Chicken Hawk

twigs and seedsJust reading the Wikipedia entry on Selective Service, the draft. I never had to register for the draft, as they stopped registration on March 29, 1975, just days before my 18th birthday. That was about the same day that the back of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was broken by a massive North Vietnamese offensive. Saigon fell a month later, on April 30. Maybe you recall the helicopters jammed with panicky refugees taking off from the ceiling of the US embassy. I distinctly recall a man losing his grip and falling hundreds of feet. The camera didn’t catch the impact.

We watched the helicopters land on the decks of US aircraft carriers. Once emptied of people, the machines were dumped over the side. Their rotors thwacked the sea with huge crazy splashes and then the machines disintegrated and sank. Gone. They dumped who knows how many helicopters over the side. We had way more helicopters than we needed in Viet Nam by then. Actually we didn’t need any helicopters in Viet Nam by then. We had lost. We didn’t need any new soldiers either. Hence I never had to register for the draft.

That felt good, not being registered. Felt a little spoiled, even. No draft card burning for me. No need to plan a sudden trip to Canada. California was so warm and sunny and full of beautiful women. Canada was cold and gloomy and full of Jesse Winchesters. If he’d been my age Jesse could have moved into Topanga Canyon with Neil and Joni and never been down to twigs and seeds. But there he was up in Montreal, and it was cold, and everyone was speaking French.

By 1979 the Pentagon decided they might need new soldiers again. The Russians were getting all wacky, invading Afghanistan, freaking out everybody, so Jimmy Carter figured we ought to try and act like a superpower again. That meant, a generation ago, not only being able to blow up the world but having the ability to raise a big army. You couldn’t raise a big army without a draft, and you couldn’t draft anyone unless you had a list of names. Not that they were going to draft anybody–that was the last thing the generals wanted, they’d had enough of stoned hippie conscripts fragging officers–but it looked good on paper. And it would impress the Russians who, after all, still had a gigantic army. So beginning January 1, 1980, eighteen year olds had to register for the draft. But there are only so many eighteen years olds in one year. You add 19 year olds and you can double the pool of potential draftees, include twenty year olds, and you triple it. So they made registration retroactive for every American male who was born between January 1, 1960 and January 1, 1962, inclusive.

Which meant that those of us born between March 29, 1957 and December 31, 1959 (inclusive) never had to tell the Pentagon we were ready whenever they needed us. In fact we were the only 18 years old since September 16, 1940–when the Selective Service Act became law–that didn’t have to tell the Pentagon we were ready when they needed us. We didn’t have to tell them nothing. We were special. The Pentagon played no part in our lives whatsoever. We never even thought about it. In the Pentagon they wore uniforms and thought about guns, I played drums in punk rock bands and thought about girls. Perfect. No worry about boot camp or the next Viet Nam. No worry about nothing.

Think about it…somehow two years and nine months worth of Eisenhower’s bouncing baby boys were beyond the reach of the draft board. Generations of young American men loathed their draft boards. Not us. We didn’t have a draft board. Couldn’t. We weren’t on any list, nor could we be threatened with jail for not being on a list. There would be no war for us. No army or navy or air force. No drill sergeants. No scary commie tracer bullets. I mean ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country? Who, moi? I’m one of those special kids. We never had to lift a finger to help our country. Who said freedom isn’t free?

I’d make a great chicken hawk. The best.




twigs and seeds

Ku Klux Klan

Back before World War Two the KKK burned a cross on my mother’s lawn. It was the budget variety–the shape of a big cross splashed in gasoline on the lawn and set alight. It certainly caught everyone’s attention. Apparently the nice neighborhood my grandparents had moved into was restricted–Protestants only. No Catholics and certainly no Irish. The Irish back then were only white in color anyway, they weren’t really white, not like WASP white. Everybody knew that. They drank too much, bred like rabbits, were loud, obnoxious, always fighting and voting Democrat and were, well, thugs. Nice people didn’t want Irish people in their neighborhoods. But my grandfather had done real good for a shanty Irish, got himself a real job, an executive job, making good money working for a government contractor, getting bombers built for the war to come. So he moved uptown and even got the family a maid. An Irish family with a maid. There’s an irony for you. It apparently wasn’t lost on the neighbors. The local branch of the KKK–they were everywhere, back then, the KKK, saving America from negroes and papists and jews and intellectuals–well the local branch got together and decided that if one Irishman moved in there went the whole neighborhood. So some brave souls stole onto the lawn in the middle of the night and poured a few gallons of gasoline into the shape of the Holy Cross and set it ablaze. The light filled my mother’s bedroom and she looked out her window and screamed in terror. My grandmother collected her and rest of the children in a safe spot away from the windows and my grandfather waited for the fire truck. The firemen–all Irish–doused the flames. The police officers–all Irish–took down the information. Things were whispered between my grandfather and the police and firemen. They probably warned him there’d be more to come. They’d seen it before. Said it was a dangerous part of town for an Irishman and his children. We all know our place, they said, and it’s not on this end of town.

No one ever took responsibility for the act. No one was arrested. Not long afterward my grandfather took the family back across the river to New Jersey, where the local bars rang late into the night with Irish song, people voted early and often, and Mass was full all Sunday long. Those were his people, and he stayed with them and sang with them and drank with them till he died.

The KKK won that battle.