Lola L. Wilcox
Horse’s Mouth, Box 3022
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Dear Mr. Johnson,
During the summer you made a public appeal that those of us concerned with the draft write and tell you what we were thinking. At first I could consider this subject only within the context of the war in Viet Nam. Slowly, from the confusion surrounding that conflict, several convictions have emerged; All have a direct bearing on the draft and my proposal concerning it.
In the past months I have observed two definite movements among young Americans; one, the most publicized, is the anti-war movement. The second is the depression reflected everywhere in the teen and college worlds. The word “depression” is used frequently by our generation and it may have lost its intensity. The state of mind I refer to is one of feeling “trapped”, of feeling one’s integrity, ego, and desires drained out into nothing. T.S. Eliot described the feeling in Section V or the “Hollow Men”: ….
Between the idea
and the reality
Between the motion
and the act
Falls the Shadow.
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
and the creation
Between the emotion
and the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long.
… The draft is the Shadow. …. Ask any young person about what the draft is doing to his life and the lives of his friends. You will hear story after story. It is the stories which permeate the atmosphere; it is the knowledge that one cannot escape the draft which creates the new undercurrent among the various tight communities in which we live. That undercurrent is depression, a sense of futility, a frustration at not being able to live fully.
There is another side to this depression. In order to understand it, we have to take an overall view of this generation. Most of us have been raised in luxury and satiated with material goods; all our physical necessities and non-necessities have been provided for abundantly. Some of us grew up in the slums and depressed areas; our days have been spent fighting for the necessities of everyday living. We all have been exposed to the hypocrisies of great ideals and backhanded practices, of high assurance and desperate anxieties, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions.
We grew up with slogans proclaiming “Power for Peace”, “Equality”, “The United Nations”, “Emerging African Independence”, “Birth Control for India”. We were carefully taught the meaning of the slogans and America’s role in them “America is the great power for peace.” But news broadcasters spoke of co-existence (which isn’t peace) threatened. We learned of tractors which were exchanged for anti-communist sympathies, not for peace and prosperity. We learned of foreign aid going to tyrants with the stipulation “Stay West – the East is Evil.” The United Nations was worthy of our support when she took a pro-western stand; she was ignored (note Viet Nam) when she took an anti-American stand. Africa, Egypt, Cuba, India ad infinitum were “good” only as long as they stayed in the western camp. Where is this humanitarian power for peace? Peace does not equal pro-westernism. This is the hypocrisy of great ideals and backhanded practice. Orwell, in 1984, called it “Doublethink”.
It is time that America make its position clear – whether it is going to be a military or peaceful nation as regards its objectives. If we choose this latter course I propose the following program of National Service.’’
I propose that we abandon the primitive, inhuman concept of the “draft” and substitute in its place a vast, new organization.
This new organization will expect a service commitment of two or three years from every United States citizen.
Yes, that means women too.
This commitment must be fulfilled between the ages of eighteen and thirty
The actual section of time each individual will spend will be chosen by the individual – knowing that it must be before he or she reaches thirty. If an applicant wishes he or she may enter at 18 and remain until 30.
Married couples, with or without children, may serve together and the place of appointment will be chosen with regard to their position.
I propose that this organization have two primary divisions, Military and Civilian.
Every person has an explicit choice: either two-year commitments with the Military or three-year commitments with the Civilian.
The Military Branch will exist primarily as a peace force.
Congress will decide the positioning and other uses of military forces.
We may enter a country only when there is actual danger to the lives, civilizations, or human existence level of the people in that area, and only when such danger has been determined by those people. The number and type of aid is also determined by those people. Viet Nam might (possibly) come under this category.
Women can volunteer to serve in any military capacity.
The Civilian Branch of this operation would consist of two major divisions: national and world.
National operations would consist of work on and in slum clearance and teaching; dope addiction/narcotics; penal institutions; urbanization, mechanization, automation; and other problems unique to our society; civil rights, etc.
World operations would consist of work on and in the school systems of every country; population problems; modernization problems; communication facilities; economic advancement, etc.
The first six months will consist of extensive training for participants in the host area or country.
Placement in the programs would be according to the desire of the applicant giving consideration to ability and prior education.
I propose that this organization be supported by taxes from the American public.
The present military and foreign aid expenses would be one immediate source of revenue; both programs becoming obsolete under the new program.
Individuals in service to their country would be exempt from taxes until their commitment expires.
Payment to individuals during the commitment period would consist of living expenses.
Any person within the program at age thirty would be able to continue within the program in one of several capacities:
If the host area (corporation, school system, institution, etc.) or country wishes it may hire the person full time. Work with the Government Service Commitment people would continue on a voluntary basis.
The individual may apply to continue within the program as an advisor or trainer, no living expenses being provided (salaried).
No young American would be exempt from the program for any reason.
If the applicant comes from a slum or otherwise depressed area … any necessary educational, social or psychiatric needs would be fulfilled while he or she is in the program.
If physically or mentally deficient, the commitment time will be spent in orienting the applicant towards a position in society. If this physical or mental deficiency is to the point of incapacity, the applicant would be placed or remain in a hospital or home where he or she is at least happy.
Physical or mental illness will be treated immediately upon admission; intent being to restore the individual to him or herself, and then to society during the commitment period.
All of these programs would be part of the Civilian Branch and would be staffed, etc. by people fulfilling their service commitment.
It would be the free choice of any American to not join the organization.
This choice would be stated at age 30.
An individual choosing such a position would automatically be exempt from participation in any government program such as civil service opportunities, Medicare, loans, etc.
I fully am aware that the program I have suggested is at best sketchy. To put such a vast organization, or any other similar program, into existence would require a monumental effort on the part of the country. This particular program could result in a form of totalitarianism, and safeguards would have to be built into the program to protect the individual. However, this particular program also could create responsible intelligent citizens capable to taking an active part in their country’s policies, and able to do so in the way that they wish.
In conclusion, I would say that our real danger does not lie in Communism, or even in Red China’s threatening position. We are, as a nation and as individuals, “hollow men, stuffed men, leaning together, headpiece filled with straw.” Felicia Komai, South Africa, wrote a verse drama taken from Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country, in which she stated:
I am lost when I balance this against that,
I am lost when I ask if it is safe…
I only know that I am no longer able
To aspire to the highest with one part of myself
And to deny it with another.