Confessions of an Unrepentant Scofflaw

Peter Coyote is speaking from within electronic maze of my 46″ Magnavox flat screen television set.  The program is a three part series called “Prohibition”.  Public Broadcasting Service.  An expose’ of the idiocy behind The Volstead Act which was passed by congress to enforce the eighteenth amendment.  Typical government overreach, complete with a large overdose of pandering to special interests.  A classic misguided attempt at legislating morality.  Ninety-five years later I’m toasting the utter failure of the endeavor with a glass of Lindeman’s bin 50 Southeast Australian Shiraz.  $2.99 a bottle on sale at my local Smith’s Supermarket.  About twelve cents an ounce.  A wonder of modern free market capitalism. Makes me wonder whose labor was exploited to provide me with such a cheap buzz.  If I’d been alive in 1920, I’d be doing the same thing with whatever local moonshine I could get my hands on.  The booze would have probably tasted even better back when it was illegal.  Forbidden fruit.  Sweetest of the sweet.

Come to think of it the booze did taste better when it was illegal.  1966 somewhere out in a vacant lot in Phoenix, Arizona.  I was seventeen and just about out of high school.  The legal drinking age was 21, but I’d gotten hold of a six-pack of Colt 45 Malt Liquor.  My friend Larry and I got high as a couple of crazy kites in a dust devil.  We were only months away from draft age.  College education was cheap back in those days when tax dollars were still collected to fund public institutions of higher learning.  The standard option for young men my age was a 2S Student Deferment.  Temporary safe refuge from the US Army and rice paddies of Vietnam.

Months later I’d started classes at Arizona State University and began breaking even more laws.  The sweet smell of marijuana was in the air, and I embraced it to the point that classes began to seem like a waste of my valuable time.  Along with school I held down a well-paying job in a local supermarket, so I had plenty of cash for recreational drugs and booze.  Bought cheap Mexican street weed for eighty bucks a pound.  It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius and the anti-war movement was gathering steam.

Owsley Acid hit the scene like a magical mental haboob.  It destroyed all thoughts in its path, replacing them with visions of another world.  The reality exposed by LSD was a parallel universe of brighter light, more intense sounds, enhanced smells, heightened awareness, truth.  A hundred or so acid trips later it was 1968. College classes and my Draft Deferment were long gone.  Other drugs had become part of my life.  Peyote, psilocybin, and mescaline were all perfectly illegal, and so much more enlightening and entertaining than college classes.  The Draft Board was hot on my trail.  2S was replaced with 1A.  In spite of my beard, long hair, bell-bottoms, and beads, I was prime cannon fodder.

After an eventful winter of ’69-70, mopping floors for Curry Company in Yosemite National Park and importing illegal drugs from Haight Ashbury, it was time to report to the Phoenix Induction Center for my pre-induction physical.  I showed up looking my best.  Smoked a lot of weed en route.  Hadn’t bathed for a week or so.  I’m sure the doctor in attendance enjoyed the rectal examination as much as I did.  Did my level best to flunk the vision and hearing tests, but to no avail.  So when the time came for the ceremonial step forward into two years of forced slavery in the US Army, I stood my ground.  Middle finger pointing at the ceiling.

I could have found refuge in Canada or Mexico, but had decided early on to simply face the potentially ugly music.  After all, the worst they could throw at me was 5 years and $5000.  The FBI man came to my door a few days later with an offer of another chance to do my duty and serve my country.  I showed him the same finger.  Later I turned myself in at The Phoenix Federal Building for fingerprints and  mugshots.  Then I was free to return to my life of crime.  And wait.

The rest of 1970 was full of fun and adventure.  The Kent State and Jackson State student massacres in May heated up the culture war in America to a rolling boil.  I marched with thousands of protesters through the streets of Tempe, Arizona.  We pulled down the American Flag from the Tempe Police Department grounds.  The flag burned.  Windows on ASU Campus were broken.  The peace was disturbed as we trespassed on Middle America.

A couple months later on, I attended a memorial celebration in Anaheim, California.  The event being memorialized was the bombing of Hiroshima. 25th anniversary thereof.  The International Yippie Pow Wow was held within the hallowed walls of Disneyland.  The park had recently relaxed its dress code and grooming requirements, allowing long-haired, bearded males admittance.  After a smoke-in on Tom Sawyer’s Island and a somewhat noisy march down Main Street alongside Mickey and Cinderella, the L.A. Police Riot Squad broke up the scene, bashed a few heads, arrested a few more, and for the only time in history Disneyland closed in the middle of the day.  All those in attendance were booted out.

Back on the usually conservative streets of Phoenix, the anti-war movement was in full-swing.  Inspired partly by Henry Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience, I never missed a chance to march alongside my hippie/yippie brethren.  Henry’s disgust with the issues of slavery and The Mexican-American War translated perfectly into the current abominations of slavery by conscription and The Vietnam War.  “Hell, no.  We won’t go!” echoed through the streets of Phoenix.  Not to mention Country Joe McDonald’s infamous cheer:  “Gimme an F!  Gimme a U!”  And you probably know the rest.

Summer of ’71.  My beautiful baby daughter was born, and my second Induction Notice arrived in the mail.  “Greetings,” it began.  Greetings my ass.  So the whole process was repeated.  Pre-induction physical, all the tests, and the refusal of induction, complete with the bird.

The court date arrived fairly quickly.  The judge went easy on me and I only got nine months at Lompoc Federal Prison.  My lawyer appealed and I ended up doing alternate duty in a public service capacity.  I became a hospital janitor.  Luck was with me.

I should have been even more of a rebel.  There must have been other rules I could have broken.  Never for a moment have I regretted my absolute contempt for laws which I consider unjust or idiotic.  I’d do it all again without hesitation.  If I could start from square one, I’d likely operate completely outside the law and under the radar.  Back in the ’60s I thought that The Vietnam War was a fluke.  That it was just a bad mistake.  I thought the US Government was basically good, although sometimes misguided.  I didn’t know how corrupt it was then, and how much worse it would grow over the decades.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d have run drugs for fun and profit.  I’d have refused to pay taxes which financed  wars of aggression.  If I had it to do all over again, I might have broken more than a window and burned more than a flag.  After all these years the anger has not subsided.  The reasons for righteous anger have multiplied tenfold.

Civil disobedience is a duty.  Obedient, insouciant German citizens enabled The Holocaust and gave the world its most destructive war.  Listless, indifferent US citizens wave their little flags while their government wages countless wars for profit, overthrows democratically elected governments, and tortures or assassinates those who don’t fully cooperate with the official agenda.  Clueless Americans hate whom their government tells them to hate.  Fear whatever boogey men are currently in fashion.  Cheer for whatever they’re told to cheer for.

Lethargic Americans don’t seem to care that their health care system is the worst in the so-called civilized world.  They don’t appear to understand that their Medicare and Social Security programs are in dire jeopardy of elimination.  They can’t seem to grasp the fact that their country is pushing ever-closer to a potentially disastrous confrontation and possibly World War III with Russia, Iran, and China.  For the most part they don’t even believe in man-made climate change.

As they say…Rules were made to be broken.  Those who obey laws just because they fear the consequences are spineless jackasses.  If this strikes a chord with you…sorry.  You might want to reexamine your priorities.

John R. Hall: Meanderer, dreamer, mountaineer, restaurateur, military draft refusing felon, wannabe revolutionary, and citizen of Earth, observes the circus of life, and writes from wherever the north winds blow him. He can most likely be found somewhere in The Hawaiian Island Chain, in Mexico's Corazon, in The Sonoran Desert of Arizona, The Mohave Desert of Nevada, The high deserts of New Mexico, on a Teton glacier in Northwest Wyoming...or at halls245@msn.com. Read other articles by John Rohn.