By my mid-teens I knew what a conscientious objector was, and I knew I was one.  I’d always attended Quaker schools, and fully accepted the belief that God is found in every person. Participating in killing other people was unacceptable.

I started college in 1964, expecting to retain my II-S (student) deferment, and then apply for CO status.  I was confident that my application would succeed. I was well educated at my Quaker college; I could write a good essay. Moreover, Quaker theology was familiar to Philadelphia draft boards.

Throughout my college years, the Vietnam war carnage played out on live TV, with body bags and body counts on the evening news.  As I watched and began to understand the reality of this war, my own personal beliefs strengthened.  I was increasingly certain that the injustice of the war was such that no one should be forced to participate.  My own plan for dealing with the draft began to change as my senior year unfolded.

I came to realize that my personal solution was not sufficient, and that I could not cooperate with a system that would simply send someone to fight in my place.  In protest of the system and in keeping with my 22-year-old conscience, I sent my II-S card back to my draft board explaining my position.  They punished me quickly, by changing my status to I-A (immediately eligible for induction), even though I was still a college student.

Within a month I received my draft notice. Fortunately, I was able to consult with attorneys through the American Friends Service Committee. As advised, I reported for induction, completed the physical, stood silently through the oath of service, and then, when commanded to step forward for induction, I refused. I simply stayed where I was.

At that point I was asked to report to another official for questioning. I met with the official and explained that I would not answer questions. I was released, as I had been told might happen. Eerily, as I walked down Broad Street towards home, I was passed by the bus packed with my fellow inductees, headed off to boot camp.

To my surprise, I heard nothing from the draft board for the remaining months of my college career.  A sympathetic lawyer added a document to my file asserting that my status reassignment and subsequent draft notice had not followed due process and were thus not defendable. Perhaps that was true.

After graduation I continued my resistance to the war and the draft by working with the American Friends Peace Committee. I became a draft counselor, advising those seeking help on ways to legally obtain deferments or on how to confront the system like I did. Within a couple months after graduation I received another I-A card and, several months thereafter, another draft notice.  

So in 1968 I again reported to the induction center, about a year after my previous refusal. In that year much had changed in the general mood during the induction process. The inductees were openly looking for a way out and I could conduct on-site counseling. My refusal plan seemed to have more support.  The GIs running the show were less enthusiastic; their attitude seemed to be, “We know how you feel; let’s just get this over with.”

Again I refused to take the oath and step forward, and again I was sent out of the room.  This time there was no questioning; I was simply told to leave. There was nothing left to do but continue my life and await the draft board’s response. I had no legal defense and expected to be convicted.  

A year passed with no repercussions.  I continued to work with the Quakers and then decided to move to an intentional community in California. Of course I never contacted the draft board. Why look for trouble? On the other hand, I was not hiding, just living my life, knowing that it could be interrupted at any time.

But the interruption never came! (In 1976, President Carter offered amnesty, and I could finally relax.) I started a career and a family, letting go of fear of retribution. Fifty years later there has been no further contact between the Selective Service System and me.

I have never changed my basic pacifist beliefs. I still know that I could not participate in warfare. But ironically, as the years have passed and the all-volunteer military has come into being, I can now see the value of the draft. Without it, there is less concern among the general population as to whether the US’s armed adventures are worth the young lives lost.  Drafting citizens to fight creates a referendum on this country’s military conduct.