[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #7 in December 2008]
During the Vietnam War, in the United States, “open resistance to the draft [was] greater than at any time since the Civil War.” Chicago’s urban population allowed many anti-draft groups to prosper during the Vietnam War draft period. The Chicago Area Draft Resisters (CADRE) quickly became a major player in draft resistance in the city.
CADRE chose a specific approach from among the options for draft resistance available to Americans at the time. Bill Davidson’s article Hell, no, we won’t go! published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1968 describes six categories of draft resisters. Two include people with a government-approved conscientious objector (C.O.) status, which was the only legal option available. C.O.’s were split into 1-A-O’s (military service without weapon use) and 1-O’s (substitute service). Another group of draft-evaders went “underground,” hiding in locations across America. Most Americans are still familiar with the “fleeing to Canada” concept popularized during the period by those who left the United States. The last two categories had the most people involved in the open resistance movement within America. Organizations such as CADRE were formed by people actively willing to go to jail rather than submit to draft regulations and those “who [had] already entered the armed forces and then decided they couldn’t fight in Vietnam.”
In 1967, twenty-three year old Green Beret Gary Rader burned his draft card, left the CIA, and helped form CADRE in order to actively resist America’s military involvement in Vietnam. Rader and the treasurer, David F. Greenburg, helped establish the nationally linked organization in 1967 that “grew out of the struggle for civil rights and protests against the Vietnam war.”
A big part of CADRE’s campaign against the draft involved making literature available around Chicago. The group printed original material, and re-printed articles from other organizations and underground newspapers. Young adults were a key ingredient in draft resistance (after all, they were facing or about to face the draft board), and their support soon became essential to literature and actions. CADRE aided in the printing and/or reprinting of many underground high school newspapers that spoke out against the draft and other corrupt institutions. Such papers included The Affluent Drool out of the Latin School of Chicago, Alternative from Naperville Central High, and the New York High School Free Press. They also sponsored speech-ins at various colleges and high schools.
Efforts to increase support led CADRE to aid in the coordination of other draft-resistance leagues around the Chicago area such as the Hyde Park Anti-Draft Union and South East Draft Action. CADRE also set up counseling for individuals facing the draft. Organizing “a panel of lawyers willing to defend draft resisters,” it raised funds for bail, legal defense, and families with imprisoned resisters. The group organized draft-related events such as draft-card burnings and turn-ins, as well as cooperating in events such as Anti-Draft Week (set for March 16-22) and Day of Civil Disobedience on March 19. In August of 1968, members of CADRE joined protests during the Democratic National Convention, as they had following Martin Luther King’s assassination in April. It also supported activities such as the burning of I-A files from the downtown federal building in Chicago by a group later dubbed the Chicago 15 on May 25, 1969.
CADRE not only worked against the draft, but also against injustices in economic, civil, and educational institutions. The group soon expanded to support gay rights, the feminist movement, and the American Indian Movement. It also published pamphlets asking Americans to boycott the Dow Chemical Company, which produced nerve gas and napalm for the military. In 1973, it helped organize the New Orleans Fire Benefit Dance.
As the United States government gradually evacuated troops from Vietnam and finally ended the draft, financial support for the various anti-draft leagues across the nation dwindled. With only the major peace organizations remaining, CADRE ceased operations around 1974 or 1975. Widespread dissent against the draft by Americans during the Vietnam War still holds relevance today, for it has certainly played a part in any government considerations for the reinstatement of the draft for the current war in Iraq.