War Resisters League
When I was at Archbishop Molloy High School (from which I graduated in 1971), in Briarwood, Queens, New York, I was a Catholic pacifist. I held pretty heretical beliefs for a Catholic, and not just about pacifism. I had a lot of trouble with the idea of Jesus (peace be with him) as God. I could accept that he was inspired by God, holy as a human being can be, but not God. Jesus is to be followed, not worshipped. That was my theology. I was a high school kid. I also liked Kierkegaard a lot. My friends bought me about ten of his books for my birthday when I was sixteen or seventeen. Kierkegaard is passionate, troubled and his works put me in a strange mood of devotion, doubt and faith.
Since grammar school at Holy Child Jesus, I had become used to being one of the only kids in the class to be opposed to the Vietnam War. I learned this from my father. Over supper he would lecture us about the evils of war, and tell us that communists and Russians are human beings, not demons. He would criticize the Church, too, for equivocating on such issues. How can we support war and go to church on Sundays and sing, “They shall know we are Christians by our love”? he asked us. God bless him.
In high school I sporadically scraped together some savings to give to the 5th Avenue Peace Parade Committee, the War Resisters League, and to subscribe to Ramparts. I felt that I was a member of “the movement”, although too young to actively participate, except by going to an occasional demonstration. By sophomore year of high school I was wearing peace and moratorium buttons and a pin with the broken rifle insignia of the War Resisters League. My history teacher, Mr. Salmon, questioned me about my position on the war, and gently argued against my pacifism. I was in awe of Mr. Salmon’s erudition. He would quote Toynbee and tell stories about the private lives of European kings and queens. At the supper table, I would recount the day’s events at school for my parents, and took pride in my ability to defend myself in open discussion with my admired history professor.
My father, however, believed that opposition to the government and Church should be confined to private discussions in the family and among close friends, and cautioned me against getting a bad name for myself by public displays in school. The following night as I slept he took the peace buttons and War Resisters League pin from on top of my dresser and threw them away. I was crushed. I even searched the garbage can. My mother consoled me, telling me that my father just didn’t want me to get into any trouble.
When I turned 18, I applied for conscientious objector status. My application was rejected and I was classified A1, ready for combat. But then there were cutbacks in the number of draftees, and in the lottery used to pick who would be enlisted, I had a lucky number, and so, didn’t have to appeal the classification.