To Dodge a Draft
That Doesn't Exist
They Plot Foreign Escapes,
Besiege Counselors, Even
Consider Bearing Children
By Joan E. Rigdon
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 1991, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.)
Randall Cook has plotted his getaway. If he's drafted, the 21-year-old
Wesleyan University math major will hole up in his father's home in the
mountains, in a state he won't name. The secluded life won't be so hard,
he says, because the hideout has cable TV.
Across the country, at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Sarah
Faragher, a biology major, for a while considered biological aid. Believing
that fathers are exempt from the draft, which is no longer the case, she
spread the word that she might be willing to bear a child for someone
who doesn't want to bear arms. She says her own father escaped serving
in Vietnam because she was born.
As the Persian Gulf war continues, the talk on campus is draft, draft,
draft. That might not make a lot of sense: No one has been drafted since
1972 and the government says a new draft is extremely unlikely. Yet draft
counseling centers are reopening, peace groups are fielding lots of
questions about things like flat feet, and students are suddenly considering
the advantages of divinity school.
One 22-year-old Pittsburgh college student phoned the Thomas Merton
Center peace organization to ask whether he should drop out of school
so he could live his life to the fullest before being tapped for combat. Gail
Britanik, who counseled him, says the worries are widespread. "For
everyone who calls, there are many more who don't," she says.
In many cases, the would-be dodgers aren't aflame with anti-war
sentiment. They cite more basic concerns, such as getting killed. "I'm not
willing to die for this cause," says Todd Shepard, a 21-year-old
comparative literature major at Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn. "My life
is more important than my country. I guess that may sound really selfish,
but that's what it comes down to." Some students who support the cause
feel the same way. Says Mr. Cook, the student who plans to flee to the
mountains: "We believe in the cause. We like cheap gas. But we're not
going to die for it."
Some students, of course, are sincere pacifists. And others feel it would
be unfair for them to leave the fighting to less privileged Americans. "It's
only fair that we go if we're drafted, because other kids are already
there," says 18-year-old Alexander Kayne, a political science major at
Yale. "If I didn't go, I would feel really guilty," says James Ghiloni, a
21-year-old Soviet history major at Wesleyan.
Still, after nearly two decades of virtual hibernation, draft counselors, who
advise people who think they might want to avoid the military, are being
pressed into active duty. Across the country, shuttered centers are
reopening and new ones are springing up. In Columbus, Ohio, a church
has opened a counseling center next to Ohio State University's
50,000-student campus. The Seattle Draft and Military Counseling
Center increased the number of its counselors to more than 100 from a
dozen, who have been spending the quiet years simply advising young
men about things like the consequences of not registering with the
At Yale, fliers advertising counseling sessions are stuck in napkin holders
at the freshman dining hall. At the University of California at Berkeley, the
student union has allocated emergency funds to the campus draft
counseling center. Next week, 100 draft counselors are planning to hold
a mass session at Berkeley in an auditorium that seats 2,000.
In Florida, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker
organization, mailed out 600 packets of draft counseling information in
January alone and gave talks to hundreds of students at the University of
South Florida in Tampa and New College in Sarasota. In Montana,
mailman Zane Zell is using his off-hours to counsel students at the
University of Montana at Missoula.
The National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors is
mailing out 500 draft counselor training manuals a week, up from maybe
two a week before the Gulf crisis. And phones at the offices of the
Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors have been jammed with
up to 1,000 calls a day, compared to perhaps two a day before the crisis.
"We are very, very busy," says Cord Bruegmans, a staff member at the
central committee's Philadelphia office. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in
August, the office's only field worker began a tour of colleges to teach
draft counseling -- and didn't return home until Thanksgiving, when his
wife had a baby. Now he's on the road again.
Questions about quirky ways to avoid combat exasperate draft
counselors. David Treber, associate director of the interreligious service
board, says he's tired of hearing from people who talk about maiming
themselves in order to flunk military physicals (historically, half of all
potential draftees flunk anyway). He would rather talk to possible "COs"
-- people whose proven, deep-rooted conscientious objection to war
makes them exempt from a draft. Even if there's no draft during this war,
people who can prove they are COs will be prepared for future drafts, he
As for desperate schemes to dodge battle, many no longer work under
the current -- albeit dormant -- draft laws. Among the nixed escape
routes: being a father (Ms. Faragher canceled her tentative offer to have
children when she learned of this change); being a student (now only
seniors could defer until they finish college, while others, if drafted, would
have to report for service at the end of the semester); and flight to foreign
countries. Computers would now make draft-dodgers much easier to find
anywhere in the world, and even Canada has changed some laws that
would make it harder to flee there. Some students think they can dodge
just by declaring that they're homosexual, but the military is likely to
check that out quite closely, maybe even asking for a letter from a
psychiatrist. "There are a lot of cliche ideas that are floating around from
Vietnam," Mr. Treber sighs.
Aaron Kitch, an 18-year-old Yale freshman, says he might register as a
conscientious objector, but admits he has yet to begin assembling his CO
file. That must contain, among other things, a statement on his anti-war
beliefs and letters from people who can testify that his beliefs are genuine.
"It's very hard," he says of the process, but adds, "I guess I'd try it."
Thomas Ferguson, a 21-year-old Wesleyan student, says if he is drafted,
he'll sneak into other countries on ferries that don't demand passports.
Unfortunately, he admits, the plan has problems, since he probably
wouldn't be able to work in a foreign country and would have difficulty
re-entering the U.S.
His Plan B might work. Mr. Ferguson, a theology major, notes that he's
"Catholic now, but I could always become a Protestant minister." Then
he'd be eligible for an exemption granted to ministers and divinity
Really flat feet might still work, too. Missing a big toe might also be
grounds to avoid duty. And everyone seems to have heard a tale about
someone's uncle who cut off a trigger finger to avoid Vietnam. At
Wesleyan, students have been circulating such rumors about a
psychology professor who is missing half of two fingers on his left hand.
Asked about the story, the professor, Bob Steele, says: "Pure myth.
Students have nothing better to do than make up stories about their
teachers." The fingers were lost in a childhood accident.
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