Monday, December 06, 2004

The Fifth Book of Peace by Maxine Hong Kingston

A lot of e-mails on Maxine Hong Kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace. To a question about which part they enjoyed most, it seemed everyone was on the same page so I'm going to quote that section here (pp. 136-137).

Clifton, the driver, said, "When the VISTA job is over, and if the war is still going on, I'll resist the draft. I'm not a draft evader. I'm not a draft dodger. I don't believe in dodging and evading. I'm a draft resister." He looked Wittman eye-to-eye in the rearview mirror. "Do you get the difference? I keep my draft board and the SSS informed exactly where I'm at, and what I'm doing. My every activity on the outside of the army is political activity. Everything I do, I'm resisting. I'm practicing for my confrontation day with the army. I look forward to it; I'm not evading it. When my number comes up, I'm going straight to my induction center. They'll call out my name -- Anderson, Clifton. That's a crucial moment, when they call out your name. You're supposed to take one step forward. That one step is a very symbolic step. It means that you are volunteering of your own free will even if you've been drafted. You're assenting. I am a soldier. You're obeying your first order. I'll use willpower, that I not take that step. I'll resist. I'm practing not to take that step. My telling you about it right now is practice. I think about not taking that step. I am developing a resistance state of mind. Everybody else will step forward, so I naturally will want to step forward too. My good friends rehearse me; they call out, 'Anderson, Clifton,' and I freeze. You take a step, and that's the step that takes you from walking the walk of a free man to walking the walk of a Government Issue. The army may try to coax me or ridicule me or threaten me, but I'm forewarned and prepared. I will not step forward. Then they'll see that I heard my name but am purposefully not stepping forward, and they'll arrest me. They could jail me then and there. Or they could dangle me, send me home for two weeks or an indefinite time. I know a guy who didn't hear from them for nine months. They want you to stew over the possible consequences. Jail. A record. Unemployed from now on. Losing the vote. A lot of people can't take the suspense. They'll leave for Canada, or they'll induct themselves. Me, I'm withstanding the pressure. They call me up again, I'll resist some more. I'm resisting evil. 'In times of evil, resist evil, even if you have no hope to stop it.'"