Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A question for my readers who remember the Vietnam era

I know I have a few readers over age 60--maybe you can shed some insight into this. 

Last night I was having dinner with a girlfriend and we got to talking about the draft during the Vietnam war.  I was born in 1957, so Vietnam was a little before my time, but I remember how young men would go to Canada or even cut off a finger to get out of going into the military.

So here's my question:  Why didn't they just say they were gay?

10 comments:

R. Jacob said...

Being gay had nothing to do with it.
I have never heard of anyone losing a finger to stay out of the fighting.
Being against killing people for no particular reason was why some were against it. Vietnam was an undeclared war just like the Korean war, which by the way has never been declared over.

Vietnam vets were hated when they returned home too.

FleaStiff said...

There was a great deal of opposition to the draft but once they held a lottery young men pretty much fell into three groups: Its inevitable, its not going to happen, it may happen. That took the wind out of the anti-draft movement. Also many got on the list for the Reserves and served one weekend a month safe in their home towns, got paid and got the same veterans benefits. Others chats with a rabbi or a trip to Canada. Merely declaring homosexuality never worked anyway. The draft boards knew it was just fear of getting drafted. The only sure way out was either medical or radical-Commie-troublemaker.

Mike Dennis said...

I'm assuming you mean if they were straight to begin with. They didn't say they were gay (well, maybe some did) because it would've become a stigma on them. Even gays, for the most part, didn't want to admit it.

Actually, the word "gay" had its original, more innocuous connotation. The word they would've had to use would be "homosexual" or "queer" or "fag".

And you may be sure those words would've been used by the sergeants at the draft physical.

Back then, homosexuality was looked upon quite differently, even by far-left radical draft dodgers, than it is today. They couldn't just say, "I got out of going to Vietnam by saying I'm homosexual", because then the person to whom they said that would raise an eyebrow and reply, "Well, are you? Hmm."

JeannetteLS said...

Nothing was ever that simple. I had a friend who tried just that. His number was 7 for the draft pick, he said he was gay and we wrote back and forth while he served for a year. Blessedly the war ended before he got there. Another friend fled to Canada. My brother Jack was a Unitarian and was prepared to go to jail as a conscientious objector, but failed the physical. It was not a simple thing to get out of the draft, or my ex-husband would have as well.

During Viet Nam, stigma or no stigma for homosexuality, the draft board's assumption was you were lying to get out of going.

It is so different now, without the draft... As young women, my closest friends and I felt we had no business judging ANY soldier. We had no clue what it was like to be a young man and face this after high school. None at all. terrifying time to be a young man.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Thanks to all for the thoughtful comments. I've wondered about that for some time. With all the ado over "don't ask-don't tell," I got the impression that anyone who was found out to be gay would be immediately dismissed from the military, so I couldn't imagine why the young men during the Vietnam era wouldn't use that as a way to avoid being sent to war.

Very sad, all around.

FleaStiff said...

The military prosecuted homosexual activity at the time and the official position was that such activity was rare and brought on solely by the isolation involved in military life. The Army's Criminal Investigation Division often came around to root out non-existent activity and some officers lost their careers for having too many prosecutions.

Its the same way with FOD: Foreign Object Debris inside a jet engine. It was officially due to "carelessness" and any officer who tried to prosecute it as a racially-motivated murder ended his career.

The far bigger issue at the time in the military was race relations and one aircraft carrier bound for Vietnam had to return to the USA after a three day race riot. This was often attributed to the high number of blacks in combat positions since whites often had college deferments at the start of the war.

Many of those who heard the clarion call of Canadian geese, found a warm reception and often turned to growing pot which lead to greater wealth than they would ever have experienced in the USA. Draft dodgers and military defectors had different treatment.

Tender Heart Bear said...

My dad was in the Korean War. They called that one the forgotten war. I remember my family talking about the Vietnam war too. My family lost friends and family members in that one.

norm said...

Linda,
It is a common misconception that everyone of the VN era went there to fight. I was a Navy Corpsman and spent 1970-73 in Europe, when I could have been with the Marines in Vietnam.
And yes I served with some gay men,we never ask and they never told, they wanted to serve their country.
It was a conflicted time. I was on the draft list (letter came in the mail that day) when I enlisted in the Navy, then friends of mine got into the draft lottery #'s and some of them weren't drafted, due to a high #.
I would have to agree, some guys would rather have been "shot" than to try and get out for being a "homo", the term used in the '70's.
Good discussion btw.

Anonymous said...

thanks for asking this, I wondered too.

JeannetteLS said...

I think this was yet another layer, Linda, that pissed me off in the hypocrisy of "don't ask-don't tell." The military has been very selective in what they cared about, depending on the wartime status or lack thereof. I think it was repealed NOW in large part because we do not have a draft, and the military needs soldiers. That's probably part of why African-Americans finally achieved parity in the military. Just guessing there, though.

And, PS. Knock 'em dead from laughing at your upcoming shows.