Skip to main content

Nixon Did Me A Favor

Richard Nixon was the first in a long line of Republican presidents I have loathed. Partly because I was young and in college at a fraught time in our history, and partly because the man himself was an ass, I and everyone I knew hated him with rare gusto. It was an eastern-megalopolis, out-of-touch-with-Main-Street sort of hatred, but heartfelt nonetheless.

History remembers “Tricky Dick” mostly for the Watergate scandal that brought him down. But his long and cynical prolonging of the Vietnam War — as well as his catastrophic expansion of that war into Cambodia — was the first of many messes made by Republicans that Democrats subsequently had to clean up.

History has also shined a more benign light on some of his accomplishments, which were admittedly significant. He signed off on the creation of the EPA and OSHA. He propped up social security, expanded the food stamp program, extended health insurance for low-income families, and other stuff that today would put him somewhere to the left of Amy Klobuchar.

All of this safety-net legislation required bipartisan cooperation, a phenomenon that now seems almost quaint, like an artefact from some long-dead civilization. Once upon a time, there were actual Republicans who believed in that stuff. It’s true, I swear.

But for me, and for the college kids I knew then, Nixon was the guy in charge of the draft — the dreaded Selective Service System — which held all our futures hostage.

On our campus outside Boston, we were all terrified of going to Vietnam. We all had student deferments (“2-S Deferments,” in the language of the time), and as long as we could stay in school — as long as our parents could pay to keep us in school — we would not be drafted. It was a privilege, and most of us knew it. But we also knew that graduation loomed, almost as a death knell.

When we were nineteen years old, all the men were subjected to the first nationwide draft lottery. Every birth date was drawn, all 366 of them, from a rotating drum on national television. The first third would almost certainly be drafted into the Army. The last third almost certainly would not. The middle third could go either way.

My birthday came up 104th. The first third. I was screwed.

This sword hung over my head well into my senior year. All my options were bad: I could be drafted and go into the Army for two years. Or enlist in some other branch of the military, but that was for three years. Or obtain a medical deferment for some ailment — real or fake — that some doctor might sign off on (remember Trump’s bone spurs?). Or leave the country for good. Or, oh yes, go to jail.

As graduation closed in on me, the weighing of these dismal options became the background hum of my life. Even so, it must have been an exercise in denial, because I don’t remember obsessing over it. I just put it out of my mind whenever I could — a practice I have perfected since.

But then, from nowhere, Nixon did me a huge favor.

He ended the draft. Just like that. Just short of graduation. The all-volunteer military was born just in time for me not to volunteer.

Yes, Nixon did this for the wrong reasons, political as opposed to humanitarian. Yes, the war kept going for several more years, chewing up humans in unconscionable numbers. But I, personally, was free to move on.

I realize now that this was an inflection point in my life, a crucial decision I, strangely, never had to make. I’ve often wondered what that decision would have been. And in which directions it might have sent me.

What if I’d gone into the military, either by draft or enlistment? I’m guessing I would have found a way to function, barely, in a combat environment. But I really didn’t want to find out. The Army and I would not have been a good fit — I've never felt the urge to "test myself" in combat — and to this day it’s an experience I am thrilled to have missed.

Many in my age group fled to Canada. Unlike most of them, my family actually had property in Canada, with a cabin that probably could have been winterized. So that was a possibility, though the idea of never coming home made me queasy. (Several years later, Jimmy Carter declared an amnesty for those who fled, but at the time it seemed a one-way ticket).

Also unlike many of my peers — whose parents misread their visceral aversion to the war as a shameful lack of patriotism — mine were firmly anti-war. My father had been to war. He’d seen things no twenty-year-old should ever have to see, and he had nothing good to say about it. He almost never discussed it, which I’ve since learned was typical of that “greatest” generation. And while he came home unharmed, at least physically, I’m quite sure he carried the emotional scars his whole life. He was deeply offended by war in general, and by “Nixon’s War” in particular. I believe he would have gone to great lengths to shield me from it.

But it never came to that. Nixon got me off the hook. It was the first time an American president held my life in his hands. I’d like to think it was the last.


Berkley MI

Tuesday 05/26/20

Comments

  1. Interesting history, personal and national!

    In July 1980, when I was 18, President Carter re-instituted the Selective Service registration requirement for 18 year olds. I refused, and publicly announced such at a demonstration at the Palo Alto post office. Nothing ever came of it.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Trouble with Old White Guys

  In the spirit of the holidays, I’m re-gifting a piece I wrote in late November of the blighted year 2020. Post-election, pre-vaccine, it has nothing to do with the holidays, or even with good spirits. Nor is it especially topical. I’m recycling it mostly because I still like it. It still feels more-or-less true. It isn’t too dated. And I know some of my newer readers haven’t read it. For those of you who have — you know who you are — I invite you to take a second look. No pressure. I had a zoom call the other day with an old friend I’d neither seen nor communicated with in about five years. We schmoozed and caught up and trashed Republicans and shared our amazement over this whole pandemic thing, and then he said something I had to think about: “It’s not a bad time to be old.” Hmm. To be sure, it’s a great time to not struggle in the job market. It’s an excellent time to not worry where your next meal is coming from. It’s a sensational time to not be raising

Consumer Power and the Promise of Negative Branding

By now it’s pretty clear that Republicans are out to steal your lunch money. If they take back the House, it will be two years of committee hearings for Hunter Biden and two more years of festering stasis for the rest of us. So we need ideas, fast. I am one of many who believe at least part of the answer lies in the business world. Corporate America needs to step up. Large corporations have significant financial leverage over Republicans at every level — federal, state, local — and we need them to use that leverage to get us out of this mess, not just for our sakes, but for their own as well. It is inexcusable that hundreds of mega-companies continue to contribute to the campaigns of Republican congressmen who openly denied the 2020 election results. These companies continue, in other words, to finance treason. This is appalling on any number of levels, but let’s start with whether they’re getting their money’s worth. The Republican agenda they underwrite is so corrupt, so co

What’s it Like Out on That Limb, Liz?

Let me start by saying that Liz Cheney is not my favorite person. Heir to Dick Cheney, one of the foulest public figures of the last century, she was born on the wrong side of every issue. Only rarely has she strayed from the toxic values of her father. She voted with Trump 93 percent of the time. Including the $2 trillion tax boondoggle of 2017, which no doubt added a few million to her own estate, and several multiples of that to her daddy’s. That said, one can’t help but begrudgingly look on, with some tiny bit of admiration, at the limb she has intentionally — and with eyes wide open —slithered out on. Unlike the Democrats on the Jan 6 committee — who are only trying to save democracy — Cheney has arguably a more difficult job. She seems to have taken it upon herself to be the one to take down Donald Trump. Or barring that, to exorcise him from the Republican party. Both are tall orders, and to make them happen, she has to work closely with Democrats, whom she despises. And