54 RI Bar J., No. 2, Pg. 40 (September/October 2005). Excerpts from Jerry Elmer's: Felon for Peace: The Memoir of a Vietnam-Era Draft Resister.

Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 54.

54 RI Bar J., No. 2, Pg. 40 (September/October 2005).

Excerpts from Jerry Elmer's: Felon for Peace: The Memoir of a Vietnam-Era Draft Resister

September/October 2005 pg. 40Excerpts from Jerry Elmer's: Felon for Peace: The Memoir of a Vietnam-Era Draft ResisterEditor's Note: Jerry Elmer, the author of Felon for Peace: The Memoir of a Vietnam-Era Draft Resister (Copyright 2005 by Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, TN, www.vanderbiltuniversitypress.com) is a member of the Rhode Island Bar Association and a partner in the Providence law firm of Goldenberg & Muri. Author-selected excerpts from this book follow.

from the Introduction

On my eighteenth birthday in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, I publicly refused to register for the draft, a felony punishable by five years' imprisonment (then and now). The statement I presented to what would have been "my" draft board began:

I am a pacifist. That is, my opposition to the draft stems not merely from an opposition to the current war in Vietnam, but rather from an opposition to all wars. I could not cooperate with the Selective Service System even in "peacetime." The war in Vietnam could end tomorrow, but the basic nature and direction of American foreign policy would remain unchanged. Vietnam is not an isolated blemish tarnishing an otherwise noble record of American foreign policy. Vietnam is, rather, just another sore of the same disease that led us into Guatemala in 1954, and into the Dominican Republic in 1965.

That is, at the core of my political beliefs is a commitment to active nonviolence. It was this commitment that led me to decide not to go to college after high school, but to work for the War Resisters League (WRL) instead. During the first eighteen months after I graduated from high school, I burglarized fourteen draft boards in three cities on the East Coast, destroying the files of men eligible to be drafted and rendering those draft boards inoperable. I went on to work full-time in the nonviolent peace movement for almost twenty years. (When I later attended law school, I was the only convicted felon in Harvard Law School's class of 1990.)

My commitment to nonviolence is both an ethical or philosophical one and a practical or tactical one.

Pacifism is, first, a moral commitment. It is the violence against and the killing of human beings that make war wrong. Many wars in history have been fought for noble goals; the opposition in World War II of the Allied powers to Hitler and the Axis is just one contemporary example. But the means to achieve those goals have been horrific. In the case of World War II, for example, the Allied fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo and the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki come to mind. To a pacifist, the bloody calculus that the end justifies the means is never acceptable.

In 1946, the United States and the other victorious Allied powers held war crimes trials at Nuremberg for Nazi war criminals. We indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death Hermann G

As the child of two Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe, I have always been acutely conscious of the lessons of Nuremberg and of the catastrophic consequences that can result when otherwise civilized people ignore their consciences because they are merely "following orders." That awareness often animated my thoughts and motivated my actions during the Vietnam War, and today can be seen reflected in my writing from that period.

Yet my commitment to nonviolence also has a very practical dimension . . . Violent action turns people against the peace movement. Violence engenders fear, and terrorism, which is an extreme form of political violence, engenders extreme fear. The social change movement needs more widespread public acceptance of our views and aims. Movement...

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