Back on August 23rd, 2018 it was the 50th anniversary of my alleged Failure to Perform a Duty Under the Selective Service Act of 1967 (as amended). I posted a long account of the series of events that led up to my refusing induction into the US Army. You can read that earlier account that ends with my arrest here https://www.facebook.com/steve.rider.old.guy/posts/10216203298051297.
Today, as promised 3 years ago, the story of my trial date in US Federal court.
After my arrest in the manager’s office of the Sears store where I was working on August 31, 1970 there were several court appearances for my arraignment and something else, but the big day was to be January 5, 1971 – my trial on a federal felony charge. The judge assigned to my case had a reputation as the hanging judge, figuratively of course, for Selective Service cases in Philadelphia – he gave longer sentences than his Federal judge peers. I expected a 4.5 year prison sentence. I certainly expected to be convicted as I had in fact acted as charged. I refused induction into the US Army on August 23rd, 1968.
My attorney had seemed very confident.
On the day of my trial quite a few of my family members came to court with me, even an aunt on my veteran father’s side. As we waited for the case before mine to finish my brilliant attorney handed me a law book and pointed to a case history.
We were sitting on a not literally group W bench. I was waiting to be convicted, but this very clever man knew all along we would win. I knew nothing of this until he had me read a case summary of another young draft refuser and his court experience.
In this other case the young man had been raised Catholic, as I was. He had left the Catholic faith, as I had. He had applied for Conscientious Objector status, as I had. He had been denied CO status by his local draft board, as I was. He had appealed to his State Selective Service Board and been denied unanimously, as I had. And he had refused induction, as I had. In his trial he had been convicted, as I was about to be, but in an appeal his conviction had been overturned.
This is the most critical part, in his case and in my case the local draft board involved had acknowledged our sincerity when they considered our applications for CO status. Most importantly in both cases they used these exact words in their findings “however we do not see how he can qualify as a Conscientious Objector”.
On appeal the other youth had won. My attorney had sat on this for months. He knew that Federal prosecutors are political animals too, they want a high percentage of convictions and a low percentage of acquittals. As I sat there with my family my attorney walked across the room to the US Attorney prosecuting my case. He sat, they exchanged pleasantries, then my attorney showed him the relevant case law I’d just read.
When my local draft board acknowledged that I was sincere in my opposition to war they put the burden on themselves to explain exactly why I did not qualify to be a Conscientious Objector. By failing to state an explicit reason for denying my application my right to Due Process under the Fifth Amendment was denied.
When I then appealed the local board’s decision to the state selective service board I was denied the opportunity to address the reservations of my local draft board, since they had not been stated.
The US Attorney abruptly left the room, just as the black youth whose case was before mine was being sent to prison for throwing a cherry bomb into a mailbox.
The bailiff called our case and my attorney and I stood to enter the front of the courtroom, meanwhile His Honor was annoyed because the US Attorney had left the room to call Washington.
In a scene directly out of a Perry Mason episode the US Attorney pushed the wooden courtroom door open so hard it hit a stop loudly. As he walked down the center aisle toward us he loudly said to the judge “Your Honor, if the Court approves the government would like to drop the charges in this case.”
The judge looked at me sternly and asked “Do you have any objection to THAT, young man?” “No, your Honor” was my obvious reply.
I walked out of that courtroom as a winner in a case I was certain I would lose. I left the courthouse, went to a record store nearby and bought the album “Blows Against The Empire” by Jefferson Starship.
Months later, finally living in my own apartment, I received a notice from the Selective Service System that I had been reclassified as a Conscientious Objector. The custom was that if a Conscientious Objector found a job that met their criteria they would approve it, otherwise they would assign a duty.
The acceptance criteria included the job must be far enough from the CO’s home that they need to relocate, the job must serve the public interest, and the pay must be low, comparable to servicemen. There was an informal list of employers considered rubber stamps for approval, included was Goodwill Industries.
I contacted Goodwill Industries in Boston, telling them I was a brilliant TV repairman and that I could teach their clients to repair small appliances, radios and TVs.
They apologized that they had no need in Boston but mentioned their facility in Worcester MA. I was dating a girl who worked in Worcester, lived in a nearby town, and would soon become my wife. A job in Worcester would be ideal!
I did end up teaching TV and small appliance repair in a pilot program I designed. One of my clients ended up getting a job as a TV repairman. About a year into my 2 year assignment I received a letter from the Supreme Court of the United States. The letter informed me that I was immediately released from my alternative service because my rights had been violated once again by our kill foreigners in their own country system. At the time I was assigned to 2 years Alternative Service the Selective Service System had already stopped drafting warm bodies to go kill foreigners in their own country, so assigning me to duty was punitive. Once again I had won, and once again it was a surprise.
I was in the middle of my pilot program, so I advised Goodwill management that I had been released legally, but I stayed on to finish my commitment to my clients. Once we had run through it all I did resign and went back to doing TV repairs for 6 more years until the computer industry was ready for me.
Standing up against my own society taught me something about myself. I have more will power than some people. The experience showed me that my will power can really work wonders. It has benefited me all my life.
If somehow I went back in time and our war of imperialist aggression in Vietnam was still on, I definitely would refuse to participate again.