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Felon for Peace

The Memoir of a Vietnam-Era Draft Resister

Jerry Elmer

Publication Year: 2005

When Jerry Elmer turned eighteen at the height of the Vietnam War, he publicly refused to register for the draft, a felony then and now. Later he burglarized the offices of fourteen draft boards in three cities, destroying the files of men eligible to be drafted. After working almost twenty years in the peace movement, he attended law school, where he was the only convicted felon in Harvard’s class of 1990. This book is a blend of personal memoir, contemporary history, and astute political analysis. Elmer draws on a variety of sources, including never-before-released FBI files, and argues passionately for the practice of nonviolence. He describes the range of actions he took—from draft card burning to organizing draft board raids with Father Phil Berrigan; from vigils on the Capitol steps inside “tiger cages” used to torture Vietnamese political prisoners to jail time for protesting nuclear power plants; from a tour of the killing fields of Cambodia to meetings with Corazon Aquino in the Philippines. A Vietnamese-language edition of FELON FOR PEACE will be published later this year.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

I AM GRATEFUL TO Dr. Scott Bennett, Dr. Joseph Gerson, Ms. Elizabeth Kaplan and Ms. Joan Webb for helpful comments on drafts of the manuscript. Dr. Bennett was also kind enough to point out and correct several factual inaccuracies. ...

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pp. 1-4

ON MY EIGHTEENTH BIRTHDAY in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, I publicly refused to register for the draft, a felony punishable by five years’ imprisonment (then and now). The statement I presented to what would have been “my” draft board began: ...

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1. School

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pp. 5-10

... I know this to be literally, not just figuratively, true. In 1974, Congress passed, by overriding President Nixon’s veto, the so-called Buckley Amendment that opened to students the records that schools kept on them. This was a huge and abrupt change in policy, for the files had always been secret. On the day Congress overrode the presidential veto, I went to Great Neck ...

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2. Students for Peace in Vietnam

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pp. 11-32

MY PARENTS HAD COME OF AGE in this country and were liberals, but were not especially active politically. They supported Adlai Stevenson for president in 1952 and 1956, and although they had never been members of the Communist or Socialist parties, they had friends who had been. When I was growing up politics were not the most important discussion topic around our dinner table. Nevertheless, my parents and ...

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3. Nonregistration

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pp. 33-64

I AM THE ONLY CHILD of two parents who were both Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe. Both of my parents were born in Vienna, Austria. Both of their families came to this country in 1939, the year after Hitler’s takeover of Austria. ...

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4. Draft-File Destruction: Six Draft Boards in Boston

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pp. 65-93

YOUNG CHILDREN TEND TO MAKE unwarranted extrapolations of broad principles based on their own peculiar, personal experiences. For instance, when I was six years old, I knew that women drink coffee in the morning but men drink tea, because that was what my parents did. In the same way, I knew that only women smoke cigarettes but men smoke pipes. ...

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5. More Draft-File Destruction: The Rhode Island Political Offensive for Freedom

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pp. 94-107

AFTER THE BOSTON DRAFT-BOARD ACTION, I returned to my job at WRL and stayed there until the end of December. Then I moved to Washington, DC, to organize support events surrounding the upcoming trial of the DC Nine—Joann Malone, Art and Cathy Melville, Mike Dougherty, Joe O’Rourke, and four others. During the trial, which started on Tuesday, February 3, 1970, we picketed each morning outside ...

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6. Still More Draft-File Destruction (And a Plot to Kidnap Henry Kissinger?)

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pp. 108-132

BUG AND I HAD FULLY EXPECTED to be arrested on Friday, June 19, 1970, when we surfaced for the RIPOFF Action in Burnside Park. When we were not arrested, I found myself free to carry out some previously-made plans that summer. ...

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7. The American Friends Service Committee

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pp. 133-172

... For one thing, I was actually paid to work for peace. This was work that I would have wanted to do anyway, whether I was paid or not. Many people wanted to work full-time in the peace movement, but, because of lack of funds, there were always very few paid jobs. To have one of those jobs was an honor and a privilege. ...

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8. Travels in Southeast Asia

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pp. 173-193

AFTER THE VIETNAM WAR ENDED in 1975, I continued to have an interest in Southeast Asia. AFSC had on its staff at that time an older gentleman, Russell Johnson, who had run an AFSC conference program for diplomats and other leaders in Southeast Asia between 1961 and 1965. Russ had maintained extensive contacts in the region and traveled there with some regularity. ...

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9. Mass Civil Disobedience

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pp. 194-210

MASS CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is almost (but not quite) an oxymoron. I realize that there are some historical examples of large-scale civil disobedience: Gandhi’s salt march to the sea, some of the lunch-counter and other integration sit-ins during the civil rights movement. Still, to me, the quintessential civil disobedience is the action of an individual or of a small group: A. J. Muste and a few others climbing over the fence ...

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10. After the War: Human Rights in Vietnam

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pp. 211-225

AS THE LIBERATION FORCES opened their final offensive in the central highlands of Vietnam in March 1975, and refugees started streaming south, President Ford said that the people of Vietnam were “voting with their feet,” fleeing Communism. The president’s subtext was clear: the Vietnamese fear and hate the Communist tyrants, and the United States had been right in Vietnam all along. The war would be over in a ...

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11. After the War: Was the Peace Movement Effective?

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pp. 226-240

I HAVE ARGUED IN THIS BOOK that destroying draft files was an effective anti-war tactic, and in the previous chapter, I began to consider some of the lessons of the Vietnam War, specifically those arising from the human rights debate that erupted among peace activists after the war ended. But I have not yet addressed the wider question of whether ...

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12. There Is No Way to Peace; Peace Is the Way

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pp. 241-254

THERE ARE MYRIAD TACTICS AVAILABLE to the nonviolent activist. In addition to the four broader categories of tactics treated more fully below, I have in this volume mentioned or discussed petitions, letter- writing campaigns, silent vigils, walks, student strikes, mass legal demonstrations, voter initiatives, fasts, noncooperation with conscription, occupations, and sit-ins. I must emphasize, however, that for every ...

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13. Neither Fish nor Fowl

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pp. 255-258

... An early influence on me was the writings of Bertrand Russell. When I was in junior high school I found his slim volume, Essays In Skepticism (1950), on my father’s bookshelf. It is no coincidence that the book was also published under the title Unpopular Essays. In this wonderful little book, Russell inveighs against religious and other ...

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pp. 259-260

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT. Every year on June 19 I return to Burnside Park in downtown Providence to spend a few minutes where Bug and I surfaced for the RIPOFF Action on that date in 1970. I see the hill where we stood at our press conference and, in my mind’s eye, I picture Bug (age nineteen) and me (age eighteen) standing on that hill ...


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pp. 261-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780826591982
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826514943
Print-ISBN-10: 0826514944

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2005