Wednesday, June 20, 2007

As two years have passed since my registration in the Selective Service System without (yet) being called up, maybe it’s a good time to deliver this excerpt from I’m Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down (1968), Nat Hentoff’s “breakthrough novel” (Sunday Denver Post) whose “provocative timeliness” (Horn Book) explores “the conscience of the free individual versus the demands of state” (The Daily News [Whittier, CA]). Here’s such an exchange, if you will, between those forces as expressed in the mind of the book’s protagonist, Jeremy Wolf. (Words of the military bureaucrats in italics, Wolf’s in bold.)

Please, sirs, can’t you find it in the national interest not to make me a killer? Don’t be ridiculous, young man, do you want them Communists swarming up the street, raping your sister? I don’t have a sister. Your girl friend, then? But that’s not the point, sirs, they’re not attacking this country. Young man, we can’t take the time to argue with every Tom, Dick and Jeremy. You’ve got to have confidence that your President, on the basis of all the information, and only he knows all the information, has made the right decision in the national interest. You just sign up, and in four years, after you get out of college, we’ll see where you fit in best. I’ll think about it, sirs. Ain’t nothing to think about. You’ve got seven months and three days. You all come in and register or we are all going to come and get you. See, ain’t nothing to think about. You got no choice, boy. Yes, I do, I don’t have to register at all. Symbolic action, boy, that’s all it is, symbolic action. Waste of time. Face up, face up. Be a man!

But I don’t choose to be that kind of man. Hear that, Joe? He doesn’t choose to be that kind of man. Well, with that hair, I can see where he has a problem. But that’ll be all fixed up. Son, the Army’s the best thing that could happen to you. If I was your father, I’d say you ought to go right straight in, and go to college after. You’ll get a lot more out of that higher schooling, being a man. Sirs, I think you’re crazy. Boy, what kind of qualifications you got to make that kind of judgment? Trouble with you is, you don’t appreciate being an American. You’ve had it too soft, boy. That’s the trouble with kids like you. But sirs, why do I have to kill? For peace, damn it! Can’t you see that? How can we have peace if we don’t stop those people who are always aggressing against it? But aren’t we aggressing, sirs? Boy, I tell you, education has just gone to hell. Don’t you know the difference between aggressing and defending freedom?” (pp. 85-6, from the sixth printing, July 1973)

No comments: