FIFTY YEARS AGO
December 21, 2015 § Leave a comment
November 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of two crucial events that sparked the book City of Belief: the draft card burning held in Union Square in New York City on November 6th, 1965 and the immolation of Roger La Porte on November 9th, 1965 in front of the United Nations. Both of these events changed my life and the lives of my friends. Both of these events were remembered in New York City last month at the Catholic Worker’s Maryhouse: one event reflected on the draft card burning and the other event was a vesper service for Roger La Porte. Those of us who had been directly touched by those days are now in our late sixties or seventies, some in their eighties. But others at those remembrances were younger yet they too have been and are being touched by the laundry list of wars our country has been involved in since the war in Vietnam. It would be fruitless to go into a debate about the war in Vietnam at this remove, but it shouldn’t be fruitless to reflect on what we did then with our young lives and what we are currently doing now unless you think personal reflection gets you no where–a posture that gets everyone off the hook.
Most of my male friends during that era went to jail from two to three years for actively resisting the draft, some went to Canada, one childhood friend went to Vietnam and his name is engraved on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial Wall. My friends who resisted the draft became, for example, a pediatrician, a librarian, a social worker, a writer, a photographer, a carpenter. A childhood friend who also resisted is currently in Vietnam with Habitat for Humanity helping build homes in the Mekong Delta finally, as he puts it,”Answering my country’s call.”
And what today is our country’s call? We might have a hard time answering that question. But, in January 1961, we listened on a cold, windy day in Washington, D.C. to a young, Irish-Catholic President take the Oath of Office who challenged us not to ask what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country. Can you imagine any political figure today daring to pose such a question? It might be time to ask ourselves why and after we’ve answered that question to our satisfaction… Ask why again.