View Full Version : What I Did Was Legal, But Was It Right?

12-13-02, 03:47 PM
Why is it when all these people of late having a post 9/11 "Epiphany" seem to always try to shield their cowardliness with the mention of their FATHERS service and heroism?
There is their legacy. NO PRIDE, NO HONOR, NO LOYALTY.

I avoided the draft by taking a student deferment; what haunts me is that somebody took my place

By James Dannenberg NEWSWEEK

Feb. 18 issue — Funny how time and events can turn your world view upside down. Now that we are engaged in what most folks—me included—consider a “just war” in response to terrorist attacks, a war in which American men and women volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way, I am reminded of the not-so-subtle moral ambiguities my generation faced during the Vietnam War.

A FEW YEARS AGO my young son and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When he asked whether I had fought in the war, I told him I had not. His question awakened a hundred hibernating arguments and rationalizations, but I felt incapable of telling him anything more, and he didn’t probe further.

I did not volunteer for military service during the Vietnam War, nor was I drafted. Although I was of prime service age and fit enough, I did what I could within the law to avoid service, taking advantage of student deferments until 1970, when I turned 26 and was considered too old for the draft. Had I been drafted I might have considered resistance or Canada, but in truth I never had to make any hard choices. I slipped by, and I’ve had flashes of guilt and self-doubt ever since.

When it comes to our personal histories, we’re all revisionists, struggling, usually unconsciously, to place our past in the best light, to see ourselves as virtuous. I have long been convinced of the rectitude of my opposition to the war. But as the passage of time brings greater objectivity, I have become more critical about my actions during that period.

Vietnam seemed a cruel misadventure to many then, as it still seems to me, and only through the thickest cold-war lenses could it be seen as a just war. Communities and generations clashed about its wisdom and morality. Eventually, however, as the body count rose, a majority of Americans from all ranks came to oppose it. Then it was over, and America moved on.

But even in the 21st century it is clear that some wounds have not completely healed. Some boys went to Vietnam, and some did not. And we all know who we are. Yet from the beginning I was dimly haunted by the notion that for each college boy we managed to “save,” there was always another kid from a less privileged background to take his place

My first work as a lawyer in 1969 was in draft law, a now obsolete but then politically correct specialty. Our little firm of young lawyers was successful in keeping lots of boys out of the draft, mainly by tying up the Selective Service with its own regulations. Yet from the beginning I was dimly haunted by the notion that for each college boy we managed to “save,” there was always another kid from a less privileged background to take his place. The Selective Service was like a giant shark on a perpetual feed: if it missed one fish, it would move on to the next.

So even back then our legal victories rang a little hollow to me. Certainly they struck no telling blows against the war effort. On reflection, they seem immoral and dishonorable, much like the payments Civil War draftees could make to avoid service. Small comfort that we were on the “correct” side, that we were against the war. Our smugness was akin to the romantic reminiscences of Spanish Civil War ideologues, parodied by humorist Tom Lehrer: they won all the battles, but we had all the good songs.

A few years ago I began to think about the fact that someone took my place, too. Maybe he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Maybe he was traumatized in the way that many combat veterans are. Maybe he died.

Millions of my generation did go to Vietnam and serve honorably, but many middle-class, college-educated kids like me were effectively immune from service. Vietnam was an abstraction to us, albeit a powerful one. No doubt this shielded us from the kind of serious contemplation that seems appropriate even today, as we revere WWII vets and send troops to Afghanistan.

The real cost of the war was brought home to me recently, when I discovered that one of my own cousins had died in Vietnam. Richard Marks was only 19, a Marine Pfc, when he was killed in Quang Nam in 1966, at the same time that I was safely protected from harm by a graduate-student deferment. In a way I have come to look upon Richard as my metaphorical counterweight.

I make no apology for opposing the war and still admit to some nostalgia for the spirit of the ’60s, though I feel embarrassment for our ideological excesses. I only hope that I did not use my privilege to avoid military service out of cowardice, even as I admit to having been afraid.

No doubt about it: war is about killing and dying, and each generation must confront its own fear in answering the call. My father was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation’s second highest military honor, as a combat medic during World War II. Had I been in his shoes, I like to think that I, too, would have served.

But I’ll really never know, and talk is cheap. I survived the 1960s with a law degree and some guilt. Richard’s name is on the wall, along with 58,000 others.

Dannenberg lives in Kailua, Hawaii.

© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.

dannenbe@hawaii.edu Dannenberg's email the one from the article in Newsweek.

ALSO, NEWSWEEK ADDRESS IS: Web.Editors@Newsweek.com



12-13-02, 07:09 PM
I had posted this before, but I thought this would be a good place to revive it.

Don't you feel sorry for them?
The "I-missed- Vietnam" Guilt By Bob Greene

"The day I turned 19, I went down for my physical and had my first and only experience of Army life. I took with me a letter from Dr. Murphy, my childhood doctor, describing in uncompromising detail the asthma that had been a major part of my life up to 16."

Thus begins a article by Christopher Buckley in the September issue of Esquire magazine - an article that should spur millions of members of a generation of American men to question a part of their lives that they had thought they put behind them long ago.

Buckley - the son of conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. - describes in the article how he had received a medical deferment from the Army, and thus how he had escaped going to Vietnam. The article is titled "Viet Guilt, " and it addresses itself to those millions of young American men who did not go to Vietnam - and who are beginning to realize, all these years later, that by not going they may have proved something about their own lack of courage - their own, lack of manhood, if you will - that ought to make them very uncomfortable.

Enough words have been devoted to the moral issues of the war. The point that Chris Buckley makes is that, if the truth were really to be told, most of the men who managed to stay home from Vietnam did not do so for reasons of morality alone. Their real reason for not going was that they did not want to die, did not want to get shot at. And they found out that there were many ways to avoid Vietnam.

Young men of my generation got out of Vietnam because of college deferments, because of medical deferments, because of having a "lucky" number in the Selective Service birthday lottery that was initiated toward the end of the war. Three million men of fighting age went to Indochina during the Vietnam War; 16 million men of fighting age did not. Buckley was one of the men who did not - and I was, too. Reading his article made me realize the truth of the emotions I have been feeling lately about that particular subject. I sense a strong feeling - "shame" is not too strong a word - among many men who did not go to Vietnam, and perhaps now is the time to bring that feeling out into the open. Those of us who did not go may have pretended that we held some moral superiority over those who did, but we must have known - even back then - that that was largely sham. A tiny, tiny minority served jail terms - the rest of us avoided the war through easier methods. The men who went to Vietnam were no more involved with the politics of the war than we were. They were different from us in only two important ways: They hadn't figured out a successful way to get out of going, and they had a certain courage that we lacked.

Not "courage" as defined the way we liked to define it; not "courage" in the sense of opposing the government's policies in Vietnam. But courage in an awful, day-to-day sense; courage in being willing to be over there while most of their generation stayed home. When I meet men my age who are Vietnam veterans, I find myself reacting the same way that Chris Buckley indicates he does. I find myself automatically feeling a little lacking. "I have friends who served in Vietnam..." Buckley writes. "They all saw death up close every day, and many days dealt with it themselves." They're married, happy, secure, good at what they do; they don't have nightmares and they don't shoot up gas stations with M-16s. Each has a gentleness I find rare in most others, and beneath it a spiritual sinew that I ascribe to their experience in the war .I don't think I'll ever have what they have, the aura of " I have been weighed on the scales and have not been found wanting", and my sense at this point is that I will always feel the lack of it..."

I think many of us are just beginning to realize that. I know when I meet those men of my generation who did serve in Vietnam, I automatically feel less worthy than they are; yes, less of a man, if you want to use that phrase. Those of us who did not have to go to Vietnam may have felt, at the time, that we were getting away with something; may have felt, at the time, that we were the recipients of a particular piece of luck that had value beyond price. But now, I think, we realize that by not having had to go we lost forever the chance to learn certain things about ourselves that only men who have been in war together will ever truly know.

Our fathers learned those things in World War II; our sons, God forbid, may learn them in some future conflict. But we - those of us who did not go - managed to avoid something that would have helped form us into different people than we are now. Buckley writes "by not putting on uniforms, we forfeited what might have been the ultimate opportunity, in increasingly self-obsessed times, of making the ultimate commitment to something greater than ourselves, the survival of comrades."

But I think it may go even beyond that; I think it may go to the very definition of our manhood. I know that when I meet a man who, it turns out, has served in Vietnam, part of me wonders whether he is able to read my mind. I don't know how widespread this feeling is among men of my generation who didn't go; but I can testify that, at least for some of us, it's there, all right.


Since the above article appeared in Esquire magazine this month, I guess a lot of those folks are having second thoughts.

MY comment is:

FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF IN NO WAY MAKES UP FOR THE **** THAT YOU CAUSED BY PROVIDING AID AND COMFORT TO THE ENEMY. I may have your belated respect, but you sure as **** don't have mine. Not now, not ever.

Semper Fi

12-13-02, 08:06 PM
Sounds like James had the perfect oppurtunity to walk in his Father's shoes, but he still doesn't see it even now. Pointing his finger, blaming someone else, making one excuse after another, rationalizing with every shred of psychobabble he can find to make himself feel better about being a P%$#@Azz Coward.
First Sgt, I liked your comment when you first wrote it and I still like it and agree with it now. Who in their right friggin mind wasn't scared when our country called? Whether volunteer or draft we answered the call, the rest are just dodgers. I happened to answer my call on 23 Nov 90 @ 1305. I've never regretted it and never will. Just my humble opinion. Semper Fi Devil Dogs. Dave out.

12-16-02, 11:59 PM
I've had 2 friends tell me of their ( Viet Guilt ). One had served in the Corps, but had been put out with a UD I believe it was . On a few occasions he would tell me (if I only had it to do over ). The other friend was into drinking,drugs and the next party. Never served. I always had the feeling they wanted me to say it was ok . Sorry boys I couldn't do that . I would just change the subject. I didn't harbor any real resentment but I wasn't going to let them off either. We all make are on bed, so on and -------