"A war I Opposed And Despised With A Depth Or Feeling I Had Reserved Solely For Racism In America Before Vietnam."
Bill Clinton (1969)
In the summer of 1969 twenty-three year old Bill Clinton joined the newly-formed Moratorium which began its mobilization of those opposed to the Vietnam War. Yet he faced the possibility of being drafted and sent to fight in a war he despised. In August he received a draft deferment after he told an army Reserve Officers Training Corps recruiter that he intended to attend law school at the University of Arkansas and join the ROTC program there. Instead, a few months later Clinton returned to England for a second year as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. He had decided against joining ROTC and so his deferment was revoked October 30. Congress in November of 1969 enacted a new draft lottery system and when the lottery took place Clinton drew a high number and was never drafted. The following letter which he wrote December 3, 1969 to the director of ROTC at the University of Arkansas explains his passionate opposition to the Vietnam War, a sentiment shared by millions of other Americans. It also states
his support for the principle of selective conscientious objection to participating in war.
As you know, I worked for two years in a very minor position
on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I did it for the
experience and the salary but also for the opportunity, however
small, of working every day against a war I opposed and despised
with a depth of feeling I had reserved solely for racism in America
before Vietnam. I did not take the matter lightly but studied it
carefully, and there was a time when not many people had more
information about Vietnam at hand than I did.
I have written and spoken and marched against the war. One of
the national organizers of the Vietnam Moratorium is a close friend
of mine. After I left Arkansas last summer, I went to Washington
to work in the national headquarters of the Moratorium, then to
England to organize the Americans here for demonstrations Oct. 15
and Nov. 16.
Interlocked with the war is the draft issue, which I did not
begin to consider separately until early 1968. For a law seminar
at Georgetown I wrote a paper on the legal arguments for and
against allowing, within the Selective Service System, the
classification of selective conscientious objection, for those
opposed to participation in a particular war, not simply to
"participation in war in any form."
From my work I came to believe that the draft system itself is
illegitimate. No government really rooted in limited,
parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war they may oppose, a war which even
possibly may be wrong, a war which, in any case, does not involve
immediately the peace and freedom of the nation.
The draft was justified in World War II because the life of
the people collectively was at stake. Individuals had to fight, if
the nation was to survive, for the lives of their countrymen and
their way of life. Vietnam is no such case...
Because of my opposition to the draft and the war, I am in
great sympathy with those who are not willing to fight, kill, and
maybe die for their country (i.e., the particular policy of a
particular government) right or wrong. Two of my friends at Oxford
are conscientious objectors. I wrote a letter of recommendation
for one of them to his Mississippi draft board, a letter which I am
more proud of than anything else I wrote at Oxford last year. One
of my roommates is a draft resister who is possibly under
indictment and may never be able to go home again. He is one of
the bravest, best men I know. His country needs men like him more
than they know. That he is considered a criminal is an obscenity.
The decision not to be a resister and the related subsequent
decisions were the most difficult of my life. I decided to accept
the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my
political viability within the system. For years I have worked to
prepare myself for a political life characterized by both practical
political ability and concern for rapid social progress. It is a
life I still feel compelled to try to lead. I do not think our
system of government is by definition corrupt, however dangerous
and inadequate it has been in recent years. (The society may be
corrupt, but that is not the same thing, and if that is true we are
all finished anyway.)
...I am writing in the hope that my telling this one story
will help you to understand more clearly how so many fine people
have come to find themselves still loving their country but
loathing the military, to which you and other good men have devoted
years, lifetimes, of the best service you could give. To many of
us, it is no longer clear what is service and what is disservice,
or if it is clear, the conclusion is likely to be illegal...
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