The Fictional Character of Tim O’Brien
“There were two kinds of methods to avoid being drafted when your number was called: illegal and legal” (Stilwell). Those who did so illegally could face a fine, and years in jail. Those who did so legally, such as famous boxer Muhammad Ali, still faced some controversy. Within the story The Things They Carried written by Tim O’Brien, is consisted of short stories explaining the life of fictional Tim and friends, and their journey throughout the Vietnam War. The fictional character of Tim O’Brien attempted to dodge the draft illegally, but didn’t carry through with this action. The draft dodgers had no legal reason to avoid fighting in this war, while the conscientious objectors had a legal yet controversial reason not to fight. So what exactly is the draft, how does it work, and what led to all the controversy?
People were given a number 1-366 corresponding with their birthday. The smaller numbers would be announced first (Verano and Miller). The draft dates back to early Mesopotamian times. The first modern draft occured in France, during the time of the French Revolution. America’s first draft was during the time of the CIvil War (“Conscription”). This is where draft dodging began, and it reached its peak during the time of Vietnam. The draft has changed through the years by the passing of acts such as the Selective Service Act and the Civil War Military Draft Act. These acts made the age gap wider, and made it so one couldn’t pay one’s way out anymore. Presidents such as Ford abolished the draft and reenacted it many times, America’s last draft occured in 1973 (Stilwell). The draft had caused many revolts called draft riots. The most famous were the New York City riots, in which 119 were killed, mostly Irish immigrants (“Conscription”). People didn’t want to fight in a war they weren’t supportive of. Chance of survival was low, because they were poorly trained and sent into combat. Draftees had made up 16% of the army, but 50% of the deaths in the Vietnam War (Atwood). People were scared and didn’t want to fight, hence came draft dodging, and conscientious objection.
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William Timothy O’Brien was born in Austin, Minnesota on October 1st in 1946; he was an author, and he was a soldier. More commonly known as Tim O’Brien, he attended the university of Harvard, and Macalester College, he also spent time working for the “Washington Post.” Tim was a real soldier during the time of Vietnam, he was there, and witnessed the fight. He said “I can’t stop crying. I can’t stop thinking of what a waste it all was.” He was a soldier; he went through it all, and experienced the whole thing. The war still still haunts him today, but it made him who he is. It made Tim O’Brien who he was, the author, who has multiple awards such as the National Book Award in 1979 (Annichiarico), and the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger Award, a french fiction award (Herzog). He describes the book The Things They Carried, not as a Vietnam book, nor a war story, but the story of the soldiers, and “a reflection of ignorance” upon them (Harris). Tim O’Brien is a wonderful war author because he served in the war, and we see this in The Things They Carried. He not only describes what he saw, but how he felt, and what others around him felt. Even though he says it’s a work of fiction, but by reading it, it’s easily noticeable that he has had some experience in the war. ”By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths.” Here he gives reason to why he has such a passion for writing. This is why he writes It’s his passion, and it’s why he’s so successful (O’Brien).
Draft dodgers, the non objectors, should be required to fight in the war. A draft dodger is someone who avoids the war in an illegal way, much different from the conscientious objectors. We see a glimpse of this within Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carry. In the book the fictional persona of Tim O’Brien attempted to dodge the draft an illegal way, this would make him a draft dodger. The most common way of draft dodging was running to Canada, which is what was seen inside of the book. Another way people would avoid the draft was by faking an injury. This is the method of draft dodging that Donald Trump is accused of when he was drafted to serve in Vietnam. The most odd method of dodging the draft is that the men who were drafted would begin to wear wear womens underwear to training sessions (Stilwell). That way when they were being checked, the person checking them would believe them to be a homosexual and dismiss them. This is due to the fact that homosexuals weren’t allowed to fight in the war. It’s hard to believe that they would risk the embarrassment of doing so, and damaging their masculinity. Draft dodging is a crime, that is punishable by multiple years in prison, the draftee could also face a fine they would have to pay (Stilwell).
Today it is is required by the Selective Service System that all draftees must serve, unless they are a certified conscientious objector. However, the draftee is allowed to serve in a non combat field such as the medical department. It is required by law that draftees must serve a minimum of two years in the army, whatever field they are drafted into, or a field of their choice (SSS.gov). In simpler terms, the draftee must be enrolled in the army and provide service for at least two years. The reason the law requires this is because during the time of a war crisis, an army of just volunteers would not be large enough to fight a war and be successful. Lena Headey said “Freedom isn’t free at all.” Americans earned their freedom by fighting for it, it wasn’t handed to them. The process of conscription, or the draft, is actually extremely beneficial for the American people. This is due to the fact that it’s partially what made America what it is today. If it weren’t for the draft, the Americans would not have been successful in wars such as World War II and the Vietnam War. The draft gave us the bodies we need to win the war. If dodgers would have served it would have made the process much simpler, and could have accomplished the job in a quicker period of time.
Why shouldn’t the draft dodgers be required to fight? In the eyes of a draft dodger it’s simple, they don’t want to risk losing their lives in war. If they wanted to fight they would sign up to do so. Why are people like conscientious objectors, government officials, and fathers with young kids (New York Times) allowed to avoid fighting but not us. They fear what would happen to them, they don’t want to leave the things the love, like family and friends, and risk losing it all.
The conscientious objectors had a legitimate reason not to fight in the war, it was their religion. A conscientious objector is someone whose religion prohibits them from fighting (Stilwell). Examples would include Islamics, the Amish, and Quakers (Stilwell). There are many famous objectors, the most notable being Muhammad Ali, the famous prize fighter, and Mitt Romney, who ran for presidency in 2012, but would lose to Barack Obama. Ali had transferred to the Islamic religion and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali (Kaotikkalm). Mitt Romney was on a two-year Mormon missionary during the time of the war (Stilwell).
How did the conscientious objectors view the war? When someone says conscientious objector, most people would think of Muhammad Ali. “Boxing is nothing like going to war… my intention is to box, to win a clean fight. But in war, the intention is to kill, kill, kill, kill and continue killing innocent people” (Kaotikkalm). Here Ali explains a good point . In the ring he is trying to win a clean fight by outsmarting him in the ring, while on the battlefield one just fires away and hopes to kill. “My conscious won’t let me go shoot my brother… they never called me nigger, they never lynched… you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won’t even stand up for me here at home.” Ali says that the people in Vietnam actually treated him better than the people in America because they have done nothing to him. Mitt Romney on the other hand, was a supporter of the war, but he didn’t fight in it (Vazquez). He was on a two-year Mormon missionary, plus he had a broken arm. Both groups as a whole weren’t very supportive of the war. They didn’t like how their lives were being changed because they had to fight in a war they weren’t supportive of, and Ali wanted to change that. Muhammad Ali had said, they only get two choices, and that was war or jail. Ali wanted to change that, he was often out giving speeches in public on his view of the war, and how he wanted to fight for justice within the nation.
People like Muhammad Ali and Mitt Romney were accused of an act called dishonest objection, which was faking being a conscientious objector (Stilwell). It’s a form of draft dodging, so it’s illegal. Dishonest objection was and is punishable by a fine and jail time. Muhammad Ali was actually stripped of his title, and wasn’t allowed to fight for the time being (NBC Learn), and it was used against Romney in presidential debates later on in his life (Vazquez).
The counter argument is simple, conscientious objectors should have fought the war, as Steve Bannon said to Romney “You hid behind your religion to avoid Vietnam.” They used their religion as a shield to protect them from the bullets and destruction of Vietnam. In the eyes of a draft dodger, their lives are no more valuable than ours. A doctor and a janitor could have been drafted, and the doctor could have been sent over to be killed, while the janitor got away with forged papers saying he was Islamic
What would happen if a draft would occur in todays time? Most likely it will trigger a very similar action to what was seen during the time of Vietnam. The draft procedure would remain the same, and people would try to find new ways of avoiding it. The Selective Service System (SSS) has placed stricter guidelines on conscientious objectors. Objectors must now fill out a form that requires them to state “how he arrived at his beliefs,” and “the influence his beliefs have had on how he lives his life,” and this must be completed if they wish to be exempt from fighting (SSS.gov). This would get them out of fighting, but they are now required to serve in a non fighting part in the army if they are drafted. This includes activities such as education and health care. For draft dodgers it all has remained the same. If a draftee is to be caught draft dodging, they will be put in jail, and most likely face a fine. Simply put, if another draft were to happen people would be very angry and upset. This could many trigger many events such as draft dodging and draft riots.
Draft dodgers and conscientious objectors made the draft what it was today, and they had a major role in the wars, such as Vietnam and World War II. The draft dodgers should have been fighting in the war, they didn’t have a legal excuse to do so, plus they were breaking the law. The conscientious objectors however, had a legal reason to not fight, and it was their religion. It’s a good idea that dodgers have to option to serve in a non-combat position, and the fact that the objectors must serve in a non-combat position makes the process seem much more fair than what it was back during the time of the Vietnam War. it would be quite interesting to research the process that it would take for a draft dodger to successfully dodge the draft and whatever war they were drafted to fight in. This topic effects more than one may think. Although there is a very high chance that the United States won’t need another draft it raises a good question, What would one do if he/she were drafted?