let peace begin with me: a letter to my draft board

Photo by Lindsey Pucci

By Orman Day

Local Board No. 94
Los Angeles County
2091 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, Calif. 91107


Dear Sirs:

When we were young and in elementary school, we would sit at the green lunch tables and chew our bologna sandwiches and crack our celery loud and sometimes one of the boys would say: if you could have anything I mean anything in the whole world, what would it be?

When I thought of my two blind cousins, I would say: that all the blind people could see.

And then the boy would be disappointed and he would say: I mean something for yourself, something personal.

And sometimes I would answer: to be like Tad Callister (who was the fastest runner, the smartest student, and mayor of our junior town at R.D. White Elementary.)

But if I was asked today: if you could have anything I mean anything in the whole world, what would it be?

I would say: that the war be over, the war be over.

And if it was said: I mean something for yourself, something personal.

I would answer: that I don’t have to say my country is making a mistake in Vietnam.

I have waited as long as I could because they are words that tighten in my throat and stiffen my fingers on the keyboard. I guess my conscience is finally trying to make me a man, for now I must say that it will not let me serve in any way in a military that is waging an unjust war in Vietnam.

It’s sad, it’s sad that part of my generation is dying and losing part of its humanity in Vietnam. My friends and their fellow soldiers are told: you are dying for your country, a noble sacrifice, democracy, freedom. And yet they have been dying for South Vietnam’s black market, censored newspapers, unfair government, and a flourishing red-light district. And for California’s defense industry.

It is bad enough that we are killing people and slashing their country apart, but the war is also pocking America with a different type of bomb crater: the money diverted to guns, the love diverted to hate, the lives diverted to death, the belief in American diverted to disillusionment.

You have told my generation and the minorities: do not riot, do not use violence, do not loot and burn. But on the TV news every night, we see our country’s soldiers trying to solve another country’s problems with the bambambam of our violence.

When students ask for more freedom, you say: sit tight, stay calm, cut your hair or we will up your tuition and lock you in jail. And then when your student deferment runs out, you send us to Vietnam and say: kill for freedom.

At Nuremburg, the defendants said: we were just following orders. You said: guilty. Too many of my generation will say: we were just following orders. History will say: guilty. There are those who now say: we won’t follow those orders, we won’t become a party to this immortality. How can you say: guilty.

Right now the government is guilty of shaving off young men’s humanity.

I went over to a friend Art’s house a few weeks ago. He just got back from Army duty in Vietnam. He said: I took a whole lot of slides ya know. I said: I’d like to see them, I really would. His wife groaned: ohhh not again. But nevertheless, he showed me two hours of color slides.

Art thought the highlight of his presentation were five slides of a Viet Cong who had been blown up. Art had separate slides of the human’s foot and other blasted parts of the body. Art stood and smiled proudly as he outlined the torso. The final slide was a grinning soldier holding the VC’s severed head by its hair.


Don is a friend of mine who is a senior in high school. Once he told me: Ormie, when I graduate, I think I’ll go in the service because I want to go to Vietnam and kill me some of those gooks—I probably won’t come back alive, but I don’t care what happens to me just so long as I can die for my country or my God or my family.

Don only seemed to think of dying for his country or his God or his family and not of living for them. Maybe Don will die on a numbered hill in a few years because his country tells him it is honorable to die for your country when it says so.

A year ago, I hitched a ride with a Marine just out of Vietnam. He told me: ya know I hope you don’t think this sounds sadistic or anything but when you see one of them being burned by napalm and screaming, well it’s funny as hell, it really is, one of the funniest damned things in the world.

Ask me now what this war is doing to our soldiers’ humanity. Part of a heavy price that is for nothing. History will call it an unjust war. Americans are dying this moment because false pride keeps the country from saying we have made a mistake: we should have never supported the French or supported a government that does not have the loyalty of its people.

As much as I disapprove of our intervention in this war, I cannot truly say yes I am a complete conscientious objector and no, I would never fight in any war: all I can say is maybe. I will have to consider the justness of one war at a time. I don’t think I would have the courage it takes to repel an invasion with passive resistance: I know I would defend this country against outside aggression.

I’m not a pacifist because I’ve killed too many Indians through John Wayne’s rifle and impaled too many “Japs” with Montgomery Clift’s bayonet. When I was young, we played war in the neighborhood. We went down to the surplus store with our return-bottle money and bought patches, knapsacks, canteens, helmets and brown shirts too long. (I was the only one with a gas mask.) We had big battles with guns that never ran out of bullets and we groaned to the ground when we pretended to be shot. I had more than a hundred of those small plastic soldiers and a cannon that fired plastic pellets and a tank that creaked along on its belt.

It never struck me that when an Indian screamed off a cliff, there was real human butchered dead at the bottom or that there was a family waiting for that impaled “Jap” with the buck teeth and thick round glasses. Just as for too long a time, I read big headlines about numbers dead without thinking of the human life they represented. I thought: domino theory, pride, freedom, better there than here, stop ‘em now: without investigating what the war was really all about.

For four years, I hid behind my student deferment. Less than a year ago, I was even ready to volunteer for the draft so I could get the service “out of the way,” get my killing done so I could get on with my living. Then I started having strong doubts about our Vietnam policy, but I wouldn’t let myself seriously consider objection until the issue was forced upon me by my physical: I guess I hoped somehow my penicillin allergy would get me out of making the most important decision of my 22-year-old life.

But I am making it now.

It is a decision that could cost me the freedom that is so important to me.

Some have said: flee, go to Canada, don’t be a fool. And there will be others who will say: if you don’t want to fight for your country, then get out, just get out.

They don’t understand that America is my country right or wrong. I will not fight for it when it is wrong, but I will fight those wrongs and try to make them right. To flee would be like cutting off my arm because it was discolored by a bruise. The American Dream is my dream. That is why it disappoints me when so many people think they are defending America’s freedoms by clamping down on them, when they talk about freeing the slaves while they try to keep the emancipated Negroes “in their place,” when they talk of our dead Americans as if they are points-scored-upon and the dead Viet Cong as points-scored.

I was discussing my anti-war feeling with a girl and she said: that’s stupid, what will you get out of it?

Friends have said: why do ya wanna do that for? You got a degree, you can get something easy, what’s it gonna get ya?

Self-respect I hope: in a time when everyone is selling themselves to the good deal and the fast buck and the don’t rock the boat.

But it will not come without a heavy price: maybe my parents and some of my friends will shun me, maybe my physical freedom will be strangled by bars and prison counts, maybe for the rest of my life I will be called coward commie ingrate. A heavy price, a heavy price.

But the sacrifice is small when America is losing so much.

To a better, stronger America.

Orman Philip Day

They drafted me. When I refused to step forward during the swearing-in ceremony at the induction center, I gripped a Gideon Bible opened to a verse in Matthew, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” I was arrested by the FBI, was tried and convicted in federal court, and was given probation by a sympathetic judge.Now, when I think back about what I was trying to accomplish by my actions, I remember the lyrics—composed by Jill and Sy Miller—I sang with my folk-singing partner after he came back dispirited from the war: “Let there be peace on earth / And let it begin with me . . .”