Dialog on The Draft
An Email Discussion (Permission Granted)
With Navy Veteran Hugh McDonald
Thread 1: 97-07-28 15:23:30 EDT
HM: firstname.lastname@example.org (Hugh C. McDonald)
WW: Westmiller@aol.com (William Westmiller)
HM: I think your web site is well done. I was interested by the content of your bio page. The draft issue must have been a tough one and though I think you were badly mistaken, I do appreciate your frankness.
WW: I decided a long time ago that honesty is 'the best policy'. It happened and I don't regret my decision then, or now, to act on my best judgment.
HM: Well, you ought to. Your judgment, at the time, was that of a child.
WW: As it turned out, a federal judge agreed that the local draft board had not given me a proper hearing and dismissed all charges against me.
HM: This is irrelevant and certainly you know that. I'm happy for you that the judge dismissed the charges but the dismissal has no bearing on this discussion.
I don't know and am not asking here, how you cope with the realization that when you refused induction, someone else had to go and perhaps die in your place.
WW: I can't accept responsibility for the actions of others which are beyond my control.
HM: But you must accept responsibility for your own action and your action resulted directly in someone else having to serve. Now, that was then, and it's over and done. But to deny it now is nothing more than self-exculpation.
WW: I believe my actions were more patriotic than many others at the induction center who didn't have the courage to say no.
HM: Perhaps there were a few who behaved as you describe but what about the millions who found the courage to say yes? What about them Bill? Who had the courage to say yes when family and friends and their own brains were screaming NO!
On the other hand, if my sons (I have 4) were faced with the same question today, I don't know how I would advise them.
WW: Fortunately for you and your sons (I have 3 daughters), there is no conscription and no undeclared wars. I hope you'll teach them that the principles of the Constitution are more important than the ego of any president and that the best soldiers are those who fight willingly for the liberty and freedom of our republic.
HM: I've tried to teach them and my 3 daughters a few, somewhat more transcendent principles. Like those of Honor, Duty and Country. And obedience to lawful authority. That's why, though I detest what Clinton stands for, I try to obey the laws. That principle is far more important than whatever personal judgment I happen to have made about the character or fitness of the current President.
They fight my friend, because it's their duty. Not because of any fuzzy judgment about Presidential ego or Constitutional principles.
Text 1: 97-07-30 02:40:30 EDT
From: HM: email@example.com (Hugh C. McDonald)
HM: I am astounded at your response to my comment about the draft issue. I had looked upon it as a mistake made by a young man during a time of turmoil. Easily made and, speaking for myself, who knows what I would have done in your place. Perhaps the same thing.
But the mistakes of a young man should be acknowledged for what they were, not justified on the basis of whether or not some judge later exonerates the conduct. But I can even accept that. It's very fuzzy thinking but God knows the world is full of that in these days and none of us is immune.
But your gratuitous comment about others lacking the courage to say "No" is beyond acceptance even by an old man like me who has seen most of what there is to see in terms of human degradation, tragedy and chaos. How many parents, sweethearts and children today are without loved ones who, my friend, did not lack courage but who gave all in the defense of what they thought was noble and just.
Did John McCain lack courage? Did the two of my sons who served in the military lack courage? Did I? We Goddamn did NOT? And how dare you besmirch the honor, integrity and, you bet Red Ryder, the personal bravery of the millions who did serve, even while they wondered, and their guts froze with fear. How Goddamn dare you!
And you're running for elective office? You better think about it kiddo! Think hard. About the values you're going to be sworn to protect. About the time which may come when you have to vote to send people to die. Will your vote be devoid of ego? I doubt it.
You are wrong Bill, deeply deeply wrong. I think you know that, at least I hope you do. I don't want to hear back from you unless/until you include an apology for your obscene comment. And, if you don't understand the what and why of this letter, then you ought to reconsider your "Judgment" about your fitness for public office.
Text 2: 97-08-01 12:40:30 EDT
From: WW:Westmiller@aol.com (William Westmiller)
WW: I apologize if my curt comment caused you pain. Since you implied in your first letter that you were "not asking here" for an explanation, my objective was brevity rather than clarity. I'm pleased that you took the time to comment extensively, because I'm anxious for an opportunity to clarify.
First, I do honor, admire and respect every one of those who "gave all in the defense of what they thought was noble and just." I never intended to suggest that they "lacked courage" or to minimize the pain and losses of their parents, sweethearts and children.
My comment was regarding the courage of those with me at the induction center who thought that the Vietnam War was not "noble nor just" and who opposed our involvement in that war (they told me so), but solely out of fear for their personal well-being (ie: jail), submitted to induction. If they went to Vietnam and died in combat, I grieve for their loss and their families' loss. But, from my perspective, they were victims, not heroes.
Second, I had dreams of being a fighter pilot in the Air Force, perhaps someday an astronaut, and would gladly have enlisted for a "noble and just" cause. I would have willingly sacrificed my life to beat back the aggression of fascism or communism or any statist power that threatened our country.
I would even go so far as to volunteer to fight for the freedom and liberty of those in other countries (Korea, Kuwait) if I thought I could make a contribution. I'm no pacifist. I see no distinction between a thug who wants to take my money, rape my daughters, or assault my wife and the thug who commandeers an army to subjugate the property, liberty and lives of others.
However, I have no respect for those who gave their allegiance to Hitler because of "Honor, Duty and Country", with no regard for whether the cause was "noble and just". They were 'just following orders' out of cowardice, not courage. They must "accept responsibility for their own actions". They are as guilty as their leaders for the crimes they perpetrated against humanity.
Vietnam was clearly a case of communist aggression. Subjugation, not just of the South, but of all Vietnamese. The vicious assault, supported by other statist powers, was not just evil and the consequences tragic, it was a blight on human history.
Nevertheless, I cannot, nor can our country, assume responsibility for the plight of every other person or nation in the world. The guilt is with the aggressor, not the victim, of any assault. If a crazed thug starts shooting in a shopping mall, I have a responsibility to duck. I have a responsibility to myself and my family to preserve my life. If the bullet I duck strikes another, that is the thugs' responsibility, not mine. In my own self-defense, and in the defense of the lives of others, I will do everything possible and necessary to terminate the assault, including killing the thug. But, I can't devote my life to terminating all thugs everywhere.
The point is that I do not accept responsibility if my peaceful, just and honorable actions "resulted directly in someone else having to serve" in a suicidal war. And it was a suicidal and dishonorable war. With the recent tapes of Lyndon Johnson and the book by Robert MacNamara, it is now obvious to anyone that the sole motive for the nation's involvement and escalation of the war was the ego of our elected representatives, who coerced thousand of children to go to a foreign land and die. That is despicable, that is evil, that is to be opposed with all our resources.
Yes, we do have a duty of "obedience to lawful authority". We also have a duty of disobedience to unlawful authority. The fact that out participation in Vietnam was not in compliance with the Constitution is a major ethical atrocity on the part of those who swear to uphold the Constitution, not a minor legal point for academic amusement. The President has the responsibility to execute the wars Declared by Congress, not the other way around. Nor is the Constitution's purpose of "securing the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity" served by involuntary military conscription.
It may be a minor legal point that a federal judge determined that my draft board had violated the law by denying me a hearing on my deferment. It is not "self-exculpation" to cite that as evidence that my induction was in violation of "lawful authority", fully justified, right and proper.
No, I don't regret my decision to refuse induction. My principles "as a child" were the same as they are today. The only oath required of a member of the House of Representatives is to "maintain and uphold the Constitution of the United States". You can be assured that I have done that and will continue to do that with all the resources available to me.
Thread 2: 97-08-10 17:14:15 EDT
HM: firstname.lastname@example.org (Hugh C. McDonald)
As noted in my last letter, I had not planned to respond to this. The differences in our views are so great that I see no chance of reconciling them even to the degree where a reasonably productive dialog can occur.
WW: "I apologize if my curt comment caused you pain."
HM: Apology accepted. Thank you.
WW: "I do honor, admire and respect every one of those who "gave all in the defense of what they thought was noble and just."
HM: Appreciate the clarification.
WW: "...from my perspective, they were victims, not heroes."
HM: We'd all agree that they were among the many victims of the war but many, perhaps all of them, were heroes as well. Think about it.
1. They didn't like the war or anything about it.
2. They were going to go to a place where there were real bullets in the air, fired by persons who were dedicated to ending their lives with as much pain as possible.
3. They were going to have to submit their minds and bodies to military supervisors who may have been less than totally committed to the idea that individual soldiers should be able to come and go as they pleased.
4. They had been propagandized by communist sympathizers about the evils of the American position.
Nevertheless, they went. And that makes them heroes in my book. I grant that they may have been afraid of the consequences of refusing induction. That's no more than being afraid to blow a stop sign when you see a law enforcement vehicle sitting on the corner. And I'll also grant that some small number went out of abject cowardice but I have to wonder about the rationality of that few. (I'd much rather face the possibility of a 5 year stretch in Leavenworth than a hail of unfriendly bullets if I were an out and out coward)
So one is kind of forced to ask: Why did they go, those who had every reason not to go? Well some went because they had no idea of how not to go. They would have ducked out if they could but had no idea of how to do that. My guess is that was a fairly small number, given the amount of propaganda and such that was floating around at the time.
Others went because they didn't have anything else to do and so "Screw the commies; let's just do it!" That was probably a pretty small number too.
Most went, in my view, because in a democratic society, one does things one doesn't want to do in the hope that our elected leaders know what they are about and have the best interests of the nation at heart. But even if we are sure that our leaders don't know or don't have the best motivation, we generally obey anyway:
1. We could be wrong in our convictions and we have enough sense to realize that
2. The consequence of everybody just following their own judgment, when it is in opposition to duly constituted authority is chaos.
3. In this country, there is always the possibility, however dim it may seem at times, of reversing political decisions.
Many opposed the war, opposed our involvement in it or opposed the way in which our leaders conducted that involvement. I certainly opposed the manner of our involvement which is why I walked precincts for Barry Goldwater in 1964. That was a bitter loss for me, partly because I felt that the Johnson folks played unfairly. But that did not give me the right to obey only the laws I thought were fair or just. I lost, simple as that and, in this society, it was my obligation to obey the winning side.
WW: "I see no distinction between a thug who wants to take my money, rape my daughters, or assault my wife and the thug who commandeers an army to subjugate the property, liberty and lives of others."
HM: Noble ideals but you just want to do so under terms that are satisfactory to you. Not much nobility there.
WW: "I have no respect for those who gave their allegiance to Hitler"
HM: Certainly you're not equating Johnson, Nixon or whomever with the likes of Hitler or our society with that of Nazi Germany. There were enormous differences both in how the personalities conducted themselves and in the character of the national societies at the time. Differences so great as to make comparison almost impossible.
WW: "Vietnam was clearly a case of communist aggression."
WW: "If a crazed thug starts shooting in a shopping mall, I have a responsibility to duck."
HM: That's a very long reach indeed. On the basis you describe, I could justify virtually any conduct. Consider your likely response if you were interposed between the thug and your wife or one of your children. I don't want an answer because it would be as speculative for you as it would be for me. But you can see what that line of reasoning can lead to.
The larger issue is that the decision of whether to oppose international aggression lies with our duly elected leadership. That's why we elect them. Our election of a national leader accomplishes two functions:
1. Assigns to the leader the responsibility of sorting out the kinds of issues you describe. A good job done means the enactment or continuation of the leadership's policies.
2. Grants to the leader the authority to carry out that responsibility. The leader thus has the right to expect our support, even when we disagree with his/her decisions. That's not universally true of course but exceptions are rare and of grave moral consequence.
WW: "...it is now obvious to anyone that the sole motive for the nation's involvement and escalation of the war was the ego of our elected representatives..."
HM: It's not obvious at all. You are equating "means" with the "ends". Vietnam was a national disgrace all right, but not because we were involved but rather because of how we conducted our involvement.
WW: '... coerced thousands of children to go to a foreign land and die. That is ... to be opposed with all our resources."
HM: What is it that was to be opposed? The struggle against a foe who was dedicated to our destruction or the manner in which we struggled. And of those who supported the Johnson/McNamara administration. Were they evil? You know better than that.
And as for opposing with "all our resources", you should be grateful that the millions of us who did oppose Johnson did not do so with all of our resources. Think about what you're saying. Think about the blood that would have been running knee deep in the streets.
Words have meaning and rhetoric is cheap and easy. Principle and adhering to it in times of turmoil are difficult. The continued viability of any democratic society depends upon the willingness of its members to do what they don't want to do, especially when they don't want to do it.
WW: "We also have a duty of disobedience to unlawful authority."
HM: What evidence do you have that Johnson exercised authority unlawfully? Unwisely certainly, immorally perhaps but unlawfully? I don't think so.
WW: "...Vietnam was not in compliance with the Constitution.."
HM: That's a personal judgment that you have reached. But that's all it is, a personal judgment. My personal judgment is that the Vietnam experience was within Constitutional boundaries. But, that's only my personal judgment. Counts just as much as yours. :-)
WW: "The President has the responsibility to execute the wars Declared by Congress.."
HM: Again, your personal judgment. Duly constituted Judicial authority has ruled otherwise on several occasions.
WW: "It may be a minor legal point that a federal judge determined that my draft board had violated the law.."
HM: OK, I'll concede that. And, as I said earlier, I'm happy that the decision was favorable to you. I never supposed you had other than honorable motives for any of your conduct. That doesn't alter my view that your positions, as you describe them, are seriously flawed.
WW: "My principles "as a child" were the same as they are today."
HM: That's really too bad but, having read your points above, not surprising. I have changed my mind many times about issues that I thought important at the time. Perhaps, as I acquire more experience and maybe a bit of wisdom, I'll make more changes.
WW: "The only oath required of a member of the House of Representatives is to "maintain and uphold the Constitution of the United States". You can be assured that I have done that and will continue to do that with all the resources available to me."
HM: I'm assured that you think you have; not at all assured that is really the case however.
I do not buy anything made in China (PRC) because of that nation's Human Rights policies and because it exports materials used for the production of Nuclear weapons. Hugh McDonald.
Text 3: 97-08-10 20:15:25 EDT
From: WW:Westmiller@aol.com (William Westmiller)
WW: You may be right, we have a very different set of ideals. Nevertheless, I thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss the issue and your willingness to share it with my website visitors.
What is beyond my comprehension is your apparent veneration of democracy as a method of selecting an autocratic authority to whom we owe unquestioned allegiance. Granted, Johnson was no Hitler. But, Hitler was "democratically elected", served as the "duly constituted authority", who had no problem "sorting out the issues" and exercised his authority in what he considered "the best interests of the country".
My sole civil obligation is to the fundamental principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States; in particular, the Bill of Rights. But,no matter how many votes I get, I will never have a "duly constituted authority" to violate anyone's rights to life, liberty and property. Thankfully, we do not live in a Grecian Democracy that bestows unlimited powers on a powerful elite. Our Constitutional Republic is devoted solely to defending the rights of every individual citizen: against the threats of foreign aggression, domestic assault and the whims of government officials.
Yes, I obey laws that violate my rights, because my resources are limited. One option is to disobey and depend upon the judicial system to uphold the fundamental law of the land. Another option is to vote for those who share the ideals of our founding fathers. I've decided to participate in the civil discourse of an electoral campaign. If the majority share my beliefs, I will have an opportunity to defend my rights and theirs in Congress. I'm willing to apply my best efforts to the task, for the benefit of all the citizens of this country, all the peoples of the world and all the generations to follow.