Second Thoughts

These days everyone is having second thoughts—about Vietnam and the 60's, about American history, about what it means to be a liberal and what it means to be a conservative. Rather than be left out of the rewrite, I too have been having second thoughts about what I did and did not do some 20 years ago. I was on the point of being drafted on three separate occasions, and while I should have realized that the Army would never take a flat-footed man who had had operations on both eyes, I still brooded about the war and my possible participation.

Conventionally leftist, I did not see any reason for our presence in Southeast Asia—although I did believe we were engaged in a global struggle against the Soviet Union, one we could not afford to lose. I wrote my congressman, L. Mendel Rivers, to declare my opposition to the war. Mendel, in addition to being chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee, was a sort of friend of my father. (I also knew his godson, aide, and successor, Mendel Davis.) Even so, I did not expect an answer and when it came, it gave me a jolt. The greatest hawk in Washington said he agreed with me, that if we were not going to fight to win, then it was wrong to waste American lives.

One American life I had no intention of wasting was my own—not that I was afraid of dying in Southeast Asia. Mendel had promised my father that if I were drafted, I could have my pick of places to go and...

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