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Monday, May 2, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dreams of Conscription

In January of 1966, there were 215,000 American soldiers involved in a skirmish called the Vietnam Conflict and lots of GIs were coming home in body bags. In his State of the Union Address, President Johnson declared that the U.S. should increase troop strength and remain in Vietnam until the Communist aggression ended.

One week later, U.S. airplanes resumed bombing of North Vietnam after a 37-day pause.

Soon thereafter, I received an official federal form letter informing me that I was being conscripted (drafted) into the U.S. Army, so I quit my job as a computer programmer in St. Paul and had a final fling as a civilian.

On April 12, 1966, I reported for basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., where I learned to clean toilets and do squat thrusts. My drill sergeant, who had been raised by crazed wolverines, was not a pleasant fellow.

The number one song at the time was "Sounds of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel. "People talking without speaking ... People hearing without listening ... People writing songs that voices never share ... And no one dared disturb the sound of silence." It wasn't exactly a peppy tune but it somehow captured the mood of the day.

During my eight weeks of basic training, soccer fans in Peru went on a rampage resulting in 248 deaths, a Buddhist monk set himself on fire in front of the U.S. Embassy in South Vietnam, the NFL and the AFL merged, the Supreme Court ruled that criminal suspects must be informed of their rights (Miranda vs. Arizona), and the Medicare insurance program went into effect. I was too busy standing at attention to notice.

After basic training, I reported for duty at the Third Army Data Processing Company at Ft. McPherson in Atlanta, Ga., where I spent the remainder of my two-year obligation of active duty as a data processing analyst. It was fairly easy duty. Even so, I never stopped counting the days until I could return to the real world once again.

The summer of 1966 was a time of social upheaval. There was a race riot in Atlanta near Ft. McPherson. There were also race riots in Omaha, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and elsewhere. Opposition to our involvement in Vietnam was becoming increasingly widespread. And I was stuck in Georgia shuffling Army paperwork.

In any event, I was drafted into the Army in April of 1966 and did my duty. It's hard to cut two years out of your life in your 20s. I was just beginning my career as a computer programmer and had to start completely over again after my discharge. It took another year or two to catch back up to where I had been before I was drafted.

I've been plagued ever since by a reoccurring dream where I'm drafted into the Army a second time and am unable to convince anyone of authority that I don't belong there because I had already served and no longer had a military obligation. The theme is always the same but usually it's on different military installations.

I also know two other former draftees I served with at Ft. McPherson who have the same reoccurring dream. Our duty wasn't very traumatic, but for some reason we can't get past it. I suspect it has something to do with the helplessness of being stuck in a situation we didn't want to be in and the only way out was to do the time.

Young men and women who enlist into the military do so voluntarily and accept the consequences.

However, those who are drafted are forced into mandatory servitude, whether they like it or not, and are torn between serving their country and losing their freedom. They must give up their individuality and are required to be obedient to strict (often unreasonable) orders at all times. Plus, many career soldiers resent draftees and make life tougher for them. A draftee is merely a pawn in someone else's war whose fate is dictated by others.

On April 12, 2006, I had a dream that I was finally discharged from my military obligation. When I woke up and pondered the dream, I realized it was the fortieth anniversary, to the day, of the day I began my military service. I had served two years of active duty, and 40 years of conscription over again and again in my dreams. I had the feeling that my reoccurring dream of being drafted again would now be gone for good. It only took me 40 years to get over it.

The subconscious mind is a reservoir of unresolved conflict. If you suppress it, your dreams will remind you.

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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at bret@centurytel.net.