The Book of the Week is “If This Be Treason: Your Sons Tell Their Own Stories of Why They Won’t Fight For Their Country” by Franklin Stevens, published in 1970. This book is about American men who received draft notices, but were against the Vietnam War. The threat of being sent to fight in a war in which they didn’t believe took a terrible psychological toll on these men and their families– who were neither wealthy nor influential enough to keep them out of it. They explain not only why they were against the war, but how they kept out of it.
The men implemented all sorts of strategies for at least temporarily rendering themselves ineligible to fight on physical or psychological grounds: consuming an excessive number of salt pills, increasing one’s weight to 250 lbs or more, reducing one’s weight to 105 lbs or less, eating soap to get an ulcer, cutting off a limb, faking a condition such as: insanity, transvestitism or homosexuality; or claiming one was a sleepwalker. Some other ways to stay away from the military were: qualifying for a deferment by getting one’s wife pregnant or staying in school, enrolling and paying tuition at a school where one did not actually have to attend classes, or becoming a teacher or other government worker.
Some men found out about a draft-resisters’ organization located (ironically) in the United Nations area in New York City, where they learned how they could flee to Canada.
Other men were sent to jail for refusing to fight.
Some men applied for conscientious objector status, claiming they should be exempted from military service because they believed participating in a situation in which people might die at their hands, was wrong. “A conscientious objector had a better chance of being acquitted for draft dodging by a jury because every case of offenses against the draft law that demands a jury trial adds a burden to the judicial system and thus increases pressure against the draft and the war.” Unfortunately, it took a very long time before sufficient pressure forced the United States to pull out of the war in disgrace.
Some readers might consider this subject matter controversial and disturbing, but as long as history repeats itself, this subject merits discussion.
The Book of the Week is “The Case of Joe Hill” by Philip S. Foner, published in 1965. This is the story of the grave injustice perpetrated against Joseph Hillstrom (“Joe Hill” was the American-English translation).
In the early 1900’s, American managers of industry had politicians on their side and violent opposition to unions was commonplace. In 1914, the Swedish-American was wrongly accused of murder, and because he was a member of a vilified socialist labor organization, “International Workers of the World,” local authority figures (and possibly the Mormon Church) in Utah– where his trial was held– conspired to convict him.
He was a well-known, prolific writer of socialist songs. Despite the legal funds and political support from solidarity-minded labor groups around the world (support that included an urgent appeal to President Woodrow Wilson), the trial ended badly for him.
This account is reminiscent of the book, “Big Trouble” by J. Anthony Lukas, published in 1997, a 1905 case in which two union activists were wrongly accused of murder and denied due process, too.
The Book of the Week is “Forest Hills Diary” by Mario Cuomo, published in 1974. In 1972, New York City Mayor John Lindsay chose Mario Cuomo to embark on a fact-finding mission to collect public opinion data on a proposed low-income housing project on 108th Street in Forest Hills near Corona, Queens, to consist of African American tenants, three towers of 24 stories each.
There was much emotionally charged public debate due to the very nature of the undertaking (housing projects in general, have a bad reputation– for crime, for bringing down property values, etc.). Cuomo could have proposed reducing the planned apartment sizes to that of studios or 1 bedrooms– a compromise in order to push the project through. Regardless, he could not please anyone because Forest Hills residents were against the project altogether, while African Americans wanted apartments of at least 2 bedrooms.
Another option was to make one of the three towers a “Mitchell-Lama” which would allow tax breaks, but reduce the number of low-income units, and reserve 40% of the units for the elderly. The reason for favoring the elderly was to minimize the public sentiment that the apartments would be crime-ridden. Cuomo visited projects in the Bronx and had seen this phenomenon himself.
The Jewish neighborhood of Crown Heights had gone downhill due to low-income housing. The African Americans with whom Cuomo spoke were against the project. One black leader admitted to him in confidence that a way to spur upward mobility among African Americans was to have a mix of middle-income and low-income tenants.
The “scatter-site” legislation was passed allowing the project proposed originally, to be built. However, raucous public hearings prompted the developers to compromise by building three towers of 12 stories each (instead of 24), 40% of which were to house seniors. All sides of the controversy roundly criticized a report released by Cuomo, although few people had actually read the whole thing. This book provided an engaging analysis of political and urban issues with respect to race, housing and human nature.