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Scene One, Take Two.
All this came to a head for me in May of 1971
. It was the end of my last year at college. The school year had been called off because of the riots in Cambridge
and elsewhere, after the shootings at Kent State, the invasion of Cambodia
. And, just about this time it was physical examination time.
The way they did that in Boston
was to have one day at the Boston
Navy Yard for each of the Local Draft Boards. So there was one day that was Cambridge
Day. And what Cambridge
Day meant was maybe 5% of the people who lived in Cambridge
and 95% who went to Harvard or MIT.
So at 6:00 a.m. in the morning I showed up at, uh, City Hall in Cambridge
, shivering because I was so skinny, with all these other people, and I surveyed the scene around me. There were people in red headbands with their torsos all painted with, uh, various obscenities. There were people getting the "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" chants going up, and there was in almost everyone's hand from Cambridge
Day a doctor's letter: the trick back, the psychiatrist excuse, the uh, the homosexual exemption, etc. Everybody had prepared to get out in some way.
So we road the bus over to the Boston
Navy Yard. This was the rare encounter that any of us had had with the organization of the military, except to be sitting outside the Pentagon, etc.
They took us in there, and uh, there was an interesting change in the people they had running the introductory indoctrination. First, they had one person who obviously had not been through Cambridge
Days before. And he was shaken in a few minutes, uh, when the people were yelling at him and screaming at him to get the fuck out and all the rest. They, uh, they got rid of him and brought in somebody who had been through many of these things before. He said, "Look, got all day, we can take as long as you want, you, you're gonna to go through with this."
There were many little grease notes to this, uh, to this event. They gave that uh, a mental classification test, everybody sitting before you went through the physical. And, of course, all of the, uh, all of the wise guys from, from the Cambridge
Day were deliberately failing the tests so they would be, try to get out and the examiner told them no, that wasn't going to do.
That was over, we started going through the line and each station of the cross, if you will, each one of the examining points in the Navy Yard, there were some new little surprise, there were some people who had been hoping to get out because of anti-disciplinarian personality traits and they would throw cups of urine on the orderlies. I saw that happen twice. There were people who had surprise messages on their underwear or on their genitals for the doctors as they went through. The doctors had seen this all before. They were much less, less phased.
My own epiphany came as I was going through the end and reached the height and weight station. I realized that I was, I was going to make the cut. And finally I came to a doctor, who was ruling on marginal cases like mine. There was obviously nothing really wrong with the person, but technically was in violation.
And he looked at me and said, as he was looking over the chart, and he said, "Well, have you ever considered suicide?" This was a new thought to me. He said, "Oh, oh, yes, I, I've been feeling very depressed and anxious recently." And then I looked at the ground and he finally stared at me and I knew that he knew exactly what was going on. He wrote "Disqualified, or 1-Y" or whatever, but was putting me in the side with people who were not going to go.
I felt that moment, a lot of people, I think, felt some sense of instantaneous sense of relief — the thing that people had been planning had, had, had worked out. But it was for anyone who was not blind, it was complicated by several other senses. One was the sense of just shame and humiliation. The, this was the one thing in my life that I most wish I had not done.
And, and, just as a tangent, the course of principal in those days would have been for people to formally refuse induction, as a, as a few people did. That was one of the complications — a sense of personal embarrassment.
There was a, a different one, too, that many people tried to blind themselves, to which came just as we were nearing the end of our session, as people were getting ready to get back on the bus to go back to Harvard, to go back to their, future lives. Because they started bringing in the people from another part of Boston
, not from the university part, from a white working class district of Boston
. And much as four out of five of my friends were getting exempted, nine out of ten of these people were going through being approved going off to war.
And I think that was when everybody had to face the fact of, of what was going on, of what the consequences of our actions were, that we were not going but somebody else was, and we were seeing the people who were going to, going to be in the Army.
That moment has stayed with me in all the, the intervening twelve years. Because, I think it says something. It says something about individuals. But, it says something probably more important in a practical sense about the way we run our society. What it says about individuals, is there was a class of privileged people who took the expedient course, who, who were willing to let, who were willing to blind themselves to the consequences of war. They were doing...
Scene One, Take Three. Camera Roll 509.