I was born the day after Trinity, the first atom bomb test. From age 5, duck-and-cover, hide-under-our-desks drills in my Catholic school were as frequent as tests. I was terrified of nuclear war. We lived one mile away from an air force base. Whenever I heard planes, I ran out into the backyard and tried to to determine if they were American or Russian, using my library book on aircraft identification. When I was 7, Stalin died. I asked my parents if this meant we would not be killed by atom bombs.
In 1954 I had a severe case of the measles, and my Grandma came to help nurse me. Grandma had been a lifelong Democrat since she voted in the first election open to women. With loathing, she was listening to the Joseph McCarthy army hearings. My eyes hurt too much to read, so I listened obsessively. Hatred of McCarthy’s voice probably shaped my entire political development.
In 1956, just turning eleven, I fell madly in love with Jack Kennedy as he made an unsuccessful bid for the vice presidential nomination. I was initially attracted by his Catholicism; ten minutes later I was smitten by his intelligence, wit, and charm. I was luckier than his other women. Loving Jack Kennedy was wonderful for me. From 1956 to 1963, I read everything I could about Kennedy, politics, American history.
What JFK believed in, I believed in. Gradually I moved to the left of his pragmatic liberalism. Certainly Kennedy was responsible for my decision to major in political science in college. Kennedy’s assassination during the fall of my freshman year in college devastated me. I reacted as if someone in my family had died. I quickly transferred my political allegiance to Bobby Kennedy, who was the keynote speaker at my graduation from Fordham in 1967.
Planning to get Ph.D. in political science, I attended Stanford University where resistance to the war was at its height. Almost every afternoon, David Harris, Joan Baez’s future husband who was later jailed, spoke out eloquently against the war. I was studying political science as a quantifiable science. I knew Harris and the protests were the real political science, and I dropped out, throwing away my free ride to college professorship.
After Stanford, I worked for Victor Riesel, the blind labor columnist. When he was exposing waterfront racketeering. acid was thrown in his eyes. He was too proud to learn Braille, so he hired bright young political women to be his eyes, so he could write his daily colulmn. I skimmed 8 newspapers and 40 labor newspapers and read to him anything that might provide column ideas. The Internet equivalent was a constantly running ticker tape. All day, everyday I read and discussed the assassinations, the riots, Vietnam. The shattering world was my job.
I had gone to bed very late the night Bobby Kennedy won the California primary. As the radio woke me up, I didn’t understand what they were saying for several minutes. I thought they were talking about someone else. When I called my finace, I was crying so hysterically he thought something had happened to my parents or brothers. RFK’s assassination was 10 days before my wedding. The day after I had a final dress fitting. I cried the entire time, not caring if I had a wedding dress of tears.
I became a pacifist. Opposition to the Vietnam War right from the beginning was the catalyst. My husband Chris applied for conscientious objector status and was willing to face jail rather than be inducted. We became very active in the Catholic Peace Fellowship, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the War Resister’s League, all pacifist organizations. I have mostly seen Washington behind a picket sign. Freezing, I stood in front of the White House I stood in front of the White House and shouted the name of a dead soldier during the March of Death.
My husband was turned down for Conscientious Objector Status, as most Catholics were, even though he appealed the decision up to the Presidential Appeal Board. We knew he was going to be jailed, probably for 3 years, for refusing induction. But in 1969 the Selective Service instituted the First Draft Lottery. The days of the year, represented by the numbers from 1 to 366 (including Leap Year Day), were written on slips of paper that were placed in capsules. The capsules were mixed in a shoebox and dumped into a deep glass jar. Capsules were drawn from the jar one at a time.
The first day number drawn was 257 (September 14), so all registrants with that birthday were assigned lottery number 1. Men of draft age (those born between 1944 and 1950) whose birthday fell on the corresponding day of the year would all be drafted at the same time. Only the first 195 birthdates drawn in the 1969 lottery were called to serve. The lottery night was among the worst of my life. I arrived home from work when they had reached 50. As time when on and they didn’t call out Chris’s birthday, I was convinced he had been in the first five. His number was 339. He was spared jail.
For the first time since our marriage, we could plan for the future.