Forty-eight years ago yesterday, on October 15, 1965, twenty-four year old pacifist member of the Catholic Worker Movement, David J. Miller, stood on a sound truck near the Armed Forces Induction Center on Whitehall Street in Manhattan, and burned his draft card. He was arrested three days later, convicted of knowingly destroying and knowingly mutilating his draft card, and sentenced to thirty months in prison. His case was argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he lost, and thus, his conviction upheld, spent twenty-two months in federal prison.
As I pondered this anniversary yesterday, I wondered if there were any other people out there who, too, were remembering such individual and group actions during the Sixties. Perusing the internet gave me a fairly good answer; not so much. That really was not surprising. We, as a generation, have moved on from those days where we could be garrulous to a fault, but ready, willing and able to back our talk up with meaningful acts; dramatic communication to shake, shock, and show the world we meant it when we spoke. I understand we, for the most part, think and behave much differently now than we did then, and that is all right.
What I found appalling, though, were some writings by people who were born to, or after, that generation, never having been a part of the demonstrations, marches, or acts of civil disobedience of that time, stating, with authority drawn from I know not where, among other things; people who burned their draft cards were not doing so to protest a war they could not support, and over which they had grave concerns and objections. They burned their cards because they were cowards, and only wished to save their own hides. Really?
Personally, I am loathe to argue anymore, having concluded someone who holds a differing opinion than I certainly is entitled to it; undoubtedly arriving at said opinion on a journey somewhere between careful, complete investigation, and a second hand, passed down, grandpappy said it, pappy did too, and if it was good enough for them, it is good enough for everyone else in this household dictum. Regardless of how they got there, I realized long ago the world does not need my permission nor my approval to think as it will, and I do not have to correct endless nonsense. Not necessary nor recommended for peace of mind.
However, when statements are made that fly in the face of truth, written or spoken by someone whose frame of reference is obfuscated by pedantic blather; my “you can’t hold me back” self bursts out with “just you wait a minute, Little Mister!” I was there, and I hold in my mind and heart days where souls agonized, depths of motives plumbed, and decisions made based on the true and fast belief one’s conscience was the ultimate judge to which each of us must answer. I was there with genuine soldiers, in and out of uniform, whom you will never know; some who gave their all on the home front, some who gave their all in Viet Nam. And there was not a coward counted among them.
Even today, as I prepared lunch for my grandchildren, I still was thinking about the anniversary of David J. Miller’s draft card burn, wondering if he felt his actions were worth the consequences, and curious how such behavior would be described to someone who was not there. Then, my four year old granddaughter nailed it, as children usually do. The twins had just returned from their pre-school, and she was eager to tell me the story they learned, today. “There was this boy, whose name was Brave Dave, and he was not afraid of anything. He even fought a giant whose name was Goliath. Brave Dave won, because he had courage”.
There it was. Once again, I realized, no matter the outcome, we are tried by our challenges, how they are met, and to what height we stretch to reach our best selves. So, to Brave Dave, and all you who gave everything you had, your courage has not gone unnoticed. And someday, I will tell my grandchildren all about you and the Goliath’s you faced, so they too can say thanks and offer a hearty well-done.