The Anti-Christopher Columbus


That’s just the way it is

Some things will never change

That’s just the way it is

Ah, but don’t you believe them

-Bruce Hornsby

We all know that in the year 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But fewer people know what he did when he arrived – and frankly, few of the details of his actions are appropriate for an elementary school audience. Suffice it to say, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people.

But that’s not where the story ends. In the colony that Columbus helped establish on the island of Hispaniola, Spanish law and practices were established and enforced with superior weaponry and unthinkable cruelty. The local Taino Indians were enslaved (those who survived the clashes with Spanish soldiers), and forced to work in gold mines or on estates. Spaniards who moved to Hispaniola benefitted from a system known as encomienda, which is a royally-granted landed estate with full authority over the native residents.

Enter Bartolomé de las Casas, a contemporary of Columbus, who was 18 when he first arrived on Hispaniola in 1502 and was given his own estate and slaves. While working for the Spanish army, Las Casas witnessed some extreme violence against the locals that he found disturbing. However, he continued to live and work just like all his peers. After all, this was the system, and the law, and it’s what everyone else was doing. It was accepted practice – and the Spaniards were reaping big benefits.

It took a fiery speech from a Dominican Friar in 1511, denouncing the forced-labor system, and then three more years of contemplation and more witnessing of atrocities for Las Casas to decide that maybe the encomienda system was not right.

But what could one man do, in the face of the entire Spanish empire?


This works for a while. However, the longer you are there, and the more horrible things you witness, the more troubled your conscience gets until finally you have to act. You can’t live with yourself. Lose 4 life points.
2. You try this on for size, but pretty soon your conscience starts bothering you again. “I soon repented and judged myself guilty of ignorance. I came to realize that black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery...
and I was not sure that my ignorance and good faith would secure me in the eyes of God.” – Las Casas Bad choice. Lose 4 life points.
3. Nice plan – but it doesn’t work. The king grants you land in the northern part of modern-day Venezuela to build a new kind of town – a town of free Indians, in which Spanish farmers and locals live and work together in harmony. This idealistic plan fails for several reasons. First, you don't manage to pull together enough farmers to make it feasible. Second, the rich Spanish land-owners who are benefitting from the old system certainly don’t want to see your plan succeed, since it would undermine their entire way of life. Finally, your town is attacked by local Indians. Your plan goes down in flames. Lose 3 life points.
4. After much active campaigning to the king and court, passionate speeches, and writing multiple books on the issue, you manage to get the government to change the laws. However, this victory didn’t have much impact on the colonists, who continued to enslave American Indians. You spend the rest of your life fighting for the rights of American Indians, earning the title “Protector of Indians.” Gain 4 life points. Yay!
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(This has some detail teachers might find interesting, but not appropriate for kids.)é-de-las-casas-debates-subjugation-indians-1550

– Excerpt of Las Casas writing about the impact of the Spanish on the Native Americans. Fascinating, but not appropriate for kids.

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Farmers or Horsemen?


Strange New Beast May Change Lives Forever

Upper Missouri River, 1745

Imagine seeing a horse for the first time. What would you think it was?

You and your people are farmers, growing crops of beans, corn, and squash along the banks of the upper Missouri River. In the fall and spring, your tribe sets out for the plains to the west, hunting buffalo*. The buffalo will provide you with meat, warm hides, and tools that will help your people survive.

buffalo herd

However, it is hard and dangerous to hunt buffalo on foot. Despite their great size –often weighing more than one ton each – buffalo are fast runners, and they can jump up to six feet in the air. It takes carefully coordinated attacks and the fittest of the tribe – men and women – to chase the buffalo into pits or off cliffs.

Now you have a choice to make. Do you stay in your current lives as farmers who sometimes hunt? Or do you completely change your lives, become horse people, and live as nomads on the Plains?

Unsure, you consult your Great Spirit, Maheo. He speaks to you through the oldest priest of the tribe:

If you have horses, everything will be changed for you forever. You will have to move around a lot to find pasture for your horses. You will have to give up gardening and live by hunting and gathering, like the Comanches. And you will have to come out of your earth houses and live in tents…. You will have to have fights with other tribes, who will want your pasture land or the places where you hunt. You will have to have real soldiers, who can protect the people. Think, before you decide.

-American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900, By H. W. Brands

Choose now to see your fate. (*Cue ominous music*)

1. Stay as farmers: Unfortunately, pressure from the expansion of America and white settlers force your people to move again and again, despite numerous treaties. In 1863, during your “Days of Darkness,” your people have no land to farm and few friends to turn to for help. Starvation, cholera, and smallpox sweep through your community, decimating it. By 1867, only 822 of your people remain.
2. Give up everything, trade for some horses, and become horse people: Your people adapt very successfully to life as horse people, quickly learning to train and ride horses. With the greater speed of the horse, you are able to pace alongside buffalo herds, killing buffalo with bows and arrows, and later, with guns. Despite constant skirmishes with other tribes, as everyone tries to increase the size of their herds, your lives are pretty good. Until about 140 years later, when America expands west, takes over the Great Plains, and kills almost all of the buffalo, banishing you to resource-poor reservations. But it was good while it lasted.
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*Technically, they are bison. But everyone thinks of them as buffalo, so that’s the term I’m using.

A Bodacious Woman

Iceni coin
Iceni coin

Soldiers Attack Widow, Daughters, and Steal Their Inheritance

East Anglia, 61 CE

Your husband, the king, has just died. In an attempt to appease the men who conquered your country, in his will he divided his land equally between the conquerors and your two daughters.

Today, soldiers seized you and your daughters. They publically whipped you until your back ran with blood and tortured your 12-year old daughters in front of a horrified crowd. Then they pillaged your house, took control of all your lands, and sold most of the royal family into slavery.

Something must be done. But what?

Make a choice to see your consequences.

1. Nice try. However, in the conqueror’s country, women cannot inherit property. Therefore, since you have neither a husband nor sons, the emperor considers all your land and property to be his. You are a conquered people, and the soldiers can treat you as such, doing pretty much whatever they want.
2. The local tribes are excellent at guerrilla warfare, and they are good at fighting in forests. However, they are up against the best army in the world, which has already successfully conquered most of the known world and rules with an iron fist. It will be too little, too late.
3. Bold move. There are more of you than there are of them, and you are fighting for home and country. However, they are better equipped, better trained, and more experienced than most of your troops. Although a number of local tribes will be happy to take your side, and you may enjoy initial success, in the end you are not likely to prevail against the might of the empire, and the retribution would be merciless.
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Summer Terrors


Deadly Plague Fells Children

Authorities still can neither prevent nor cure the disease

July 15, 1953

A plague is spreading across the country. Wherever it strikes, it cripples or kills hundreds or thousands of people, mostly children. Even if they survive, they end up in wheelchairs or battling ill health for the rest of their lives.

No one knows for sure how or why it spreads. Panicked parents try to protect their children in any way they can, including forbidding them to swim in public pools, attend church, or eat peaches.

You are a scientist. You have a new theory about how to safely vaccinate people against this terrible illness. However, you are flying in the face of current scientific thinking. Will your vaccine work? Will it be safe? Or will it harm those you test it on?

What will you do?

Unfortunately, you are in a race with your major competitor, who is using a live virus vaccine. He thinks only a stronger dose of the virus will be effective. You are concerned about the risk of infecting patients with the disease, which is why you are using killed viruses in your vaccine. Your delay has cost lives.
Your gamble pays off – no one has a harmful reaction, and the additional antibodies in their blood suggest your vaccine might be working.
Your children are fine. They suffer no negative side effects, and they are protected against the dreaded disease. In addition, your confidence has inspired hundreds of thousands of other parents to allow their children to get the vaccine, leading to the largest clinical trial in US history. You are well on the way to wiping out this plague.
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Slave to Soldier: What Really Happened?


District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln
District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln

Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.

-Frederick Douglass[1]

 If I fall in the battle anticipated, remember I fall in defense of my race and my country.

 –  Black sergeant, in a letter to a friend[2]

During the Civil War, around 90,000 slaves escaped their plantations and joined the Union Army. 45,000 former slaves from the Border States, and another 50,000 free black men from the North joined them. Altogether, black troops made up around 10% of the Union Army.

The black soldiers in the Union Army walked a difficult road. In addition to the dangers and hardships faced by all soldiers in the Civil War, they had to bear the brunt of prejudice from their fellow soldiers and many of their officers. Black troops were grouped together in the “Colored Divisions,” and were generally led by a white officer. Some white Union soldiers hurled everything from epithets to rocks at the black troops. Institutional prejudice meant that black soldiers were paid $10 a month, with a $3 clothing allowance taken out, leaving them with an effective pay rate of only $7 a month. Their white comrades, by contrast, were paid $13 per month, with no money charged for clothing.

It is a shame the way they treat us. Our officers tell me now that we are soldiers…. If we were, we would get the same pay as the white men.

-London S Langley, soldier in 54th Massachusetts Infantry[3]

While white soldiers battled, drilled, and rested, black soldiers were given 8-10 hours a day of fatigue duty – hard labor digging trenches, building roads, and unloading supplies. This left them with little time for battle drills, and little energy for fighting.

Instead of musket, it is the spade and wheelbarrow and the axe.

-Soldier in a Louisiana unit. [4]

In June 1864, Congress granted equal pay to the U.S. Colored Troops and made the action retroactive. They also required officers to give equal amounts of fatigue duty to white and black soldiers, though that rule was often ignored.

Even with comparable pay and rations, the black troops faced far greater dangers if captured. The Confederate’s policy was to regard any captured black Union soldiers as property. Not only did they receive much harsher treatment, they were also returned to their former masters or enslaved to the Confederate government. [5]

As a result, in 1863, President Lincoln issued General Order 233, threatening reprisals against captured Confederate troops equal to any mistreatment of captured Union soldiers, black or white.

Still, there were blatant cases of abuse. In 1864, at the Battle of Fort Pillow, for example, Confederate soldiers massacred all the captured black troops. Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest witnessed the massacre and did nothing to stop it.

Many families left at home suffered while their men were at war. Enslaved women on the plantations were sometimes badly beaten when their husbands escaped to join the army. Others were left with little or no money or support.

My Dear Son […] We are both sick pap is prostrated on his bed and has been so for three months and three weeks he got a little better but it did not last long I am very sorry that you have enlisted again for I wanted to see you once more You say you will send me some money do my son for God sake for I am needy at this time the Doctors are so dear that it takes all you can make to pay thier bill I work when I am able but that is so seldom God only knows what I will [do] this winter for I dont. Everything is two prices and one meal cost as much a[s] three used to cost […]

– Rebecca Barrett to her son, William, of the Seventy-fourth USCI. [6]

My dear husband
I have just this evening received your letter sent me by Fredrick Finich you can imagin how anxious and worry I had become about you. And so it seems that all can get home once in awhile to see and attend to their familey but you I do really think it looks hard your poor old Mother is hear delving and working like a dog to try to keep soul and body together and here am I with to little children and myself to support and not one soul or one dollar to help us I do think if your officers could see us they would certanly let you come home and bring us a little money.

– From Letty Barnes to her husband, Joshua, of the Thirty-eighth USCI:[7]

Despite all these hardships, black troops served with distinction; by the end of the Civil War, 16 black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their valor. And they were clear about what they were fighting for:

Dear Wife i have enlisted in the army i am now in the state of Massachusetts but before this letter reaches you i will be in North Carlinia and though great is the present national dificulties yet i look forward to a brighter day When i shall have the opertunity of seeing you in the full enjoyment of fredom i would like to no if you are still in slavery if you are it will not be long before we shall have crushed the system that now opreses you for in the course of three months you shall have your liberty. great is the outpouring of the colered peopl that is now rallying with the hearts of lions against that very curse that has seperated you an me yet we shall meet again and oh what a happy time that will be when this ungodly rebellion shall be put down and the curses of our land is trampled under our feet i am a soldier now and i shall use my utmost endeavor to strike at the rebellion and the heart of this system that so long has kept us in chains . . . remain your own afectionate husband until death-

-Samuel Cabble [Private, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry, who was a slave before he joined the army.][8]

Another man put it more simply:

[I will] “fight as long as I can. If only my boy may stand in the street equal to a white boy when the war is over.”[9]

The choice to risk everything to fight for the Union was not an easy one. But it had a powerful impact on the course of history.

“Without the military help of the black freedmen,” Lincoln said, “the war against the South could not have been won.”[10]




[3] Ford, p. 37

[4] Ford, p. 34

[5] On July 22, 1864, Private Wilson Wood of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery was captured by Confederate forces and held in a prison camp. The letter from Col. William P. Hardeman alerting Union forces to Wood’s capture reinforced Confederate policies toward African American prisoners.

“He is wounded in the calf of the leg (Flesh wound) and is receiving such medical attention as we have. When he is well if his owner lives in the Confederate lines he will be delivered to him, if not he will be held to slavery by the Government.” 

In responding to this letter, Brig. Gen. J.M. Brayman explained, “When the United States made negroes soldiers it assured towards them the same obligations as were due to any others who might wear its uniform and bear its flag.


[7] IBID

[8] IBID

[9] Ford, p. 19



Ford, C. (2013). The Civil War’s African-American soldiers through primary sources. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow.

Image Courtesy of:

Library of Congress

Slave to Soldier: Test your mettle

Would you risk your life for your freedom? Travel back in time to a Civil War plantation, make a choice, and experience the consequences. Those who make it out alive…win.

Take the quiz now.


You are a black slave on a plantation in Virginia, and the Union army is headed your way. It is the middle of the Civil War – May 1863. With Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, everything has changed. If you can escape the plantation and enroll in the Union army, you will be free.

Life as a soldier, particularly as a black man, will be full of hardship and danger, but joining the army will ensure your freedom and will allow you to fight for the freedom of your family and your people. However, escaping the plantation will not be easy, and the punishment, if you were caught, would be severe. Even if you make it to the army, your wife and children on the plantation may well be punished in your stead.

What will you do?

1. Stay on the plantation with your family. Why make life harder than it already is to fight for the Union, which doesn’t even recognize you as a citizen? Choose a or b to see what happens to you. Will you get lucky?

A. You stay on the plantation. As more and more white men join the Confederate Army, slave patrols dwindle and discipline is relaxed a bit. Life is still hard, and the war brings shortages of goods and food, but you can stay with your family.
B. You are impressed into service by the Confederate Engineer Bureau. You are forced to build the walls and trenches that defend Richmond, Petersburg, Saltville, and Lynchburg. You have to leave behind your wife, who has to carry the burden of field labor with the other female slaves. Life is hard for everybody.
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2. Run away to join the Union army. Fight for freedom for your people and the chance to earn citizenship. Choose box c, d, or e below to see what happens to you. Will you get lucky?

C. I’m sorry to tell you that your family suffers because you left. Not only does your wife have to cope with little money and no help, she is cruelly beaten as a punishment for your escape.
D. You are captured escaping, and your ears are cut off. In this age before antibiotics, your wounds become infected. Fever and delirium sets in, and unfortunately, you die.
E. You make it safely to the Union lines. Congratulations! Now you just have to come through battle, disease, poor pay, and ill treatment. However, you are happy to be fighting for freedom for yourself and your family. To see more about your life in the army, click on the What Really Happened button.
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A Royal Pain: What Really Happened?

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau, the Bahamas, circa 1942. The Duke of Windsor served as Governor of the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945. (Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau, the Bahamas, circa 1942. The Duke of Windsor served as Governor of the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945. (Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Did you think heading off to middle school was hard? Imagine being sent to military school at 12!

Prince Edward* was sent to the Naval Academy at just 12 years old. He was mercilessly teased for being a member of the royal family. Those early experiences taught him to hate being treated as different or special.

As Prince Edward later wrote in his memoirs:

And if my association with the village boys at Sandringham and the cadets of the Naval Colleges had done anything for me, it was to make me desperately anxious to be treated exactly like any other boy of my age.

He longed to live an ordinary life…and in the end, he managed to achieve his goal.

On January 20, 1939, Edward became King Edward VIII of Great Britain. Despite the fact that he seemed to have an insatiable appetite for married women –including Mrs. Winifred (“Freda”) Dudley Ward, Viscountess Thelma Furness, and American Mrs. Wallis Simpson – he was well liked. He had seen war, traveled the world, visited every part of the British Empire, and had genuine empathy for the disadvantaged.

Unfortunately, he started his reign with some unpopular decisions – such as cutting government salaries so low that many of government employees became very unhappy. He was unwilling to listen to his advisors, considering them to be too stuck in the past. In his overwhelming love for his mistress, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, he started to slack on his duties – cancelling meetings, showing up late, losing papers, not locking away state secrets, and so forth. Things came to a head when his secretary, Alexander Hardinge, warned him that the government might resign en masse if the situation didn’t improve.

The press, which probably would not stay silent for much longer, was not likely to be kind to Mrs. Simpson –a divorced woman who was having an affair with the King of England while still married to another man. In addition, she was an American, which definitely counted against her, and some people suspected her of being a German spy in the days leading up to WWII.

When it became clear both that King Edward wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, and that his government would not allow him to do so while remaining king, he abdicated the throne. He gave up his claim to the throne for himself and for any of his descendants, and became Edward Windsor.

Wallis Simpson divorced her husband and married Edward in a quiet ceremony on June 3, 1937. They lived together in exile until Edward’s death in 1972. He never again returned to his homeland. When asked, on his 20th wedding anniversary, if he regretted his decision, he said:

“If 20 years were to be erased and I were to be presented with the same choice again under the same circumstances. I would act precisely as I did then. I love her and need her now. I always will.”

 – The Chronicle Telegram May 29, 1972

Sometimes being King is a royal pain.

*(Born Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David!)


Picture courtesy of:

Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A Royal Pain

Denmark_crown-2Being a modern-day king sounds like a sweet deal, doesn’t it? Oodles of money, fame, and let’s face it – you can have pretty much whatever you want because you’re KING. All you have to do is a little light hand waving and cut some ribbons for new supermarkets and whatnot.

Are you ready to sign up? This next dilemma might just change your mind. Being next in line for the throne might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Test your skills. Are you ready… to be king?

The Situation

You’ve fallen in love. You want to spend all your time with your beloved. You couldn’t care less that she was once divorced or that she’s actually still married to someone else now. The two of you were meant for each other.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with you. The woman you love isn’t popular. Some people think she’s just out for your money and power. Others believe she’s not suitable for you because she’s divorced – and you are head of a church that frowns on divorce. Government officials feel like she’s distracting you from your job as king. Things are getting pretty tense.


What will you do?

It’s the responsible thing to do. The problem is that now you’re heartbroken and left to bear the burdens of the throne – which you hate and never wanted- alone. You’ve chosen your duty to the throne over your personal happiness – as have so many royals before you. In a speech you gave, you said, “But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” Nurse your broken heart by sitting in your royal apartments eating fudge ripple ice cream. Sad king.
Nice try. Sadly, when you check with British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Dr. Gordon Cosmo Lang, the archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Church of England, they say this isn’t an option. Basically, neither the church nor the government will let you carry through such a destructive plan. Fail.
Not a bad compromise, but the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and Dr. Gordon Cosmo Lang, the archbishop of Canterbury, give you the bad news; your plan won’t work. Because your empire is so huge, the Prime Ministers here, in Australia, and in South Africa all have to agree to let you do this. Unfortunately, they don’t. Fail.
Are you really willing to give up not only your throne, your royal status, and your place in the succession, but also your empire and homeland? I hope so, because that’s what you just chose to do. The good news? She really does love you. After getting married in a quiet ceremony, you stay married until you die at age 77. The bad news? You keep a royal courtesy title, but she doesn’t get one, so you have to be separated at all public functions. In addition, your royal family shuns you. As a result, the two of you live out the rest of your lives in exile.
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The President’s Dilemma

sweating president Kennedy

 So, you want to be president, eh? Ever wonder why they all end up with gray hair? After this little challenge, your hair may be gray too.

Are you ready to be President?

Bad news, Mr. President. One of our scouts has discovered something while flying over our not-so-friendly neighbor. We’ve kept a close eye on him since he openly joined with our archenemy. Now, our neighbor has nuclear missiles, only 90 miles away, and they are pointed right at us. You hold the lives of millions of people in your hands. What will you do?

Total failure! You already tried this once, in the Bay of Pigs invasion, and failed miserably. It’s bonehead moves like this that made Russia put missiles in Cuba in the first place.
Now you have a huge confrontation at sea. Your enemy has stated he plans to completely ignore your blockade. You’d better hope all the naval captains on both sides are clear-headed enough not to fire on each other. The slightest altercation could spark a nuclear war and destroy life on the planet. Nice job killing us all.
Well done! You’ve agreed to leave Cuba alone and to remove your missiles from Turkey, where they were threatening the Soviet Union. In return, Khrushchev has removed the missiles from Cuba. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, except maybe people who like Cuban cigars, which are now illegal in the US. But that’s a different story.
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The Solution to the Draft

vietnam war protest

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

Jerry Seinfeld


On October 15, 1965, there was a rally in New York protesting the build-up of American armed forces in Vietnam.

A friend asked David Miller to give a five-minute speech at the rally about non-cooperation with the draft. Unable to come up with material for his five-minute speech, Miller decided to simply burn his draft card instead. His friends warned him about the dangers of his action, given the new law banning deliberate destruction of a draft card.

Unwilling to either let his friend down or to admit his own fear of public speaking, Miller pressed ahead. When the time came, he held up his card and said, “I am not going to give my prepared speech. I am going to let this action speak for itself. I know that you people across the street really know what is happening in Vietnam. I am opposed to the draft and the war in Vietnam.”* Then he set his card on fire.

He spent 22 months in Federal prison.

The conflict in Vietnam was a product of Cold War thinking. When North Korea became communist, the American administration was afraid the rest of the countries in the region would fall to the communist ideology like dominoes. Although Congress gave the president broad powers after North Vietnam attacked the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, war was never officially declared.

Any military conflict invites debate on duty and morality. The war in Vietnam invited even greater debate for many reasons: because of the tactics used – such as napalming the jungle; because the prevalence of television meant more people were seeing footage of battles and their horrific aftermath; and because the South Vietnamese leadership was not democratically elected, and in some cases was oppressing the Vietnamese people to stay in power.

David Miller, burning his draft card, was part of a much larger group of people concerned about Vietnam.** As the war in Vietnam dragged on, a protest movement swept America, eventually growing so large that in 1973 the government abolished the draft and made the U.S. Army an all-volunteer force.

Americans were sharply divided over the war in Vietnam. Some felt it was a patriotic duty to fight for democracy anywhere in the world, that it was an honor to answer a call to serve your country. They felt it was cowardly, unpatriotic and treasonous to oppose the government. Others felt just as strongly that the war symbolized a form of unchecked authority, that civil disobedience was not just their right, but their duty when they saw the government’s actions as illegal or immoral.

There were good people on both sides of the debate, many of whom had the best of intentions. Much has been written about the legacy of the Vietnam War, and how we still feel the aftereffects today.

In examining this dilemma – what to do when called to fight in a war you don’t believe in – two things stand out vividly: fear, and courage. Naturally, war engenders fear in everyone involved – the soldiers, the civilians, and the families waiting at home. But this war was also about institutional and ideological fear. Fear of communism. Fear of what might happen if lots of people followed an economic and political model radically different from yours. Humans are afraid of what they don’t understand, and that includes ideologies opposed to their own beliefs.

More compelling, however, is the tale of courage.

For it takes enormous courage to stand for what you believe is right – whether that means you are standing in a jungle waiting to shoot or be shot, or that means you are standing in front of a hostile crowd declaring your decision not to fight.

Vietnam War Facts:

Two-thirds of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam were volunteers, and those drafted were disproportionately drawn from the poorer, more rural, or less well-educated parts of the American population. Draft boards in more affluent areas were more willing to give deferments.

More than 2 ½ million Americans served in Vietnam before it finally fell to the communists in 1975. 1 in 10 soldiers were killed or injured in Vietnam. Some still suffer the effects of PTSD or Agent Orange today.

68,000 men fled the country to avoid the draft. President Carter issued a general pardon in 1974.

More than half of the three million people who were killed in Vietnam were Vietnamese civilians.

On November 15, 1969, the largest anti-war protest in US history took place when over 250,000 people marched on Washington, DC.

*Miller, D. (2002). Memoirs of a Draft-Card Burner.

**And public speaking.

Fact Check:

Atwood, P. (2012). Called to Serve: Stories of Men and Women Confronted by the Vietnam War Draft. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 42(3), 527-530.

Fennell, T., Branswell, B., & Wood, C. (2000, April 24). Hell no, they won’t go. Maclean’s, 22-22.

Foley, Michael S., Confronting the war machine draft resistance during the Vietnam War, University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Hershberger, M. (2004, March 1). Confronting the War Machine. Journal of American History, 1537-1538.

Kusch, F. (2015, March 1). Building Sanctuary: The Movement to Support Vietnam War Resisters in Canada, 1965-73. Canadian Journal of History, 181-184.

Miller, D. (2002). “Memoirs of a Draft-Card Burner”, excerpted from I Didn’t Know God Made Honky Tonk Communists, Retrieved June 30, 2015, from

October 15, 1965

Vietnam War History, Staff, 2009,,accessed June 11, 2015, A+E Networks

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