What? You Want to Drop Out of High School?
December 12, 1969
I cannot say that I understand you although I have lived my whole life in the same home as you. We share the same parents and siblings. We have been in the same grade in school since I was in first grade. Yet, I am so confused by you.
We are seniors in high school, and you want to drop out of school now. Why? It is dangerous for you to drop out. It will change your whole life. You need a high school diploma for a good job. Besides that, there is a war on and you are sure to be drafted. You are strong, a great runner and swimmer, and it is unlikely that you will be passed over. What dear brother, is on your mind?
December 14th, 1969
I am not a good student like you. If you had a choice of going to a party or reading a book, you might actually choose to read a book. I need more action in my life. I learn more from life than I do from books. I am weary of sitting in school being bored. I cannot do extracurricular sports because my grades are so bad. I cannot even take art classes, which is one school subject that I am good at; again, because my grades are so bad. I know I am intelligent, but I do not learn much from books. I see letters all jumbled up, and it is very difficult for me to sit still to read, or even read at all. You can learn from books, but I learn best from experiencing real life. So, I am going to face my life without school. I will take my chances that I can make my life a good one. I just cannot do it the same way you can.
Margie, you are the one that is the most religious in our family. You know there is a commandment that says, “Thou shalt not kill.” That is where I am coming from. Just because my country is in a declared war in Vietnam does not mean that I agree with this war. Since when have you thought it is OK to kill someone? If I go along with the draft I get put in the position of having to kill someone else just because that person happens to live in a country that my country is in a war with. I refuse to do that.
December 19th, 1969
I am going to do more research on the reasons for the Vietnam War. I guess, naively, I just always thought our country would only get involved in a war if it is the right thing to do. I never thought of the issues you are having trouble with. I guess I should complement you on thinking for yourself and not following the crowd in this situation. I have some rethinking to do. I do not know if I will end up agreeing with you, but I will certainly put some thought into where your ideas are coming from.
Wondering . . .
January 2nd, 1970
I did some research and discovered this article. It helped me understand what you must be believing:
In June, a month after graduating from Macalester College, I was drafted to fight a war I hated. I was twenty-one years old. Young, yes, and politically naive, but even so the American War in Vietnam seemed to me wrong. Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons. I saw no unity of purpose, no consensus on matters of philosophy or history or law. The very facts were shrouded in uncertainty: Was it a civil war? A war of national liberation or simple aggression? Who started it, and when, and why? What really happened to the USS Maddox, on that dark night in the gulf of Tonkin? Was Ho Chi Minh a Communist stooge, or a nationalist savior, or both, or neither? What about the Geneva Accords? What about SEATO and the Cold War: What about the Domino Effect? America was divided on these and a thousand other issues, and the debate had spilled out across the floor of the United States Senate and into the Cold War. America was divided on those who do not believe in fighting in a war, and believed our country needs to allow young men to be able to live out their beliefs in our free and democratic United States. The only certainty that summer was moral confusion. It was my view then, and still is, that you don’t make war without knowing why. Knowledge, of course is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice cause. You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can’t make them undead.
From On the Rainy River by Tim O’Brien
January 6, 1970
That letter from Tim O’Brien is how I feel. We do not know if we can trust that our government is giving us truthful information. I was listening to the news the other night when Walter Cronkite charged that Johnson’s efforts to shield the American economy from the consequences of the war created serious economic and social problems for the country. Another thing Cronkite stated is that “Johnson never leveled with the American people about the nature of the extent of the Vietnam War.”
Cronkite also expressed anger about accusations that the anti-war movement, opposition to the conflict was a betrayal of the United States. He reminded us that “Patriotism simply cannot be defined. Many of those against the Vietnam War protested with the most dedicated patriotism—in the total conviction that the war was not a just one and was staining the image of a nation they loved.”
So dear sister, I am not a draft dodger, I am a patriot, using the freedoms given to us by our government to live out my beliefs. I believe it was our past president James Madison that stated, “Those who do not believe in fighting in a war, should be able to live out their beliefs in our free and democratic United States.”
He’s Gone . . .
March 3, 1970
So you have been drafted. You don’t believe in the War with Vietnam. What are you going to do?
March 10, 1970
I have things under control so don’t worry. I will not be fighting in this war.
March 13th, 1970
James, what do you mean you have things under control? What are you planning?
March 16th, 1970
Margie, wait and see. You will find out if it works.
March 17th, 1970
Aunt Jean and Uncle Jake,
I walked into the living room and saw Mom crying.
Mom, what‘s wrong? Why are you crying?
James left us a note. He is leaving Dubuque and he does not want us to know where he is going. He says that knowing where he is and not sharing that information with officials could get us into trouble with our government.
May I see the note, Mom?
Here it is:
I have done what I could do to avoid the draft for a war that I don’t believe in. I stayed in the sauna bath and was one pound underweight the first time I went in for a military physical. I broke my ankle on purpose the second time I was called in for a physical. Now I am being called in again. I will not fight in a war I don’t believe in; so I am leaving town. I do not want you to know where I am because you will get in trouble if you try to cover for me. I love you all. I love my country. I do not believe in the Vietnam War and I will not fight in it. When it is safe for us all, I will contact you.
Mom, no wonder you are crying. This is huge. ( big silence) After Mom and I finished crying, we both sat silently stunned at James’ news. Mom starts crying again and I tried to console her.
“Of course we will miss him terribly. I guess—we just have to remember James is standing up for what he believes in. We will have to trust that—his future will work out. We may not agree with him, but we can’t help but be proud of him.”
‘You are right, Margie. I will call your Dad tonight at his hotel and let him know about this. When he comes home on Wednesday he will have had some time to think about all of this and we will decide together now to support James. Did you know that your cousin Ray was also drafted. He will go into the Army . . . This war is hard on families. I know my sister is upset about Ray being drafted. One of her nephews on her husband’s side of the family has already died in this war. Wars bring sorrow and hardship to so many people . . .
So we are all really sad here. Just thought I’d write you a short note and let you know what is going on in our home life.
March 17, 1970
Mom recently told me that your brother Ray has been drafted into the Army and that he is going. I do not know how I feel about that. I am sure we are all proud of Ray in some ways and we are afraid for Ray in some ways as well. I do not really understand the Vietnam War or the reasons we are at war. I hope our brothers are both standing up for what they believe in. James is no longer living in Dubuque, and we do not know where he is. I miss him.
We Really Miss You, James
I hope you get this note. I don’t know where you are living. I am hoping that our next neighbor Rick can find where you are. He caught me crying at school and wanted to know why. So he said he would try to find a way to get this note to you. Jon and Mary Beth are as bewildered by you as I am. Mom and Dad are trying to be cheerful for us, but I know they are worried. We are all hoping that you will come to your senses and come home. We miss you.