Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sour Sixteen

Early in 1970, well before my birthday, my sister held a surprise party for me. It had as a theme Magic Carpet Ride and she invited my few friends -- the four kids in Sunday School class, and a couple of guys from Boy Scouts. There was also an outgoing girl named Donna, who kissed me. That's as far as my contact with Donna went, but some time after the kiss I was told she had mononucleosis, and some time after that my doctor told me that I also had mononucleosis. Donna had given me the best gift of all, time off from high school. I stayed home and listened to the underground radio station, WMUM, and read about Vietnam in Time/Life magazines, and about Christian anarchism and pacifism in Tolstoy. That spring, less than two months after my actual 16th birthday, Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia and big anti-war demonstrations erupted all over the country. WMUM participated by playing the appropriate songs -- Volunteers, Street Fighting Man, Peace Frog, Someday (August 29, 1968), etc. In Palm Beach County, the revolution was mainly on the air and not the streets, but there was Something In The Air, and in Ohio National Guardsmen fired directly into a crowd of unarmed students and killed four of them. It took days or weeks for the implications to sink in, and when they did I was very pissed off. The main thing was the realization that I had been conditioned for sixteen years to believe that the most honorable and courageous thing a young man could do was to become a soldier and obey orders to kill and die, and in another two years I would be required to register for the Selective Service.
That summer our family vacation included a trip to Toronto. I had brought along The Strawberry Statement, James Simon Kunen's account of the 1968 Columbia student uprising, which I read and re-read, and the Woodstock album, in which Jimi Hendrix radicalized the national anthem.

I took this picture of my father in Toronto's Yorkville neighborhood because I was amused by the Canadian flag across the street, but you can't really see that it is not a maple leaf, even in this blow-up.

The Draft Resistance had a heavy presence in that bohemian neighborhood. We were exploring the possibility of my future exile, if it came to that. The idea, or fantasy, appealed to me a lot. Yorkville was my first real exposure to the counter-culture. I bought copies of the local underground papers that I still have. When I got home I contacted the American Friends, which I learned about on WMUM and in Hieronymous, Palm Beach County's own attempt at an underground paper, and made an appointment to talk to a draft counsellor. He explained the conscientious objector status to me. Dad said the church would support me, if I declared myself a CO.
In May of 1972, two months after I registered for the draft, my sister, my cousin Eraca and I, and some others, organized a peace march in West Palm Beach to oppose the insane war. Over a hundred showed up, according to the Miami Herald. 

Ten years ago today, on my 49th birthday, the US invaded Iraq. As Vonnegut said, "So it goes."


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