Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 7—"What We're Fighting For"

The next night I was writing a letter to my parents when my roommate walked in smoking a cigarette. Sometimes it was hard to breathe in the room. On our roommate request form we’d had a chance to ask for a non-smoking roommate. Why did I check ‘doesn’t matter?’ “You want to go to the anti-war meeting with me tonight?” I don’t know why I kept asking. She always said no.

“Becky, you should know by now I am not against the Vietnam War. I think you should have more respect for the freedoms we have in this country. If you don’t like it here you can move to Russia with all your Communist anti-war friends.”

My pro-war paper stared me in the face. I wouldn’t let the moment pass. “Just because someone doesn’t support the war doesn’t mean they are a Communist.”

“Love it or leave it.”

“Being against the war in Vietnam doesn’t have anything to do with whether someone likes living here or not. It has to do with whether we have a right to be there. More than 15,000 killed already. More than 100,000 wounded. How can we justify that?”

“If our government says it is the right thing to do, we have an obligation to support them,” she said.

I put my book down and sat up. “The whole basis of our democracy is questioning our government. Didn’t you take Civics in high school?”

“No,” she said “Doesn’t matter. Better dead than Red.”

“What does that even mean? I’m not a Communist. I love this country. And we shouldn’t be in Vietnam.” I grabbed my pillow and hugged it. Holding on to a pillow always made me feel better.

“If Vietnam falls to the Communists, pretty soon they’ll be in California,” she said. She put out her cigarette in the over-flowing ashtray and lit another.

“God, the Communists don’t give a damn about California.”

“Please don’t use God’s name like that and please don’t swear. It doesn’t surprise me, though. Communists are atheists. A Christian would never use the Lord’s name in that way.”

“I didn’t use the Lord’s name in that way, for god’s sake,” I said. “I am not an atheist. I am not a Communist. I am not moving to Russia. California will not fall to the Communists. And I think we should get the hell out of Vietnam.”

“Please, I asked you not to swear,” she said. “Of course, everyone has a right to their opinion, but not at the expense of the support of our government.”

“That doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Our country was built on dissent.”

She took a drink of coke and looked straight at me. “Love it or leave it,” she said again.

I walked out of the room, out of the dorm, and over to Bradley Hall where we had an anti-war meeting later. Marty was watching the latest reports from Vietnam on the NBC nightly news.

“You’re early,” he said.

“I had a fight with my roommate.” I sat on the couch and stared at the TV. My heart beat so hard I could feel it through my shirt.

When the newscast was over he turned off the TV and asked me what happened.

“My roommate called me a Communist and told me I needed to move to Russia and how California was going to be next. I mean what right does she have to judge anybody and tell people to move to Russia or how you have to support the government no matter what because the government was always right and if you truly loved America you would do what the government said and why would anyone come across the ocean and try to take California and I should love it or leave it and we were better dead than Red and . . .”

Marty pushed the hair out of his eyes, put his hands on my legs and said, “Take a breath, Becky. You did the right thing.” Inhale. Exhale. “You can’t be scared to talk about what you believe.” Inhale. Exhale.

A few minutes later Ginger came in and put her guitar on one of the coffee tables. “You’re both here early,” she said.

“I live here and Becky had a run-in with her roommate. The better dead than Red, the Communists are going to take over California argument.”

“Bet you held your own,” Ginger said.

We got up to rearrange the furniture for the meeting. “Nope. I said all sorts of stuff without even thinking.”

Marty stopped and looked at me. “History will find you are on the right side of this issue.”

“Well, history doesn’t help me right now. I have to live with my roommate. And if that isn’t enough, she smokes in my room all the time.”

“You can move over to my dorm,” Ginger said.

“Or mine.” Marty smiled.

I glanced from Ginger to Marty. His offer, however illogical, surprised and confused me.

We finalized preparations for the October 21st march. It cleared my head, sharpened my focus.

After the meeting, Ginger came up to me. “You okay?”

“I’ll live. I guess I have to go back and apologize.”

“For what? You didn’t do anything wrong,” Ginger said.

“My parents taught me never to hold a grudge.”

“They sound like better people than me. Make me mad and I’ll remember it forever.”

“Hope I never get on your bad side,” I said.

When I got back to my room, my roommate had moved out. Her note said. “The dorm mother reassigned me.” The air smelled like stale smoke. I opened the window and looked around the room. I no longer had a roommate. I had so much more.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 17,107

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