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Our Culture of Violence is a Result of Americans (So Far) Not Having to Face Reality

Here's something to grouse about

Killing the grouse was definitely a formative and defining moment that came back to me when I was 17 and a senior in high school and we were studying the Vietnam War in a humanities class. Looking at the images of burning peasant homes in Vietnam, and of the victims of napalm being dropped on their villages, I remembered that helpless suffering little bird and decided I would not be able to accept the draft. Turning 18 in April 1967, I went to my local draft board to register and told the woman in the office that I would not allow myself to be drafted. I would refuse to go, I said. She warned me that would be illegal and that I might end up in jail, and advised me to apply for conscientious objector status if that was how I felt.

While I looked into that option, and on the advice of my history teacher did consult with a teacher at my school who had been a CO during the Korean War, I ultimately concluded I was not against all war. I was sure if my own country were invaded, I would fight to defend it, and that if I were Vietnamese, I would hope that I’d have the courage to be a Viet Cong fighter.

I did eventually go to a CO hearing at my draft board in 1969, but the hearing didn’t go over well when I made that same last point to them.

My story of draft resistance after that is irrelevant to this account. Suffice it to say that I rejected taking a student deferment, thinking it unfair to high school friends who hadn't gone to college, and with a lottery number of 81, eventually had to deal with the inevitable induction notice and the consequences of that.

In October 1967, as a college freshman, I went down to the big Mobilization Against the War demonstration and march on the Pentagon and ended up on the Pentagon Mall at the front of a massive all-night sit in, where I burned my draft card and was eventually arrested and dragged off to the federal prison in Occoquan, VA along with hundreds of other protesters. I ended up getting arraigned and handed a five-day suspended sentence for misdemeanor trespassing at the Pentagon and left jail with a commitment to oppose the US war in Indochina until it was ended.

I do believe that the course of my political life and even my choice of career as a journalist was set by that poor little grouse, and by my being forced to confront the true consequences of my violent urge to harm a living thing. Now I wonder if there’s any way that we can make it so that all Americans have to face the reality of the violence that we all so easily support or at least turn our attention away from.

Perhaps if we were forced, whether by our news media or our schools, to confront that reality, most of us would stop being so bloody-minded as a culture and as a nation.

story | by Dr. Radut