Podcast (VN-E44): “Strong religious commitment against war” – David Finke
David Finke is a conscientious objector, military counselor, and lifetime nonviolent activist. After receiving a classification as a CO and deferment during the Vietnam War, he has continued to dedicate his life to helping others through his work addressing conscription, supporting GI resistance, and encouraging counter recruitment.
“That was my heritage, as well as a pretty strong foundation in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. From an early age I considered myself to be a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Christ, a person who took seriously what he taught us in the sermon on the mount, his own example of not forming a violent revolution against his oppressors.”
But it was really a point of pride for those of us who were working within that network, whether on a staff or volunteer, that we were able to say to those who were saying no to the war, “Yes. We will say yes to you. And we will stick with you through this long process. We will go to your court-martials, we will go to your trials. We will help your family come and visit you at Fort Leavenworth, and different brigs.”
Vietnam Full Disclosure
This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” Last year marked 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Production assistance by Stephanie Atkinson. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer.
We may have the end of official drafting of people, but there still is what could be called the “economic draft.” An all-volunteer army has people who still feel compelled because that’s who will hire them. That’s who offers them education. “Join the army and see the world.” They leave out the last phrase, “and kill people.””
Help Keep These Podcasts Coming
We need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost!
So I had, what I’ve always realized, is a really fortunate set of circumstances. It turned out that the draft board chairman was the guy for whom I’d been doing babysitting for years. I lived a block away, so he knew of my own religious commitments and sincerity. I was given the 1-0 classification.
This is the Courage To Resist Podcast. Since 2005, Courage To Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter recruitment, draft resistance, and the policies of empire. David Finke is the podcast guest today. David was a religious conscientious objector, who began sharing the knowledge he had gained in resisting military service during the Vietnam Era.
In short order, he started serving with the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago as a draft counselor. His years of service helped many avoid, delay, and end their military service.
Good afternoon David, and welcome to the podcast. We are excited to hear your story of activism, a unique one from some of the other guests we’ve had on the podcast. But with all of our guests, we like to get some background information on you as a person. What happened that made you decide to become an activist and a conscientious objector?
Well, thank you for asking. I’m glad to have this opportunity. I was born into a family that had a strong religious commitment against war. My mother’s baby brother did time in federal prison as a non-cooperator with the 1940 draft. My dad was subject to the 1940 draft and he filed for recognition as a conscientious objector based on his own religious training as a Christian in a Methodist denomination. Dad did receive that classification. I think he had some technical help from a group my mother later worked with, the Methodist Board of Christian Social Concerns. Anyway, that was my heritage, as well as a pretty strong foundation in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. From an early age I considered myself to be a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Christ, a person who took seriously what he taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, his own example of not forming a violent revolution against his oppressors.
So, from age 16 until when I registered for the draft at 18, I began building my file, keeping track of donations I made to peace groups, meetings I went to, marches I was in, books I was reading. So, when I turned 18, I did file my form 150, they called it there, where one has to say on what basis a person is opposed to being a part of the military and what in a person’s life demonstrates their sincerity. I think I filed a pretty good claim and the draft board turned it down, but that really is just the first step. It gives you the opportunity to ask to meet in person with them. So, I had what I’ve always realized is a really fortunate set of circumstances. It turned out that the draft board chairman was a guy for whom I’d been doing babysitting for years.
I lived a block away. And he knew that I never would take a gig on Sunday night because that’s when our youth fellowship was. So he knew of my own religious commitments and sincerity. So while I was still 18 and right before heading to college, I was given the 1-0 classification, which means that you are eligible to be drafted in the same order as somebody called up for military service, but you will be sent to some alternative civilian service “in the national health, safety or interest.”
Another unusual thing that happened to me is that the draft board informally deferred me. They knew I was in college because you have to tell them your address, but I never asked for a student deferment and that’s because I had studied the operation of the draft law pretty closely and I learned that if you ever request or receive a deferment, your eligibility to be drafted extends to age 35. If, however, you don’t ask for or receive a deferment, you become overage at 26. So that’s what happened to me and when I turned 26, I was overage. I sent my draft card back to the Selective Service System. I said, “This is yours. I don’t need it. I will no longer cooperate with you.”
So you were able to get a conscientious objector status because a set of quite fortunate circumstances and because of your religious beliefs that were well-documented. After you received that classification, what then prompted you to go on and help others pursue the same cause?
Well, I realized that I had information that most, all people my age or my generation did not have. So I volunteered, first while I was in college here in Oberlin, Ohio, and then, when I moved to Chicago, offered my services to the American Friends Service Committee office there. A new draft law came in, in 1967 and there’s a number of really onerous new provisions in that, that I said, “Okay, I’m going to go through some training and learn what’s the situation now facing people.” And out of that training run by the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors based in Philadelphia, there probably six or seven of us became available for counseling on referral from the AFSC office. AFSC is American Friends Service Committee. And there was a lot of misinformation around, a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty. And so the AFSC office did several things. One is they hired me to head up what was called the Peace and War Issues Program-“Program Secretary for Peace and War Issues.”
One of our programs was to provide draft counseling. What started out being two or three people a week coming into the office when I was hired in the fall of 1967, soon became a real flood. And there were dozens of people. And we realized that even renting two more offices wasn’t going to be enough. So my program associate at that point went to work in establishing a network of community-based counseling centers. And after a year, we had about 30 of them that we could send people to. We also worked on providing training for an ever enlarging group of volunteer draft counselors. Now, running parallel to that of helping people try to get what they were entitled to within the legal draft system, was those whose objection wasn’t just to serving in the military, but to the whole conscription system, and who became variously called non-cooperators, draft resisters, draft card burners.
And when I was hired, then by AFSC to be their peace secretary, we already were beginning a relationship with CADRE [Chicago Area Draft Resisters]. It was… it’d take a couple more hours to talk about all the things we did together, but it was very constructive. And I think that the Quaker presence helped make CADRE a nationwide leader in that movement being predominantly non-violent, rather than training people in methods of sabotage with military or whatever. A parallel line of development, and this may connect with a lot of your audience, was those who were in the military already. And the atrocity and atrocities of Vietnam were saying, “No, I’m not going to do this.” But there was emergence of the group called the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. There were active duty people. During those years of the late sixties and early seventies, there were an awful lot of folks who simply split from the military, went AWOL or what the Navy calls UA, unauthorized absence, and found their way to various Quakers.
So some of those folks came to CADRE. Some came to our office. We had an informal network and the statute of limitations has long run on this, so I can be a little more explicit. There were people who were willing to put up AWOL G.I.s in their home or drive them to medical appointments or to help turn themselves in at one of the military bases to start their discharge process.
There were those who took up a collection and they slipped envelopes with cash under my door. Fund X to give some, some spending money to people who were on the lam. There were those who were on their way to Canada, and we would put them in touch with Canadian war resisters. Just a lot of different circumstances and a lot of different remedies. But it was really a point of pride for those of us who were working within that network, whether on a staff or volunteer, that we were able to say to those who were saying no to the war, “Yes. We will say yes to you. And we will stick with you through this long process. We will go to your court-martials, we will go to your trials. We will help your family come and visit you at Fort Leavenworth, and different brigs.”
A very supportive network and an advocate for the variety of people that were resistant to war, whether they were C.O.s or whether they were a draft resisters or refusers.
Right. That’s entirely correct. Yeah. A whole generation was affected by the horror of the Vietnam War and, eventually, the open and covert opposition to that military led the establishment to say, “We’ve got to get out of Vietnam.”
So how many years was your service with that organization?
Gee, I was on the staff from ’67 to ’73. And then with the ending of the active draft, an organization we helped start called Midwest Committee for Draft Counseling, we changed the name of it to a Midwest Committee for Military Counseling. And for the next 20 years or so, I served on the board of that organization. We had close connections with VVAW, Vietnam Vets Against the War, and Vets for Peace. So those were good years. We were continuing to staff the draft refusers support group. We had set up a fund called Help for Imprisoned War Objectors with Women for Peace was taking up a collection and giving to me to figure who needed the money for travel or for correspondence courses, or just a little something in your commissary account. But that’s some of the work that we continued doing.
We had a relation with some military resisters who were in Fort Leavenworth or other military brigs. The next chapter that I could talk about is what I did professionally after that. And I, and two other guys that I’d met through the draft refusers support group, joined what was called Omega Graphics. And Bob Freeston, one of the original draft card burners, said, “I’d like somebody to take over the shop, keep up the a tradition of serving social change movements, and I will stick around for six months and train you.” By apprenticeship, three of us learned the printing craft from Bob Freeston and kept that shop going. So from that point until 2014, I was a one man print shop and enjoyed telling people about its origins in the draft resistance movement. Because Omega Graphics was printing the leaflets that CADRE people were handing out at the induction center every morning as people came in for their physical. And if they pass to be sworn into the military.
Well David, fast forwarding to today, what kind of thoughts or what kind of advice would you give, or what do you think is something of importance that people can do to continue the tradition of resisting war and resisting the machinations of a violent military system?
Well, that’s a very important question. I hope everyone searches on that for themselves. We may have the end of official drafting of people, but there still is what could be called the “economic draft.” An all-volunteer army has people who still feel compelled because that’s who will hire them. That’s who offers them education. “Join the army and see the world.” They leave out the last phrase, “and kill people.” But the economic draft means that there are a lot of people from disadvantaged socioeconomic status who end up in the military, and find out that what’s promised to them is often violated, seldom given in full. So to be able to support military personnel who are seeking some remedy, and want to know what are their choices, this, at the very least, deserves some economic support. There’s something that has continued for years called the G.I. Rights Hotline, which is a national network of trained military counselors who will help people know what they’re, well, a friendly ear for the first thing, and then to know what are the consequences of taking which kind of actions. The one organization that does draft and military counseling that has continued into the present is called Center for War and Conscience. I’m sorry, Center on Conscience and War. CCW. Their website [centeronconscience.org] is very informative. They have professional staff that includes lawyers who help people deal with the problems of getting out of the military.
So to be able to give financial support for that is something that I urge. Center for Conscience and War. Becoming trained as a counselor is something one can offer to do it’s a lengthy process, but it certainly is useful. Working to abolish the draft is something that Center for Conscience and War will help people do. The other is to look at the resources of my old employer, the American Friends Service Committee. Their program, Youth and Militarism, for years has been producing a good material for what we will call counter-recruitment. Those are all ongoing efforts that are not as well funded as they ought to be and can use a lot of volunteer help at the local level. Joining up with people nationally and locally who have a concern about not plunging into war again and having constructive alternatives that one looks for at the international level and a community level.
Well, David, thank you so much for taking the time to share your amazing story. We appreciate it so much. Thank you.
Thank you for hosting this.
This podcast is a Courage To Resist production, recorded and edited by Matthew Breems, with special thanks to executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information, and to offer your support.