The following is Bill Clinton's December 1969 letter
to his ROTC Director, Colonel Eugene Holmes. This text was taken verbatim
from "SLICK WILLIE", by Floyd G. Brown. Not a word has been changed.
I am sorry to be so long in writing. I know I
promised to let you hear from me at least once a month, and from now on
you will, but I have had to have some time to think about this first letter.
Almost daily since my return to England I have thought about writing, about
what I want to and ought to say.
First, I want to thank you, not just for saving
me from the draft, but for being so kind and decent to me last summer,
when I was as low as I have ever been. One thing which made the bond we
struck in good faith somewhat palatable to me was my high regard for you
personally. In retrospect, it seems that the admiration might not have
been mutual had you known a little more about me, about my political beliefs
and activities. At least you might have thought me more fit for the draft
than for ROTC.
Let me try to explain. As you know, I worked
for two years in a very minor position on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee. I did it for the experience and the salary but also for the
opportunity, however small, of working every day against a war I opposed
and despised with a depth of feeling I had reserved solely for racism in
America before Vietnam. I did not take the matter lightly but studied it
carefully, and there was a time when not many people had more information
about Vietnam at hand than I did.
I have written and spoken and marched against
the war. One of the national organizers of the Vietnam Moratorium is a
close friend of mine, After I left Arkansas last summer, I went to Washington
to work in the national headquarters of the Moratorium, then to England
to organize the Americans for the demonstrations Oct. 15 and Nov. 16.
Interlocked with the war is the draft issue,
which I did not begin to consider separately until early 1968. For a law
seminar Georgetown I wrote a paper on the legal arguments for and against
allowing, within the Selective Service System, the classification of selective
conscientious objection, for those opposed to participation in a particular
war, not simply to "participation in war in any form."
From my work I came to believe that the draft
system itself is illegitimate. No government really rooted in limited,
parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight
and kill and die in a war they may oppose, a war which even possibly may
be wrong, a war which, in any case, does not involve immediately the peace
and freedom of the nation.
The draft was justified in World War II because
the life of the people collectively was at stake. Individuals had to fight,
if the nation was to survive, for the lives of their countrymen and their
way of life. Vietnam is no such case. Nor was Korea an example where, in
my opinion, certain military action was justified but the draft was not,
for the reasons stated above.
Because of my opposition to the draft and the
war, I am in great sympathy with those who are not willing to fight, kill,
and maybe die for their country (i.e. the particular policy of a particular
government) right or wrong. Two of my friends at Oxford are conscientious
objectors. I wrote a letter of recommendation for one of them to his Mississippi
draft board, a letter which I am more proud of than anything else I wrote
at Oxford last year. One of my roommates is a draft resister who is possibly
under indictment and may never be able to go home again. He is one of the
bravest, best men I know. That he is considered a criminal is an obscenity.
The decision not to be a resister and the related
subsequent decisions were the most difficult of my life. I decided to accept
the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my political
viability within the system. For years I have worked to prepare myself
for a political life characterized by both practical political ability
and concern for rapid social progress. It is a life I still feel compelled
to try to lead. I do not think our system of government is by definition
corrupt, however dangerous and inadequate it has been in recent years.
(The society may be corrupt, but that is not the same thing, and if that
is true we are all finished anyway.)
When the draft came, despite political convictions,
I was having a hard time facing the prospect of fighting a war I had been
fighting against, and that is why I contacted you. ROTC was the one way
left in which I could possibly, but not positively, avoid both Vietnam
and resistance. Going on with my education, even coming back to England,
played no part in my decision to join ROTC. I am back here, and would have
been at Arkansas Law School because there is nothing else I can do. In
fact, I would like to have been able to take a year out perhaps to teach
in a small college or work on some community action project and in the
process to decide whether to attend law school or graduate school and how
to begin putting what I have learned to use.
But the particulars of my personal life are not
nearly as important to me as the principles involved. After I signed the
ROTC letter of intent I began to wonder whether the compromise I had made
with myself was not more objectionable than the draft would have been,
because I had no interest in the ROTC program in itself and all I seemed
to have done was to protect myself from physical harm. Also, I began to
think I had deceived you, not by lies because there were none but by failing
to tell you all the things I'm writing now. I doubt that I had the mental
coherence to articulate them then.
At that time, after we had made our agreement
and you had sent my 1-D deferment to my draft board, the anguish and loss
of my self-regard and self confidence really set in. I hardly slept for
weeks and kept going by eating compulsively and reading until exhaustion
brought sleep. Finally, on Sept. 12 I stayed up all night writing a letter
to the chairman of my draft board, saying basically what is in the preceding
paragraph, thanking him for trying to help in a case where he really couldn't,
and stating that I couldn't do the ROTC after all and would he please draft
me as soon as possible.
I never mailed the letter, but I did carry it
on me every day until I got on the plane to return to England. I didn't
mail the letter because I didn't see, in the end, how my going in the army
and maybe going to Vietnam would achieve anything except a feeling that
I had punished myself and gotten what I deserved. So I came back to England
to try to make something of this second year of my Rhodes scholarship.
And that is where I am now, writing to you because
you have been good to me and have a right to know what I think and feel.
I am writing too in the hope that my telling this one story will help you
to understand more clearly how so many fine people have come to find themselves
still loving their country but loathing the military, to which you and
other good men have devoted years, lifetimes, of the best service you could
give. To many of us, it is no longer clear what is service and what is
disservice, or if it is clear, the conclusion is likely to be illegal.
Forgive the length of this letter. There was
much to say. There is still a lot to be said, but it can wait. Please say
hello to Col. Jones for me.
Colonel Eugene Holmes' September 1992 affidavit
concerning Bill Clinton and the draft: