May 01 2007

Carol Marin and Vietnam

I read a column (September 23, 2007) by Carol Marin in the Sun Times online about the Vietnam War. There are many more writers building analogies between the Vietnam War era and today’s war conflict in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

The column about Vietnam brought me back to my own college days where I went from applying for a ROTC scholarship in high school, to applying for Conscientious Objector status to my local draft board in 1971. This was a big year for me and a big year for everyone who thought that going to college would keep them from being drafted.
Yes, I was in the first college class that did not get an automatic college deferment. I guess they finally were not able to hide the fact that poor African American young men who could not get into college were the ones who were catching all the bullets.

Someone noticed that it was discriminatory to give middle and upper middle class young white men the option to go to college, while sending young men of color off to fight a war that would leave deep emotional scars for the men who survived.

I didn’t know very much about the politics of the war. I just knew that back in Philly where I grew up, the roman catholic bishop was a big fan of Richard Nixon and the war effort…while at the same time condemning abortion.

When the bishop stated his opposition to abortion, even my 17 year old brain sensed a contradiction. He was allowed to do and say anything he wanted…he was the bishop. I don’t think so highly of those guys anymore. i don’t think many people do these days. Even my maternal grandmother got disillusioned about that time. She was nearly crippled with arthritis and the local priest came to the house and told her she was committing a mortal sin by not going to church on Sunday. my grangmother always laughed a lot when she told that story.

I got the CO status about a year before the war was over. By then, I had marched in several protests, including one in Washington DC where they had the cages on the front steps of the building that houses the congress. I brought my mother down there with me. She said it was one of the most meaningful things she had ever done.

Up until then, the most political fun my mother had was always voting democratic, despite my fathers ttempts to get her to vote democratic. My mother, friends and I later went to some college campus for more gatherings, movies about Vietnam and other great freedom movement moments.

The best was when we walked down a quiet hall and walked into a classroom where we could see students sitting quietly. Joan Baez was in the front of the classroom playing her guitar and singing a wonderful song of peace. My mother hasnt forgotten that freedom moment. She says that she thinks that even my father may have been moved to encourage peace in Vietnam if he could have been there.

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