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The Farm from Caravan to Changeover

“We were raised to think that we were that we were the people in the world who were living the right way.

– Jen Cort, The Farm resident from 1973 to 1984

 

“’The cultural cliché has it that the flower children danced at Woodstock, crashed at Altamont, and gradually shed their naïve ideals as they made themselves into ice-cream moguls, media magnates, and triangulating politicians,’ Jim Windolf wrote in Vanity Fair in 2007. ‘But the 200 people who live at the Farm,” he added, ‘have managed to hang on to the hippie spirit.’”

-Stephen Gaskin’s Obituary, NYT

 

The American Yawp textbook calls the 1960s and 70s a time of the counterculture that was defined by “Rock ‘n’ roll, liberalized sexuality, an embrace of diversity, recreational drug use, unalloyed idealism, and pure earnestness.”[1] However, the counterculture was more than just a common group of sentiments and pop-culture items. Many who considered themselves members of the counterculture launched new ventures and made attempts to change the world. One type of attempt at changing the world was the creation of communes. My mother, her siblings, and her stepfathers lived on a commune called The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee.

Gaskin teaching on The Farm in 1972 – Courtesy of LA Times

Stephen Gaskin was an English professor turned activist who lectured on the use of psychedelic drugs and world religions. Gaskin amassed a following of roughly 300 people in a caravan of brightly painted school buses and VW vans. The group traveled around the country gaining followers on the way to a 1050-acre farm just south of Nashville. [2] Jen Cort, her mother Carol, and her sister Michelle joined the caravan. “We started our trip from Seattle to Tennessee when I was three and I arrived right after I turned four.” The rolling hills and open fields that later became The Farm were undeveloped, “I lived with my mom, my sister, and my mom’s friend in our bus” with little insulation a small camp stove for cooking and heat.[3]

The bus Jen Cort, her sister Michelle, and Mother traveled and lived in. -Courtesy of Jen Cort

New Farm commits were drawn to the commune for a variety of reasons. “There were a lot of things that went into the decision-making factor. One of the biggest drivers was fleeing the draft, Vietnam. But also, Ina May, who’s considering one of the Mothers of midwifery in this country, she really wanted a place to develop her midwifery practices and Steven, our founder, was her husband.”[4] Though the Vietnam War was coming to a close when Cort arrived at The Farm, anti-war sentiments ran hand-in-hand with an interest in returning to a simpler way of life; “we were creating the ideal life and being very centered on being in touch with nature, working to help people…and very close to the earth.[5] To ensure proximity to the earth, Farm residents followed a few expectations that fit with the commune’s philosophy; “the Farm’s young men in straw hats and beards and women in long skirts lived an almost puritanical life. They took vows of poverty and pooled their assets. Vegetarianism was mandatory. Mr. Gaskin banned alcohol, tobacco and, to the surprise of many, LSD, though not marijuana. Plenty work — considered a form of meditation — was assigned. Artificial birth control was forbidden.”[6] Future Vice President, Al Gore was friendly with Gaskin and wrote about The Farm for the Tennessean. “Gaskin’s followers eat no meat because they say they have made a ‘spiritual agreement’ with the animals. ‘There would be a lot more vegetarians if everyone had to kill his own meat,’ Gaskin said later.”[7] Gaskin’s followers also participated in the use of drugs and psychedelics, “he admits that his followers smoke it and occasionally do stronger drugs like peyote and psylocybin — or ‘mushrooms’ as they refer to it.”[8]

Cort, a child during her time on The Farm, did not participate in the drug use, however, she remembers her time growing up on The Farm as revolutionary and happy, “we always took history from different people’s perspective, like we had Native American history and women’s history…I remember our 5th-grade history class was around socialism and communism and how countries like Russia had done it wrong and failed with communism, but that we were doing it right.[9] The Farm was a largely idealistic place and was known internationally for its revolutionary ideals. “[Gaskin and The Farm Band] were on the Donahue show…[in] Time magazine, in the New York Times…Globally, they thought that we were doing right…At one point there were famous musicians and scientists, and you know writers who would come and spend time there because we were living in the way that people should live and not being as interested in what they call the material plane meaning physical things. “[10] One famous visitor was the mathematician Buckminster Fuller who was Cort’s math teacher and who she remembers teaching her to use a compass.

The Farm School Class Photo -Courtesy of Jen Cort

Despite idealistic and peaceful appearances, the conservative and rural local community surrounding The Farm did not always appreciate the communes presence. “We had a sign at the end of our road, and we couldn’t have advertisements about where we were because people would want to attack us, throughout my whole childhood people tried to attack us.[11] In an attempt to protect members of The Farm community and children from aggressive locals, most children weren’t allowed to leave the property unaccompanied and when they did they were buffered by adults speaking to locals for them. At the start of Cort’s freshman year in high school, she decided to secretly attend the public school off The Farm. After she started attending school she was exposed to the full brunt of local criticism, “We were called Devil worshippers, which I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it was bad.” After classmates at her school learned that Cort was living on The Farm, “I lost my status at school. I had sleepovers at my friend’s house all the time and then I couldn’t go to people’s houses after they found out I was from The Farm. I was a cheerleading alternate which at our school was a really big thing but then I was kicked off the team. Teachers started treating me differently because they suddenly knew where I was from. And so, it was very hard.[12]

Cort and Farm kids -Courtesy of Jen Cort

Cort says leaving The Farm school to attend a local high school was a contentious decision. After our recorded conversation, Cort explained that Gaskin grew angry with Cort and her mother for deciding to let Cort attend school off The Farm. She said Gaskin was verbally abusive to her. Gaskin’s relationship with Cort and her mother Carol may have also been related to Carol’s role in what is now called “the Changeover.” The Changeover was a moment in which The Farm reached a financial tipping point. The Farm had established many companies including a book-publishing business, a pickle company, a sorghum syrup brand, a Geiger counter-producer,[13] an ice cream company, and a successful midwifery clinic.[14] Despite many business ventures, The Farm was not making enough money to continue to feed the commune’s population or make payments on loans. Cort remembers “we were almost always hungry and cold and without shoes.[15] As a last effort to keep The Farm economically viable a fellow community member,  “Michael and [Cort’s mother Carol] worked together to orchestrate what is commonly referred to as the Changeover…The local bank was saying if you don’t pay back some of these loans, were going to take the land.”[16] Effectively, the 1983 Changeover meant “each adult Farm member was required to contribute financially toward the annual budget and operating expenses for the community.”[17] The Changeover marked a fundamental change in the history of The Farm, “Mom knew, and Michael knew before anyone else that the decisions they were making were going to completely alter the future of The Farm.”[18] The Farm was transformed overnight from a place mostly free of financial obligations in which the essence of the counterculture lived on to an intentional community which maintained some ideals of the old Farm. However, with the reintroduction of money to The Farm, it was nearly unrecognizable. “Nobody had any income like I don’t remember seeing a dollar bill when I was little, I had no idea that…something that was paper could buy me something,” said Cort.[19]

The Farm changed fundamentally after the Changeover and many families who came for the idealistic community that existed before began to leave The Farm. Cort and her family stayed for only a short while later before leaving themselves. By 1983, the Vietnam war had ended eight years previous and the peak of the counterculture movement had ended about a decade before. The Farm was an attempt to prolong and live out the values that anti-war and counterculture movements espoused. The end of The Farm as a commune and its transition into an intentional community was “entirely financial;” most of Gaskin’s and The Farm’s beliefs had remained intact until the very end, proving that intentional living and a radical way of life was possible.

 

[1] Samuel Abramson et al., “The Sixties,” Samuel Abramson, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

[2] “History Timeline.” Accessed May 7, 2021. https://thefarmcommunity.com/history-timeline/.

[3] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Martin, Douglas. “Stephen Gaskin, Hippie Who Founded an Enduring Commune, Dies at 79.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 3, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/stephen-gaskin-hippie-who-founded-an-enduring-commune-dies-at-79.html.

[7] Gore, Albert. “Church Group Swaps Views with Gaskin.” The Tennessean. March 13, 1972. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2014/07/07/from-the-archive-church-group-swaps-views-with-gaskins/12312875/.

[8] Ibid

[9] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Martin, Douglas. “Stephen Gaskin, Hippie Who Founded an Enduring Commune, Dies at 79.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 3, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/stephen-gaskin-hippie-who-founded-an-enduring-commune-dies-at-79.html.

[14] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] The Changeover. Accessed May 8, 2021. https://thefarmcommunity.com/the-changeover/.

[18] Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

[19] Ibid

 

Phone Interview with Jen Cort, April 29, 2021.

Selected Transcript

Q: How long did you live on the Farm and with who?  

A: We started our trip from Seattle to Tennessee when I was three and I arrived either right after I turned 4 or right around that time and we left when I was a junior in high school. And when I went there, I lived with my mom and my sister and my mom’s friend and our bus. 

 

Q: As a kid on the Farm did you think of the Farm as different than the rest of the world? 

A: Oh yeah, we were raised to think that we were that we were the people in the world who were living the right planning. But I mean, the world was literally on the farm and off the farm and off the farm. People living on the Farm were people who were living the right way, and everyone off the Farm was living wrong, which was really weird to me because. A lot of my friends didn’t have both their parents on the farm, but I was one of the only ones who saw my dad regularly and I knew he was a good person so I didn’t understand that. But we were absolutely raised that we were the only ones living in the right way. 

 

Q: Did people living on the Farm make it seem like they were there to make an intentional community or were there other intentions for being there? 

A: There were a lot of things that went into the decision making factor. One of the biggest drivers was fleeing the draft, Vietnam. But also Aina May, who’s considering one of the Mothers of midwifery in this country, she really wanted a place to develop my midwifery practices and Steven, our founder, was her husband. I know that there was a couple of years where people scouted out land around the country to try to find where we could go live. And then it was supposed to be that we were creating the ideal life and being very centered on being in touch with nature, working to help people, but very much in a white savior way and very close to the earth. 

 

Q: How would people that lived on the Farm describe the Farm when they talked about it? 

 

A: That’s a really good question. And part of why I’m struggling with that question is because I didn’t hear people on the farm talk about it much because we didn’t spend time with people who weren’t from them, so I didn’t hear them describe it up. I know when Nan would take us to our grandparents and my dad’s. She would always just talk about how we were having fun and we were planting and growing our food and we were learning a lot and that you know it was very much the idealized version of it. She certainly never talked about that we were almost always hungry and cold and without shoes. It was always like the girls are learning to ride horses and things like that 

By the way, if we would leave and go to Summertown like where Roberts from, we were told not to talk to him. As kids we didn’t talk to people from who weren’t part of the farm. Often the grownups did because we had companies that made money in other places, but we would even ride our bikes from the farm to the little like general store that was across from Robert’s house and we would be told, you know that we had to go with the grown up and the grown-up was going into and speak for us. We weren’t allowed to go in and speak for them for ourselves. 

 

Q: Was the farm nationally known at the time you were living there? 

A: It was internationally known. They were on the Donahue show which is, you know, it’s like Oprah then Time magazine in the New York Times there was a of lot of interest in U.S. and we had centers all over the world. Globally, they thought that we were doing right and that we were just people and that we were being raised in the right way. You know we had people from the farm and my family who were invited to go be on Greenpeace. At one point there were famous musicians and scientists, and you know writers who would come and spend time there because we were living in the way that people should live and not being as interested in in what they call the material plane meaning physical things. 

  

Q: Did people on the farm think of it as like a philosophical thought experiment, or was it like a political statement? 

A: Both. I remember in one of our history classes we always took history from different people’s perspective, like we had Native American history and women’s history, and one of the history classes that we took was. I remember in 5th grade history class was around socialism and communism and how countries like Russia had done it wrong and failed as with communism, but that we were doing it right. 

And so, it was very much like a physical experiment and the centers around the world were designed to go in and do things like run irrigation to towns that didn’t have it and teach women in Guatemala how to nurse and care for their babies? And then it was also a philosophical experiment because Steven was considered to be on a higher level; a higher ordered person than other people. He was a spiritual leader, and he was known internationally for. 

Q: Could you just talk a little bit about what the Farm’s relationship to local was?  

 

A: Like I said, we didn’t have a lot of experience with people from off the farm. We didn’t meet very often and when we did we, you know, we were fairly protected. My dad, grandpa Dan. He was our postmaster and so he had this truck that had always all post boxes in it and so I would get to go into town with him about once a week to go pick up the Mail and then I would get to go to the store and sometimes I would be able to get a V8 or a banana or something like that. There I would hear people talk about us in a different way. 

I’m not relating it to racism or anything, but the way people talked about us was kind of some of the things you hear people say about black people. As a kid, I distinctly remember somebody saying that they couldn’t believe how articulate I was and that they couldn’t believe I was clean. 

I didn’t know the full extent of it until I went to public school and Robert told me not to tell anyone where I was from, and I had to sneak to get off the farm to go to school. I would leave in the dark, walk a couple of miles in the dark to the bus stop and wait for the bus to come. When I got to school, I started hearing people talk about the farm. Nobody knew I was from there, but they would say things like we didn’t know who our dad was, and that we had free loves and free drugs and all these other things. 

We were called that Devil worshippers which I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it was bad. I didn’t know what they meant because we didn’t talk like that on the farm and then  I was in public school for a year. My friend Peter came to school from the Farm school, so he and I knew, but we didn’t tell anyone, and then everyone, all the kids from the Farm school started to go to our public school. Then everyone knew who we were and all of a sudden, I lost my status at school. I had sleepovers at my friend’s house all the time and then I couldn’t go to people houses after they found out I was from the Farm. I was a cheerleading alternate which at our school is a really big thing but then I was kicked off the team. Teachers started treating me differently because they suddenly knew where I was from. And so it was very hard. 

So, and one other thing about the locals, we had a sign at the end of our road, and we couldn’t have advertisements about where we were because people would want to attack us, throughout my whole childhood because people tried to attack us. 

 

Q: Did adults on the farm talk about the counterculture and larger political movements outside the farm 

Yeah, so people would come to the farm you couldn’t just walk in and say I’m going to live here. You had to go through this whole process called soaking. You had to live up by the gate for a couple weeks and then hope to be sponsored by somebody and live in their house and then the house would decide if you should get membership. But there were people who came who were fleeing the draft and the local people at the local government had no idea who was there, although they tried to raid us and bust us all that. Steven went to jail for avoiding the draft at one point and they were always trying to imprison him. That’s why we had that holiday 4/20 because they came and said that we were growing weed all over the place, but we weren’t we’re growing ragweed. There were all these helicopters came and landed in our field and people and guns came after us. 

Stephen would leave the farm all the time and he would preach around the world and even preach on TV. He was considered a leader and teacher of the counterculture narrative like you know now if I tell people, I’m from the farm, it’s not uncommon that people know what I’m talking about.  

There was a huge amount of media attention on us. And we had our own school system and local universities would come in and send their teachers to observe us because we were presented as like an idealized version of education. So, we were very well known and very much thought to be one of the leaders of deep thinking and higher-level thinking. 

 

Q: Do you think the reason that the farm stopped operating the way it did was because of bigger global changes? Or because of smaller things within the community? 

A: It was entirely financial. The thing was that a lot of the people who lived on the farm were highly educated and came from fairly welltodo families, however we did not make enough money to support what we were doing. There was a book publishing company which my uncle ran and you know Hops and Grampa Dan operated the ice cream company, and all those companies were meant to bring money into the farm. And we had a clinic and an ambulance, and doctors and midwives but we did not have surgical facilities and we were going into debt. Michael and my mom worked together to orchestrate what is commonly referred to as the changeover. The changeover is thought to be the end of the farm as it was because. The local bank was saying if you don’t pay back some of these loans, we’re gonna take the land. Which is why the land grant is written in such a weird way that it can never be sold because they’ve made it really complicated to protect it from being seized. 

So, the changeover happened, and Nana was part of it. Auntie Shell was considered a teen elder. We had elders who made our decisions and Stephen blamed Nana and Dan for the fall of the Farm economically and blamed me for the fall of the education system.  

People were told you can stay here, but you’re gonna have to pay rent, which was the first time ever. 

And if your kids go to our school, you have to pay tuition. But Nobody had had any income, like I don’t remember ever seeing a dollar bill when I was little like I had no idea that paper, something that was paper could buy me something. 

When the changeover happened, if you worked for a company on the farm, and you wanted to own that company, you could. The whole reason why we moved from being a commune to what was then referred to as an intentional community is the changeover, and it was entirely financial. 

Steven was verbally abusive tome. 

Nana and Michael were working so long and so hard and they would take a couple quarters and get a thing of M&Ms and divide them up because they knew before anyone else that what they were doing to make the changeover happen. Mom knew, and Michael knew before anyone else that the decisions they were making were going to completely alter the future of the farm. 

 

Selected Images – Courtesy of Jen Cort

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Facing the Draft Lottery During the Vietnam War

By Noah Frank

Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) draws the first number of the Vietnam draft lottery. Courtesy Selective Service

On the night of December 1, 1969, hundreds of thousands of young men across the country anxiously held their breath. For the first time in over twenty-seven years, a national draft lottery was being held.[1] Congressman Alexander Pirnie, ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, drew the first number. “September 14th… September 14th is 001.” Pirnie had selected one of 366 capsules from a large bowl. Each capsule contained a day of the year (including leap years), and was pulled at random and given a corresponding number. [2] Those with birthdays corresponding with low numbers were faced with the imminent prospect of being drafted into the army and sent overseas to fight in Vietnam. For Joel Frank, the specter of the draft loomed large. “I was very worried. I did not want to be drafted.” [3] Though Joel didn’t face the immediate possibility of being drafted that night in December 1969, it was a distinct possibility on the horizon that couldn’t be ignored.

During the era of the Vietnam War, roughly 26.8 million men between the ages of 18 and 26 were eligible for the draft lottery. Of these, around 8.7 million eventually wound up serving overseas in Vietnam. [4] Prior to the implementation of the lottery system, the draft had operated under the principle that the oldest eligible men were drafted first. [5] President Nixon hoped that the draft lottery would reduce anti-war sentiment on college campuses around the country, by making those with higher lottery numbers feel less immediately threatened and creating a sense of “randomized fairness.” A key feature of the draft lottery was that each age group was only at risk for a single year. [6] Despite Nixon’s hopes, many resented the draft and saw it as unfair. [7] A key feature of the draft lottery was that each age group was only at risk for a single year. [8] Men eligible for the draft would have their lottery number called the year before they turned 20. Those with lower numbers would be ordered to report for physical exams as part of pre-screening. Those fit for service were given the classification 1-A. [9] Even with these measures attempting to create an image of “fairness” associated with the draft, there were still 570,000 draft offenders and 563,000 less-than-honorable discharges from the military during the Vietnam War Era. [10]

An example of the capsules containing dates throughout the calendar year that would be drawn at random and paired with a draft lottery number. Courtesy Selective Service

Historian Michael S. Foley notes that young men confronting the possibility of being drafted essentially faced the three choices of fighting in a war many of them considered futile and immoral, going to jail, or finding a way avoid both the war and jail. These decisions arguably inspired cynicism and weakened American’s faith in their government. [11] While historian H.W Brands in his book American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, makes much of how many young men protested the war, sometimes violently, most young men facing the draft lottery confronted their fate in ways far less dramatic. [12] Depending on their socio-economic status, young men facing the draft lottery had a variety of options. As Natalie M. Rosinsky writes in her book The Draft Lottery that “men studying to be ministers, priests or rabbis could be exempted from service.” [13] Men could also join the National Guard to substitute their military service, an avenue future presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both took. Some men tried, usually without success, to qualify as conscientious objectors and avoid service altogether. [14] The draft lottery also faced criticisms from those who said it favored the middle and upper classes, by offering deferments for those seeking college degrees. Men from working class families often could not afford college, and so this possibility was closed off to them. [15] Young men who managed to stay in college were able to delay their risk of being drafted through most of the years of the draft lottery. [16] For many men from working-class families, the draft lottery must have hardly seemed random.

Joel Frank, however, grew up in a middle-class family in Brooklyn, New York City. [17] Asked whether people he knew were concerned about being drafted, Joel recalls that “most of my friends were concerned. Living in a middle-class neighborhood. Most [sic] guys I knew where [sic] going to college and expecting to get student deferments.” [18] Joel also decided to enroll in college. On his college experience, Joel stated “I was commuting to college, but eventually I dropped out. When I was 19 I moved to upstate New York and enrolled in Ulster County Community College to renew my student deferment, but I soon dropped out there as well. Schools were slow to inform the government that students had dropped out in order to prolong their deferments, and I re-enrolled in the fall when I was 20, though I would drop out again not long after I got another deferment.” [19] Joel’s draft lottery occurred mid-year in 1971, and he recalls his draft number being 187, though he initially thought it might be 179. [20] The ceiling number for Joel’s lottery group was 95. [21] Joel remembered that his high lottery number for that year “made it less likely for me to be drafted.” [22] An article from 1971 appearing in the New York Times would seem to confirm Joel’s memory. The article declared that men born in 1952 (like Joel, who were 19 that year, and facing the lottery for next year’s draft) were safe from the draft, and that those with low numbers would only be drafted in the event of a national emergency. [23] In June 1971, the rate of induction for draftees had slowed to a trickle. [24] Though Joel may not have realized it immediately, he was essentially safe from the draft lottery from this point forward.

Joel’s story with the draft lottery, and the story of countless other men from the period who faced the draft, seem to contradict Brands’ narrative in his book American Dreams. In discussing how young people viewed the war, Brands spends several pages focusing on the SDS movement and its violent off-shoot known as the Weathermen. Brands writes “The Weathermen and similar groups espoused violence in America as a way to end the violence in Vietnam, and members bombed college ROTC buildings, draft board headquarters, army induction facilities, and research laboratories conducting defense-related work.” [25] Brands also makes a tacit acknowledgement that most protest of the war was peaceful, but still misses the larger picture. [26] In focusing his narrative on dramatic storytelling, Brands arguable misses out on the less dramatic, yet no less compelling story of the vast majority of young men facing the draft lottery. Most men did not burn their draft cards or sympathize with the views of groups like the Weathermen. The majority of young men seem to have been ambivalent or opposed to the war, but to primarily be focused on simply finding a way to stay out of it. Joel Frank’s story reflects this more common narrative, which Brands neglects in his discussion of the period.

[1] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[4] Maxwell, Donald W. “Young Americans and the Draft.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25162083.pdf

[5] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[6] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[7] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[8] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[9] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[10] Maxwell, Donald W. “Young Americans and the Draft.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25162083.pdf
[11] Ibid.

[12] H.W Brands. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 152-155, 170.

[13] Rosinsky, Natalie M. 2009. The Draft Lottery. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books. Google Books. 10.

[14] Ibid. 10-11

[15] Ibid. 13

[16] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[17] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[18] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[19] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[20] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[21] Selective Service. “Vietnam Lotteries.” https://www.sss.gov/About/History-And-Records/lotter1

[22] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[23] Rosenbaum, David E. “Men With Numbers Over 125 Safe From Draft in 1971.” The New York Times. October 6, 1971. http://www.nytimes.com/1971/10/06/archives/men-with-numbers-over-125-safe-from-draft-in-1971.html?_r=0

[24] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[25] H.W Brands. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 154.

[26] Ibid. 154.

NOTE: This transcript is reconstructed from detailed notes taking during a phone conversation with the interview subject on November 12, 2017.

Joel Frank is the father of the author, and was a some-time college student of prime drafting age from Brooklyn, NY in the years immediately after the height of the war in 1968 with the Tet Offensive.  

Q.  What do you remember of the Tet Offensive? Were you surprised?

A. It was on the news a lot. Every night there would be news from Vietnam on the TV. At the time of the Tet Offensive (January 1968) I was a sophomore in high school, but I would turn 18 in June of 1970. I was certainly worried, but I primarily remember domestic events that were happening around the same time as the Tet Offensive, particularly around the issue of civil rights with riots of the previous two years in Newark and Detroit. I went to an all-boys high school, and all the talk of the issues of the day filtered down to us. We even pulled off our own small protest, walking out of class to demand that we be allowed to wear blue jeans, which we felt was a big deal at the time. My older sister was more involved in issues of civil rights at the time, but it was something I became concerned about and the issue gradually gained traction at my school.

Q. Were you concerned about the prospect of being drafted?

A. Not when I was a sophomore in high school, though I was against the war. I was definitely not worried in 1970 when I turned 18, because even though I didn’t have the best grades in high school I managed to get into York College and get a student deferment. If it weren’t for that though, I most likely would have been drafted that year. 1968 and 1969 had seen some of the largest number of draftees into the war. The draft worked on a lottery system, and I had a high number, possibly 179, which made it less likely for me to be drafted. They would use a bingo-type machine to choose draft numbers. I was commuting from home to college, but eventually I dropped out. When I was 19 I moved to upstate New York and enrolled in Ulster County Community College to renew my student deferment, but I soon dropped out there as well. Schools were slow to inform the government that students had dropped out in order to prolong their deferments, and I re-enrolled in the fall when I was 20, though I would drop out again not long after I got another deferment. The draft was polarizing the country, with half the country thinking those who tried to avoid the draft were cowards and the other half thinking they were standing up for their rights. Some people were burning their draft cards and heading across the border to Canada.

Q. What was your opinion of LBJ before the war? How did it change?

A. LBJ became president in 1963 after JFK was killed, and I didn’t know much about him [LBJ] then. I was very young at that time, but I remember I was very sad when JFK died. My family had visited Washington, D.C in the summer of 1963, I remember keeping a postcard with JFK on it. This was also around the time I first became aware of politics. I remember that the death of Kennedy had an intense effect. At first, LBJ focused on civil rights, which I hadn’t been fully aware of [as a child] but supported once I became more aware in high school in 1966. My sister’s involvement with civil rights issues also had an effect on me. As I got older and became more worried about being drafted, I started not to like LBJ so much. The war was always in the news, and there were a lot of bad feelings surrounding it in 1967-68. I remember they announced in 1971 that men born in 1952 wouldn’t be drafted that year, which was a temporary relief due to the high draft number I received. After LBJ announced he wouldn’t run for reelection I supported Humphrey as I had never liked Nixon. I thought Nixon was vague and remembered watching JFK debate Nixon on TV and not liking him even then. By 1968 though, my opinion of LBJ was greatly diminished.

Q. H.W Brands, in his book American Dreams, describes how the assassinations of MLK, JFK, and RFK happening in such a short span of time, along with the Vietnam War, lead to a decline in American liberalism which helped elect Nixon. Do you agree?

A. I find that slightly odd. There was certainly great anger, especially after the deaths of MLK and RFK. I suppose it’s somewhat true, there were riots, and many people were scared. It seemed that a slow end to white dominance in society was occurring, and whites were polarized with some seeing no issue, while others were viciously opposed to their loss of influence. There was pushback which helped elect Nixon. There were also racial equality marches in D.C in the 70’s.

Q. What was your reaction to the 1968 DNC Convention protests in Chicago? Did you sympathize with them?

A. They were terrible, the police were very violent. The polarization the country was experiencing surrounding the war came to a head. There was fierce anger, which only grew in the wake of the assassinations. Different groups at the time had different agendas, the police were provoking the protesters into acts of violence and beating them up, and anti-government sentiment was growing with resistance to the war. There were also rumors that Nixon viewed himself as a king, that he wanted White House staff to have fancy uniforms and a “palace guard.” That was a general time of upheaval, and I also remember the black athletes in the Olympics of ’68 who held their fists up, similar to the NFL protests today. I also remember Kent State a few years later, where the anger over the war again came to a head with the shooting of several students protesting the war. Some people in the country viewed the protestors in Chicago and elsewhere as traitors, and others agreed with them that the war was wrong.

Q. How did you react when Nixon won the 1968 election?

A. I was not happy. I was about 16 at the time. There were so many crazy things happening at the time, with riots, and the events in Chicago, that the election felt like just another thing. Many people were disturbed by all that was happening, and people rallied around protests related to the war and civil rights. There were also conspiracy theories floating around. People were worried that the FBI was spying on them, that they kept files on people and tapped their phones. There were also infiltrators in movements like the Black Power movement in which Malcolm X had been a prominent figure. He had been assassinated himself only a few years earlier.

Q. Do you remember Nixon’s phased ending of the war through “Vietnamization,” and the invasion of Cambodia? How did you react at the time?

A. Nixon had been waging a secret war in Cambodia. I remember during high school in June of 1970 things were all “helter skelter” just like in the then recent Beatles song. Many different things were visible in the media, from issues relating to civil rights to rumors of soldiers “fragging” [killing] incompetent or poorly trained officers to avoid getting killed pointlessly themselves.

Q. Were you relieved when the war ended?

A. Yes. I had been living with a fear of the possibility of my going to war. There were mixed feelings in the country generally, with people talking about whether or not the U.S had been defeated. For most, losing the war had a negative effect on their self-image of the country. Not long after the war, President Ford granted a mass pardon to those who had burned their draft cards and fled to Canada.

Q. How did you feel when South Vietnam fell a view years later? Did you sense a “Vietnam Syndrome?”

A. A little. I remember there were “boat people,” thousands of South Vietnamese refugees trying to get out of the country before it fell under communist control. There was some debate at the time over letting them into the U.S, but ultimately there was a fear that U.S-Vietnam babies (babies with a GI father and a Vietnamese mother), who were ostracized in their society, would be killed once the North took over, so many were let into the U.S. In general I was simply glad the war was over. It seemed that it had been a huge waste, with many Americans and Vietnamese dying for no reason. Nixon had campaigned on ending the war, which he eventually did, but half of all U.S soldiers to die in the war died under Nixon’s administration. Petty politics seemed to needlessly cost lives.

NOTE: This transcript is from an email interview conducted on December 7, 2017.

Q. What do you remember about registering for the draft when you turned eighteen?
A. I remember feeling very worried. I did not want to be drafted. For me this occurred in mid-1970.
I had spent the previous 5 years (1965-1970) “watching the war” on the nightly news broadcasts.

Q. What do you remember of how the draft lottery system worked? How much of the draft lottery
system did you personally experience?
A. I was in the third Vietnam war lottery. I was thankful for a relatively high number (187). This
occurred mid-year 1971 when I was 19.
Q. Do you remember ever appearing before a draft board?
A. I do not really remember, I may have to go when I turned 18to appear but did have to send in
documents occasionally.
Q. Were many people you knew at the time worried about being drafted? Were there a significant
number who were “draft-resistors,” or were most people simply trying to go about their daily life
while avoiding the draft?
A. Most of my friends were concerned. Living in a middle-class neighborhood. Most guys I knew
where going to college and expecting to get student deferments.

Q. What was the process for getting a student deferment?
A. College or University registrar had to send information about full time enrolment.

Q. Was getting a deferment a significant reason you went to college?
A. ABSOLUTLEY. I enrolled and dropped out of college 3 times when I was 18, 19 and 20 years
old. I would wait for my daft board to be notified that I was a full-time student, then drop out. It
seemed schools did not notify when I dropped out. So each fall I made sure I was registered.

Q. Did your draft-eligibility, or potential eligibility, strongly affect your views of the war?
A. Yes. I had an anti- Vietnam War sentiment and draft just helped to personalize that feeling.