people with “highly superior autobiographical memory” (HSAM). I do not claim to have HSAM abilities, but I do have extensive background material to support, enhance, and refresh my memories, so am confident in the facts as presented.
Finally, I have a note on the use of names. If your name appeared in the newspaper or in the court records, if you signed a public statement or made public speeches, if you were an officer of the court or another public official, or if you were a recognized leader in the draft resistance or any of the several other antiwar organizations, you are already part of the historical record, and I used your real name in this book. If you were a friend or acquaintance of mine and your path peripherally crossed mine at the time, but I have been unable to contact you prior to publication, then I used just your first name. Nobody will know it’s you unless you tell them. If you are in the first-name-only category and I felt something might be painful or embarrassing for you, I made up a new first name. Of course, I do not say anything I know to be untrue about anyone. The events I am relating in this memoir really happened.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
The fog and the folly of war are well documented throughout recorded history. My coming of age story is inescapably linked to the body count, particularly of the American soldiers of my generation, but I cannot erase from memory the millions more who died. For what? The following list of dead of necessity is made from estimates as the hell that is war does not easily lend itself to the neatness of accounting, although the American deaths are extremely accurate, and the count was a regular feature of the nightly news. This is why I had to act in the Sixties, and why I must tell that story now.
3,000,000 Vietnamese civilians dead
1,100,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers dead
250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers dead
58,000 American soldiers dead (including MIA)
5,000 U.S. allied soldiers dead (South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand)
92,000 French soldiers dead
500,000 Vietnamese military and civilian dead (during French Indochina War)
60,000 Civilians, mostly children, killed by unexploded ordnance since war ended
200,000 Vietnam Veterans committed suicide since war ended