The year was 1968. I had just earned a master’s degree in history at Georgetown University, where I had also helped found the university’s chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
Unfortunately, there was no time to celebrate, because within days of getting the degree I was on U.S. Army bus, along with about 30 others, heading from Washington, D.C. to Fort Holabird in Baltimore. At that time there was a military draft induction center there, and according to my low draft lottery number, my time had come.
At Holabird we piled into a classroom-like setting and were given a lecture by a rather over-muscled middle-aged sergeant with buzz haircut.
He told us (I am paraphrasing from memory here) that “the Vietnam war was absolutely necessary. If the commies got their way the domino effect would see all of Southeast Asia go Red. There was no way you could negotiate with Hanoi and so it was time to increase the intensity of bombing over North Vietnam.”
I remember that he ended by telling us that “there were no innocent civilians in Vietnam – when they call their soldiers part of a people’s army, they mean it.”
Only later did I realize he was extrapolating on the position laid out by the infamous General Curtis “Bomb Them Back to the Stone Age” Lemay. When the sergeant had talked himself out, he began distributing the written intelligence and aptitude tests that were part of the pre-induction process. As he was doing so he asked if there were any questions. I was the only one who raised a hand.