REVIEW by Art Zack
I received Refusal to Submit as a gift. Being in the middle of reading of another book, I planned to set Richard Gould’s book aside until later. But, first I decided to spend a few minutes skimming the beginning pages to get a feel for Refusal to Submit. The next time I looked up it was 3 1/2 hours later. What an engrossing and important book!
Gould was an excellent writer. This book has many levels. On one hand this is a coming of age story of a very young man taking a controversial stand in divisive times. In 1968 Richard was a young man who – after agonizing over what to do about the Vietnam War draft – finally refused to submit to the draft. This nonviolent refusal made Richard a draft resister and he was ultimately sent to federal prison. The central narrative is about how Richard came to his decision to refuse the draft, and what happened after, both his prison experiences and later. This includes an interesting in-depth look at life in a federal prison that is both Kafkaesque and still sadly relevant to social issues of today. If you read this, you will never think about prison life or convicts in the same way.
Richard also shares the personal stories of other draft resisters. We get multiple coming of age stories of a diverse set of very young men who, faced with the Vietnam War draft, finally refused to submit. Their backgrounds and experiences were incredibly varied. We follow the lives of several of them through making this momentous decision, their lives in prison, and after they were released – all transformed by this experience. I speak from personal experience.
The “Resistance” was the nonviolent movement that encouraged young men to use non-cooperation with the military draft as a way to help end the Vietnam War. The “Resistance” had a huge effect on ending the Vietnam War. Too bad Ken Burns missed this story.
Even more, there are well-researched links to a number of other issues still facing our society. From Richard’s research we learn about Vietnamese history, and covert US involvement in Vietnam dating back to World War II. As the US stumbled ever deeper into this quagmire, we learn about a government that used fake news to lie to the American public about what was going on, that hid the real facts, and that attempted to suppress dissent. Unfortunately some of these themes still resonate today.
There’s yet another set of stories woven in here. In the federal prison where Richard was sent, about 60% of the inmates were illegal Mexican immigrants imprisoned for their border crossing activities. Richard did his homework, and we learn the background of Mexican immigration to the US (legal and illegal) since 1940’. We get to know some of these Mexican immigrants through their personal stories. This illuminates another set of issues that began decades ago and still divides our society today.
I could go on with other relevant social issues that this book illuminates. But, I’ll just say – READ THIS BOOK!