Draft sign-up evokes mixed reaction

The tanned, freckled woman sitting in the canvas beach chair outside a suburban Massachusetts post office looked more like a "seaside artist" than a distributor of antidraft literature.

A stack of antidraft leaflets, held down by a can filled with "Stop and Draft" buttons, sat on a black table beside her. Registration, she said, wasn't "an arguable thing -- we just shouldn't have a draft."

She was not alone.Around the country, a few thousand activists took part in small anti-draft demonstrations while a few thousand others were quietly registering.

Interviews in Boston and Chicago with some of the estimated 4 million 19-and 20- year-old Americans being asked to register or a possible military draft revealed strong opposition by some. Others swallowed their doubts and signed up; still others stood within listening distances of protesters bullhorns, waiting and wondering, unsure about which course to follow.

In suburban Belmont, Mass., John Haroian was waiting on the steps when the post office opened at 8 a.m. on Monday. "I figure I'd come down early and get it out of the way," he said. Mr. Haroian said he would "serve if asked. It's something expected of me, something I owe my country."

The differences for most of the five men who registered in Belmont and the six who registered in neighboring Cambridge, Mass., that morning were over what "kind of war" they felt it was "okay to fight."

John Aharonian, also from Belmont, said he would serve in a war "like the hostage situation in Iran or if the United States was threatened," but not in "one like Vietnam."

One 20-year-old, a high school dropout who has gone back to school, said, "I have certain moral obligations against war. I don't believe in killing, but would serve in any other way -- a desk job or something like that would be okay."

James Ellis of Cambridge said he registered because of the possible $10,000 fine and five-year jail sentence that could be imposed on those who don't register.

One ineligible 27-year-old man who registered said he gave "false information" at the Cambridge post office. No identification was needed when he asked for the simple registration form. He said he hoped others can "mess up the government" by registering under false names.

"My friends just don't know what's going on," said Marck Schnider, a Boston University student who is manning a draft information table outside a Brookline, Mass., during the registration period.

But most of the 19 and 20-year-olds were on the outskirts of the crowd. "I'm trying to get information about what I should do," says Greg Cuddy who attends Appalachian State University in Coone, N.C. "The people saying, 'We won't go' kind of scare me. They're the ones that are 30." Mr. Cuddy, a registered alien from Ireland, cannot yet vote. "But they still want me to register," he says. "I've got to find out my option."

One young woman, Lauren Siegel of Marriett College in Marriett, Ohio, planned to register. "I will try to look like a guy, in order to buck the system." Instead of registration, she said, "We should strenghten our volunteer army. We should pay volunteers more -- make it more advantageous for them to say in the military."

But a 19-year-old woman whose boyfriend had already registered disagreed: "Registration is a precaution; it doesn't mean war."

In Chicago, lunch hour Monday brought a rush of people to the Federal Plaza post office, where policemen guarded entrance doors and outnumbered the trickle of draft registrants; both groups were far outnumbered by anti-draft picketers.

Some of those who registered were sympathetic to the protesters. Chicagoan Derek Blizek did register, but explained that he is a conscientious objector who fully supports, the anti-draft protests. "I don't think we have any right," he said, "to force people into the army."

US Postal Service spokesman Ralph Stewart reported that 1,400 young men registered in the Chicago post offices Monday morning. The only distrubance was at the Federal Plaza post office, where one protester was arrested.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.