Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Tom Hayden, 11 December 1939 - 23 October 2016

Testimony of Thomas Emmett Hayden
Before the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence
23 October 1968

Tom Hayden: First of all, I should say very frankly that I don’t come here with any expectation of a dialogue or understanding being achieved or with any belief in the legitimacy of the commission. Frankly, I think that it is very difficult for a person in my position to believe that you are actually prepared to study the real causes of violence as I see them in the country. There are no young people on the commission, no student activists, no draft resisters, no outspoken critics of the draft….

My only purposes for coming here, therefore, are twofold, and they have to do with simply stating for the official record, first, that the sources of violence in this country are to be found in the war on Vietnam which you should be studying rather than in student protest movements, draft resistance, or the antiwar movement. And in a deeper sense violence in this country stems from a system which is sick, which is racist, which apparently has a boundless ambition to police the world, which is therefore losing authority and legitimacy in the eyes of millions of young people in this country and many millions more of people around the world, a system which relies more and more on the use of force and the use of police to maintain itself rather than relying on consent or persuasion or traditional techniques of democracy.

The second statement that I would like to make is that the antiwar movement, the draft resistance movement is not a nihilistic handful of true believers, that our position is composed of actual human beings with actual needs that we believe are denied, if illegally and immorally denied. This opposition to the war cannot be pacified with trick solutions, nor will it be eliminated through repression, because the opposition is composed of people who do not want to die or live in constant disorder, but who will not become “good Germans” quietly accepting an insane, immoral order of things. There is nothing sinister or incomprehensible about the opposition, about young people, about students in this country, except to their enemies who think their own authority is beyond question and challenge….

Look at the situation of a student facing this problem. He has no vote. His voice does not count in the democratic manner. Attempts to work within the system have been frustrated, and a student is not able to avoid the war for two basic reasons in particular, two basic ways in which the war is brought to him: first, the draft, and second, the transformation of the university into an instrument of American foreign policy, including policy in Vietnam. For many students, the draft represents the most tangible form of oppression that they have experienced in their sheltered, middle-class lives

Originally, the protest against the draft came from the protest against the war. But the more that students understood the draft, the more they realized that they had two objections to it. First of all, through the draft the American state interferes with what the students consider to be an inalienable right, the right of the individual to decide what he will die for. Second, the draft, we see, is an instrument of social management and manipulation. In the words of Selective Service documents, official documents called A Memorandum on Channeling, the draft and the deferment system are used to keep students working in acceptable careers, acceptable to the makers of the war and to the government of the United States. It is not primarily or exclusively used to supply manpower for wars but is used as a device to regulate the ambitions of American youth according to a national interest defined by men for whom the youth can only fight but not vote. If you want that memorandum, I will submit it to you. You cannot get it any longer from the Selective Service because it caused great embarrassment but was obtained from them and widely reprinted on campuses….

Specifically on the question of the draft, I think the most important thing that could be done will be to make it possible for individuals to have wider than religious objections to wars, that is, make conscientious objection a political category rather than a military one, which would have an underlying premise that the army apparently would not like which is that the individual should choose what war he wants to fight.

I think that that is a most important right, to decide when you will pick up a gun and in whose country you will fight for what cause. That is with reference to the problem of how young people face the war, that is the point at which young people are forced into civil disobedience or disruption most often, because they cannot accept a draft system by which the either dodge and feel morally uncomfortable by dodging; or in which they have to lie and say they are a Quaker or invent false descriptions of their religious beliefs; or they can be a conscientious objector in the Army patching up people in the war that they don’t want anybody to fight; or they can go into the war itself.

This is, I think, a most sacred right that everybody recognized, Daniel Webster and other people certainly recognized, long before — well, right down through our history until the Cold War and the establishment of the idea that you have to have a permanent military. With the idea that there would be many wars in many places came the idea that people would not understand those wars, there might be objection to them, and in order to fight them you would have to have a permanent manpower pool that you could draw upon and regiment. That interferes severely with the whole democratic process, I think….

Leon Higginbotham (Vice-Chair of the Commission and Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit): Mr. Hayden, I want to ask you one question because I am concerned as to whether there are any rather elementary mechanisms from which we as a country can move from protest a solution. Part of your thesis, as I understood it, was that youth is a feeling of impotence, and they cannot graft their sentiments into any type of significant action. Do you believe that reducing the voting age to 18 would be a help in decreasing the frustration of the impotence?

Hayden: Yes, it would, if at the same time we had someone to vote for.

Higginbotham: But you see no relationship between having the right to vote and having someone to vote for?

Hayden: No, not necessarily. You would increase frustrations of young people if they had a vote which had no effective means in a two-party system.

[Excerpted in “Mayday/Hard Times”, 17-24 March 1969, and in book form in Rebellion and Repression (Meridian Books/World Publishing Co., Cleveland, 1969).]

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 25 October 2016, 09:28 ( 9:28 AM)
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