February 24, 1966: Hell No!

Demonstrators burning draft cards outside the Selective Service office in Seattle circa 1969. Copyright (c) Fred Lonidier

Along with growing protests against the Vietnam War, resistance to involuntary conscription for United States military service gradually became a hot topic nationwide as combat operations began to escalate in Southeast Asia in the mid-1960s. At first a brave few draft-age American males risked jail time and/or ostracism by openly refusing induction. By the end of that decade, many were brazenly burning their draft cards and seeking asylum in Canada, among other popular draft resistance strategies.

Seattle’s formal introduction to the draft resistance movement occurred on the date in focus here, when Russel Wills, a University of Washington philosophy graduate student, became the first Seattle citizen to refuse induction in protest against the war. The consequences of his actions would become apparent the following autumn, as the U.S. federal government began to legally crack down on draft resisters in earnest. In Wills’s case, he would be sentenced to five years in prison that September.

Wills’s draft resistance actually began on October 16, 1965, when he wrote a letter to his draft board stating that he was so opposed to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam on both legal and moral grounds that he had destroyed his draft card. One week later, he was given a 1-A draft classification (i.e., first choice for induction, thus canceling his student deferment), with no explanation. He did not receive a notice explaining the grounds for reclassification until January, after the date of possible legal appeal had expired. With conscientious objector status not available to him, he had no choice but to refuse induction — a very bold decision to make at the time.

Eventually, Wills’s sentence would be reduced to two years. Meanwhile, the draft resistance movement grew to the point where, in 1969, the student body presidents of 253 U.S. universities wrote to the White House to say that they personally planned to refuse induction. By the war’s end, a half-million Americans had refused induction, along with many more who had evaded the draft by various means.

In Seattle, the draft resistance movement was represented by Draft Resistance-Seattle, a local organization. DR-Seattle worked in tandem with the UW chapter of Students for a Democratic Society to create antiwar organizations at the UW and Seattle Central Community College, as well as many area high schools, including Queen Anne, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Rainier Beach, Ingraham, West Seattle, Shorecrest, Bellevue, Sammamish, and Sealth. DR-Seattle also organized support campaigns for draft resisters, solidarity protests at the Canadian border, and marches to Selective Service System offices throughout the course of the war.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Trudy Capell, “Grad Student To Fight Court Draft Ruling,” University of Washington Daily, November 8, 1967, p. 1; Melvin Rader, “No Anarchy” (letter to the editor), University of Washington Daily, November 16, 1967, p. 2; Melvin Rader, “Russel Wills Defense Fund” (letter to the editor), The New York Review of Books, December 7, 1967; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995); Jessie Kindig, “Draft Resistance in the Vietnam Era,” Pacific Northwest Antiwar and Radical History Project (http://depts.washington.edu/antiwar/vietnam_draft.shtml).

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About radsearem

Jeff Stevens is a Seattle native and author of the forthcoming City of Anxiety: An Alternative History of Seattle.
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One Response to February 24, 1966: Hell No!

  1. george coleman byrnes says:

    A good article but Draft Resistance Seattle was unafiliated with any national group. I was a member. George Coleman Byrnes.

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