In the Spring of 1970, at the age of 22, I embarked on an epical odyssey of thousands of miles by thumb and boxcar.
It was motivated by a desire to evade military service in the war in Vietnam which I, like millions of others in my generation, had come to believe was an unjust war.
Later that year I sat down to write a letter to my hometown newspaper, the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal to explain my actions. I enclosed my draft card in the letter.
But then something unexpected happened: instead of printing my letter the editor carefully extricated my draft card and reached for the telephone. He called the Federal Bureau of Investigation, explaining he was in possession of evidence he suspected (rightly) could prove material to an ongoing investigation. My letter – and my draft card – were soon after scooped up by the FBI, who later entered the letter as a document in my FBI file, which survives in photocopied form to this day. I retrieved it from my permanent archival records at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada just yesterday.
My Letter to the Editor never was printed, so I publish it here for the first time, complete and unabridged. It is dated July 17, 1970, Vancouver, B.C.
I am a son of Nebraska. I love corn-on-the-cob, football, and the fourth of July. In my college days I tromped through the rolling hills overlooking the Missouri, and roamed through the Sand Hills. My mother, so influential in my upbringing, taught we are free to chose (sic) between right and wrong, and that, having chosen a man must fight for what he believes is right. “Having the courage of your convictions” is what she used to call it.
I am also a draft dodger. Some time late in July I am supposed to be in Omaha for induction. I will not be there, and I want the citizens of my state and my community to know why.
I told my draft board I intended to leave the country, and one member (a prominent Lincoln citizen) replied, “well, Mick, some of us feel an obligation to keep the country going, no matter what direction it’s going in.” America’s path to the garbage pile will be paved by such mindless statements.
She’s on the road to hell, friends, and gathering speed every day. Some say my generation has been spoiled by Spock-reading, overly-permissive parents. But I have another theory. Every morning in grade school across the land we would place our hands over our hearts and sing “The Star Spangled Banner”. We believed it, see. That America really was “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But the brave are dead or in jail, the free are nowhere to be found.
Over the last decade it has become clear that freedom has limits, or is the province of a very few. We are “free” to fight in Vietnam but must go to jail or flee if we refuse to fight. A black man is free to live in the ghetto or work as a janitor and keep on shufflin’, but if he arms his community in self-defence against police oppression he is ruthlessly gunned down, or imprisoned under charges that make the “pledge of allegiance” sound like some kind of sick joke.
Closer to home, Nebraskans descry the “brain drain.” It’s now more like a manhole. The president of the student body and the editor of The Daily Nebraskan are both up here now. One is a deserter, the other a dodger.
Chronologically, I am 22. Mentally, I feel like an old man. The decision to leave home, family, country is not easily made. But it is required if I am to have “the courage of my convictions.” I cannot offer myself for imprisonment for holding what seems to me to be a completely sane belief against an insane war. The prospect is absurd.
We sons of Nebraska who grew a little too much hair, or ran from the draft are from families and homes just like yours. You taught us to think for ourselves, to make our own decisions. We are you.
Enclosed please find my draft card. I won’t be needing it anymore.
Thanks for the memories,