Date of Award

Spring 1999

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Harvard Sitkoff


This dissertation recovers the history of the draft resistance movement in Boston during the Vietnam War. It is a blend of social, political, and cultural history that seeks not merely to assert the importance of draft resistance to our understanding of the antiwar movement and the Vietnam War era, but also to capture the experience of draft resisters and their supporters.

It is an actor-oriented history. The sources used include the personal private manuscript collections of participants, court records, underground newspapers, a 1997 survey administered to 310 former resisters and draft resistance activists (185 responded), and interviews with more than 60 movement participants. The resulting analysis, consequently, captures the backgrounds, motivations and justifications of resisters and their friends, how their draft resistance work affected their lives at home, at school and at work, and, more broadly, how it affected the rest of their lives.

Ultimately, this history, told largely in narrative form, recounts the story of those who violated draft laws as a way of confronting the war machine rather than dodging it. By openly defying Selective Service laws and inviting the government to prosecute them, draft resisters and their allies raised the stakes for everyone opposed to the war. Draft resistance, unlike other forms of protest at the time, mobilized the local antiwar community to take positive action against the administration and against the war in ways that marches and teach-ins could not. Moreover, by returning draft cards to the Justice Department, draft resisters forced the Johnson administration to take the antiwar movement seriously for the first time.

Draft resistance activists possessed a certain moral clarity that created in them an impatient sense of citizenship. It was the most striking characteristic of the movement. In the earliest days, it caused resisters and supporters to advocate a strategy of protest that resulted in personal risks ranging from beatings at the hands of a mob to government prosecution and incarceration. They chose to disrupt their lives and those of their loved ones to protest the war in the strongest way possible. Eventually, that impatience also led to the movement's dissolution.