Opposition: Objection to the War in Vietnam

By Jack Lodge

1969 Draft Lottery

First Draft Lottery (Courtesy of HistoryNet)

Tom Hay was a freshman at Earlham College when the first United States Army Draft-Lottery broadcast aired across the nation in December of 1969, in order to acquire more troops to combat the ever growing communist threat of the North Vietnamese in South East Asia. Hay remembers the night of the lottery, saying “when the day came to draw the numbers out of the big drum, I can still remember it all the boys of draft age that year gathered into a room, and it was just the boys… I can still see the faces of the people who got numbers of like one, two or three…” [1]

That night only numbers one through one hundred and twenty were chosen for service in Vietnam. Hay’s number was 254. “I had the luxury of just walking away and planning my life without having to worry about being drafted or anything.”[2] Hay recalls thankfully, however as H.W. brands writes in his book American Dreams, “Some Americans had objected to the war in Vietnam from the outset.”[3] Hay was one of those Americans who opposed the war because of his upbringing in the Quaker Community and their tradition of nonviolence.

Had he been drafted Hay would have registered to receive conscientious objector status, which mean he would have to appear in front of a draft board to make his case on why he could could not serve. Hay was confident that because of his Quaker upbringing that “The cards would have been stacked in my favor, coming from southern Chester County, which has so many Quakers… and being a Quaker of course with their tradition of pacifism and not participating in war, I think there was very little chance that I wouldn’t have been granted my conscientious objector status…”[4] During this time many men drafted into service via the lottery system would try to claim conscientious objector status, and the majority succeeded like Hay’s older brother who was granted conscientious objector status and was sent to work in Denver, Colorado as an orderly. Hay describes the process of alternative service as “what you do is you present options and they approve one… I don’t think they sent you somewhere, you offered and said ‘well, I’ll do this,’ and they said well that’s okay or that’s not okay.”[5] However, those who did not go to war faced scrutiny on the homefront.

In the early years of the conflict Hay recalls thatinitially people who were against the war were pretty much looked down upon as being unpatriotic, or “chicken,” or… you know… whatever, just somehow not quite adequate, either in terms of their love of country or their manliness.”[6] This form of disdain and apprehension of citizens who objected to the war in Vietnam was spread throughout the country to the point that draft boards in certain areas of the country would not approve any application for conscientious objector status.[7] In many instances, those applying for conscientious objector status, claiming that Vietnam in particular was an “unjust war.” Judges and draft boards alike were skeptical of this claim and saw it as a cop-out in order for the majority of applicants to avoid service.[8] However, Hay would not have had this problem, coming from an area of the country that had a high population of Quakers and himself being a practicing Quaker. Religion was a large factor or why people who applied for conscientious objector status were approved. In some cases, though an individual had their own moral objections to war, they were not granted conscientious objector status because they had no religious foundation for their opposition.[9]

Not only did some judges and draft boards have disdain for would-be conscientious objectors, but the area in which Hay was going school at the time, Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana “was at that point… a very conservative town. In fact a number of people earned a living at the munitions factory in Richmond and had no patience or tolerance for the ‘hippy-Quakers’ at Earlham.”[10] This was a different environment than what Tom was used to; growing up in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania in a Quaker community, and even Earlham college which had been “entirely supportive of my attitudes and my beliefs.” Hay describes Earlham College as a “community isolated within its’ own community.”[11]

Hay likens the Earlham College community as similar to that of the community in which he grew up being more oriented with the Quaker traditions. As result, the war was heavily protested on his campus in the form of protest marches, or to the more extreme, tearing up draft cards.[12] Though Hay never tore up his draft card, he recalls friends who did: “Certainly I had friends who were a little bit more extreme than me the tore up their draft cards, which was against the law. They did it publicly or on purpose in front of an official and some of them did time in jail, which was brutal, some of them were horribly mistreated by other prisoners because, again, they were considered to be cowards.”[13] Hay goes to recount an experience of a friends husband, saying that “I don’t recall how long his sentence was, at least a year, and he was never the same again when he came out- he was emotionally traumatized- I do not know specifically what happened to him but [I] can imagine [what happened to him] because draft resisters were typically seen as unmanly.”[14]

Mistreatment of this hippy-Quaker counter culture that Hay had associated with at the time was common where he was in Richmond. He and/or his friends would often be called out or shamed in public because they were seen as unpatriotic or lacking in manliness. “It could be a pretty hostile experience,” Hay recalls, “and you would go into stores and they would refuse to serve you, and one time when I was walking back from town some of the Richmond folks sort of walked around me and threatened to beat me up and all the rest of it. You know, one time when I walked down town someone threw a beer can at me and it hit me in the head.”[15]

Despite the scrutiny that Hay endured in Richmond, Indiana, he still did not budge on his stance against the conflict, and war in general. As the war progressed into the early 1970s, opposition became more mainstream so to speak after President Nixon ordered the bombing of Laos and the invasion of Cambodia, two areas in South Vietnam were not only trade routes but were also where the North Vietnamese “had taken refuge from the fighting”[16] When these actions taken by the president became public knowledge, especially the invasion of Cambodia, Hay says “more and more of the country began to turn against [the war], and so then of course it became less difficult to be a protester against the war.”[17] After this information came to light, large scale anti war protests, violent and nonviolent alike became more common, especially in colleges and universities. Hay did not discuss with me his personal experiences with protests at Earlham, other than his aforementioned friends that tore up their draft cards. Across the nation however, protests on university campuses became more common as Brands states: “On hundreds of campuses across the country students boycotted classes and faculty suspended their teaching in favor of discussion…”[18] However, Hay did participate in the anti-war protest march on Washington D.C. in 1971. While where he was he says was a peaceful protest, other protesters in other parts of the city were tear gassed by the police. He says “[when I was] on the bus and headed back to Earlham feeling positive about publicly expressing my belief that the war was wrong.”[19]

The war in Vietnam was possibly one of the most controversial wars in terms of the United State’s motive for intervention in the country’s history up until that point. Objection to this war amongst citizens such as Tom Hay and his peers were on both religious and moral grounds, and they, like so many others did not let their objection to the war stop at more than just words. As more and more came to light about this war, more and more protests against came into the forefront of American culture, and as did the hippy counter culture of nonviolence and moral objection to war.

 

[1] Telephone interview with Tom Hay, April 4, 2016

[2] [Hay] interview

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 152

[4] [Hay] interview

[5] [Hay] interview

[6] [Hay] interview

[7] [Hay] interview

[8]  Draft Resister Upheld In Objecting to Viet War: Draft Resister Upheld In Rejecting Viet War Adopted by Hundreds Denial of Guarantees,” The Washington Post, Times Herald, December 25, 1969 [ProQuest]

[9] Goldfarb, Ronald L.. 1966. “Three Conscientious Objectors”. American Bar Association Journal 52 (6). American Bar Association: 564–67

[10] [Hay] interview

[11] [Hay] interview

[12] Email interview with Tom Hay, May 2, 2016

[13] [Hay] interview

[14] [Hay] e-mail interview

[15] [Hay] interview

[16]  Brands, 170

[17] [Hay] interview

[18] Brands, 170

[19] [Hay] e-mail interview


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