U.S. appears ready to seek U.N. gulf vote New generation of Md. resisters worries about war

November 25, 1990|By Sandy Banisky

In Saudi Arabia, U.S. troops are massing. And in the offices of the American Friends Service Committee, Fran Donelan is getting 40 calls a day.

New military enlistees want to become conscientious objectors. Students are worried about a draft. A frantic father vows he'll shoot his son in the foot rather than see him shipped out to defend the oil supply.

For the first time since Vietnam, Ms. Donelan said, people are talking about widespread war resistance, about conscientious objection, about leaving the country in an effort to avoid being called up.

"There's tremendous anxiety out there among Americans that we're on the brink of war," said Ms. Donelan, the Middle Atlantic Region director of the Youth and Militarism Program of the American Friends Service Committee. "This is a whole new generation of young people who are realizing what it means to join the military."

At the Johns Hopkins University, the chaplain's office is advertising its counseling services for students fearful they may be shipped off to battle in the desert.

In Relay, a Coast Guard veteran has founded a Baltimore area chapter of Veterans for Peace.

At Goucher College, students are signing petitions calling for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Saudi Arabia.

"I'm involved because I'm terrified about what might happen, not only to me but to a lot of other people," said Andy Parlin, TC 20-year-old Goucher junior who is circulating petitions and says he would seek conscientious objector status should a draft begin.

During the unrest over U.S. involvement in Vietnam, no one had trouble finding organizations dedicated to military resistance or anti-war protests. But the last troops left Vietnam 15 years ago, when most of the students on college campuses were preschoolers. And many of the resistance groups disbanded.

The American Friends Service Committee, an independent group based on non-violent Quaker values, continued preaching its message of non-violence. And with U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, people such as Andy Parlin at Goucher are visiting the Service Committee offices looking for counsel.

Until early August, Ms. Donelan said, she was receiving about five calls a week from people looking for information about alternatives to military service.

But then Iraq invaded Kuwait, and President Bush sent U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. The rate of calls leaped "almost immediately" to 40 a day, Ms. Donelan said.

During the 1983 invasion of Grenada and again during last December's invasion of Panama, the number of phone calls to her office increased briefly, Ms. Donelan said. But not since Vietnam have the inquiries continued at such a pace.

"They started the minute that the troops went, and the last two weeks have been very, very busy," she said. "It seems like a constant stream."

Some of the calls have come from people who have recently joined the service but found during basic training that "their conscience can't handle it," Ms. Donelan said.

"The fact of the matter is a lot of these kids signed up because it's marketed as a job," she said. "It's marketed as a way to pay for school. No one tells you you have to handle an M-16."

Ms. Donelan has heard from reservists called up for active duty who don't believe in violence, from wives worried about their husbands, from parents fearful about their children.

One woman whose husband was sent to Saudi Arabia in September had just learned her son's reserve unit was being called.

"I heard from a father who was going to shoot his son in the foot," she said. "I suggested if he was that distraught, the son might qualify for a dependency exemption. I've had a half-dozen parents say they'd take their kids out of the country."

Some of the callers, she said, exhibit "a kind of sheepishness" about their fears. "They don't know how to respond. The message in the press is that these people who are going are so proud to be going, so pleased, so strong. And that's not what we're hearing at all."

Rick McKee, 44, who helped organize Veterans for Peace in August, agrees that the gung-ho John Wayne types are far outnumbered by scared kids.

"These young people are literally scared to death," Mr. McKee said. "Many of them are very fearful of being drafted. Many of them are fearful of seeing lots of people their own age being killed when they don't understand what we're there for.

"Young people enlist into the service and they're given a very hard-sell job," Mr. McKee said. "They're told it's job training. And it sometimes doesn't turn out to be all they thought it would be."

At the height of the Vietnam War, the American Friends Service Committee had 400 counselors, almost all volunteers, available to talk with young people about alternatives to military service. Now, just a few remain active.

But next month, Ms. Donelan will hold a training session for counselors. "I get calls every day from people who want to volunteer," she said.

"If they start a draft," Ms. Donelan said, "there are parents who are not going to give up their children that easily."

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