This is not news. It was once News. Documented. There are photographs.
December 1979, the Soviet leadership of Russia intervened in an insurgency over their border. Russia has big borders. The Islamic Revolution was on their border in Iran. The Revolution needed to stay in Iran. They acted.
Jimmy Carter reacted. In many ways. He brought back the Selective Service registration – preamble to conscription, the Draft, suspended after Viet Nam.
Any young man 18-25 born after January 1960 was required to register or face penalties.
Born prior to that date, I was exempt and went down to the Post Office to protest, leaflet, persuade young men against registering until properly counseled, consider options. With all the reaction to the Soviet “invasion” I could react within boundary.
Some young men came to register while a steady stream of citizens wished to ignore me. Courteous but, it seemed my conscientiousness was less important than a Federal education grant or other financial aid to these young men.
A man walking with a cane asked, “can I hang out with you awhile?” He said, he was crippled in Viet Nam. Quietly he sat on the wall saying, he wished someone was there when he registered. He watched as I couldn’t close appeals, dejectedly closing “then sign ‘under duress of penalty’.”
After he left, a late model Lincoln Continental stretched to the curb. I offered a leaflet to this middle-aged housewife as she walked inside. When she returned, she berated me about World War II. As she retreated she spat at me. There was name-calling all day.
Later a paraplegic veteran lent support. He too drafted, a single enemy round sentencing him to a wheelchair. Yet they continued to register.
As a young man this was action. I wanted more.
The coming morning, of all people in a small dusty central California cowboy town, a Hungarian immigrant approached, veins erupting on forehead, in neck. He dove nose-to-nose, yelling about Russians; how, when he was a child, they drove tanks into Budapest. People died and disappeared.
Intellectually, I stuck to the Peace narrative; that, a new multi-polar world required new reactions to old Cold War narratives. Emotionally I feared we were coming to blows. (I had heard over night likeminded locals were showered by yellow paint cans at a Post Office.)
Surviving that interaction, a young Episcopalian priest joined me in the afternoon. His collar defused reactionary aggression.
Another middle-aged woman with a familiar accent approached. She told how her two sons, who were not citizens had been required to register and were drafted to Vietnam.
I asked if she was German. She was. As her light blue eyes watered highlighted her withdrawn face, she explained they were killed in action; that she regretted not saving them by leaving.
I thought of her a moment ago when I saw on social media the story of a Guatemalan mother. Her sons enlisted and killed in Iraq. She is now being deported because, like her dead sons, she’s undocumented. I thought of these mothers. Of many mothers. The thread of motherly pain.
As an older man I feel pain acutely. Now my protest, how I wish I’d never returned to that post office. Human struggle is difficult to bear, especially up close. The weight of these people’s pain, unnecessary, unbearable, I was injected with it.
It’s difficult enough to carry one’s own weight through life. But after all these years, these stories, this is not news.
2 thoughts on “This is Not News”
Absolutely brilliant, Max. Powerful, painful and brilliant. Perfect writing too.
oh thank you. I held it a week feeling self-indulgent or perhaps, pity at my resignation to the (un)civilized world