by Paul B. Nichols
It’s difficult to find much encouraging news from across the planet these days. Worldwide disasters brought on by climate change, Covid variations hanging on and threatening to worsen by seasonal change, senseless U.S. gun-related attacks at schools, churches, supermarkets and other places formerly deemed secure, and the right-wing assault on our democratic values. Plus, right here in New Hampshire the deeply harmful influences of the Free Staters fester.
Two other headline grabbers involve the harsh violence inflicted on thousands of Iranian and Russian citizens who are protesting against vile impositions of their countries hard-line authoritarian regimes. Historic and virtuous protests in both countries have promoted worthy causes, but in ways are a double-edged sword in that many of the dissenters have been maimed or killed by the dictatorial powers ruling both countries.
Massive protests have been ongoing in Iran since mid-September when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was murdered by Iran’s “morality police” because she wasn’t wearing her hijab in conformance with her country’s strict laws. She was detained and beaten to death while in custody. Since that day, courageous women and girls have publicly cut their hair and set fire to their headscarves during huge protest marches with rally chants in defiance of the rigid rules that have long been in place. Male students, soccer stars and striking workers have joined the protests, as have citizens of other countries.
Vladimir Putin’s attempts to draft 300,000 young men into diminishing Russian military forces in his criminal war with Ukraine has met significant resistance in recent weeks. Potential draftees have been frantically fleeing across borders into Finland and other neighboring countries to avoid conscription into a devastating unpopular war. News reports state that two Russians even sailed hundreds of miles across the Bering Strait seeking refuge in Alaska to avoid Putin’s draft.
Despite the resistance, tens of thousands of Russian men have been drafted and hauled into mobilization training camps. Germany is offering refugee protection to draft resisters and military deserters seeking asylum. I’m hoping that widespread desertions will occur despite harsh treatment if resisters are apprehended!
At age 77, I am brought back to October 1965 when Concord Draft Board #7 notified me that my draft classification had gone from 2-S student deferment to 1-A (Available). The U.S. war in Vietnam was hungry, and more youngsters were needed to feed the meat grinder. Though I had no desire to join the military, I immediately enlisted in the Marine Corps rather than to be inducted into the Army. Within a year I was in Vietnam’s Quang Tri Province, later to be seriously wounded.
Throughout the decade, huge antiwar protests objecting to that Southeast Asian war took place across America as well as in many other countries. Thousands of U.S. draft resisters and deserters escaped to Canada, Sweden and other countries. I gave no thought to these alternatives due to honorable World War II service by my immediate family members, the time frame of the Vietnam war’s earliest years, and my patriotic naivety.
Peaceful expressions of opposition have been a vital hallmark of democratic ideals. Since the American revolution, hundreds of protests, rallies, demonstrations—call them what you will—have taken place across our country. Most have been peaceful. In recent years, they have been for antiwar, humanitarian, environmental causes, and for other important concerns. Current demonstrations supporting women’s reproductive rights come to mind.
Our system of governance, though not ideal, is far better that that of Russia and Iran. Democracy has been under serious threat, increasingly during the Trump presidency and with the aggressive atmosphere in the years since. The need for heightened voter turnout in local and national elections next month cannot be overstated.
Following his honorable discharge from the Marines, Paul Nichols served for decades as a county-level USDA officer administering natural resource conservation programs in N.H. He has also been a faithful subscriber to this newspaper for more than thirty years.