Veterans Letters Project

Peace and War in the Heartland

About the "Minnesota 8"

1. Why did you raid draft boards?

Simply, to save lives. It was a paper-based world and when a "1-A" file was destroyed, that potential draftee disappeared from the system. They didn't have back up copies. Not like with computers. Draft Boards sent out appeals for young men to re-register, but as one fellow told me, "I was legally required to register. Not re-register." He showed me his 1970 Draft board's letter and the duplicate forms they sent. He just disappeared.

2. Would you do it again?

Most people preface that by saying, "Knowing what you know now." Well, the simple fact is we never know enough about the real intentions of the government during times of war. In this "Age of Terrorism" the government implies that it is traitorous for a citizen to even think critically! What I'm saying is that you never have enough information. But you have to act. We didn't know what else to do. We had done everything a concerned citizen could do. Then we moved into moral outrage. "Shut the system down!" It was the best we could do. And, of course, I'm me, so I had to do it then. And if I were young, I'd be trying to figure out how to throw sand into the machinery of the war, today.

3. What did your family think? How do they feel today?

We all came from lower-to-middle middle-class families. All had fairly good relations with our parents and siblings. Yet, family is both your greatest comfort and those who can cut your legs off! We all heard, "Don't do that! You're just throwing away your life." But when push came to shove, our families stood tall and strong beside us. Not that they uncritically supported us, but, truly, they unconditionally loved us. All the way through prison. Four of our mothers: Kroncke, Beneke, Tilton and Simmons were interviewed by radio and the press. Some were daunted by the radical politics and the oddness of hippies, but all were there from arrest to parole. The families will all be attending the play.

4. What did you tell your children, if you had any?

Brad, Bill, Frank and Pete have children. Brad, a daughter. Bill, three daughters. Frank and Pete, two sons apiece. Frank's version was, "Sons, let me tell you how the Minnesota 8 ended the war!" Here's where he tells them about the influence the 8 had on Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers - a major cause of the downfall of President Nixon and the consequent end of the war. Actually, Frank's sons both registered. They had other priorities at the time. It was Frank's youngest son's friends who did go to Iraqi who threatened to break his legs if he enlisted! So in a curious way, veterans influenced both Frank and his son, Nicholas, in their moral decision-making - just different generations.

5. What did you do after prison?

Bill's a highly successful lawyer. Heavily involved in the DFL. His passion is kayaking. He just came back from a daunting six-week kayaking trek through Greenland. His house is a treasure trove of newsclippings and other documents from the 60s and all his subsequent involvements and adventures. He's travelled the world.

Don has been a distributor of progressive magazines and books for decades. He immediately got involved in people's politics, helped start the food co-op movement here in Minnesota, organized around the powerlines issues, and has a weekly radio talk show on KFAI.

Pete went back to college. Then a bit of teaching. He works in the public health field, but his passion has always been politics, notably, now, the Peace in the Precincts project. He remains a highly astute political observer and committed nonviolent philosopher.

Mike's done diverse and amazing things. He's worked as a tennis pro, then rode the rails (hopped trains) all across the country, kept involved in community politics like Pete and Don. The 9/11 event, with all its mysteries, oddities and conspiracies is his main focus. He's always lived a consistent life of nonviolent thought and practice.

Brad went out to LA seeking fame in the Rock n Roll world. Like many solid talents, he eventually returned to MN, married his college sweetheart, and jumped on the corporate sales track. He remains a very successful high-tech salesman.

Frank was the only one to leave MN permanently. He came back two years ago to work on promoting the play. He worked in prison reform for the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco for four years. Went back for doctoral studies at UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. Then - it's a long story! - became a door to door encyclopedia salesman, a springboard to twenty-five years as a senior sales and marketing manager for small to medium size firms.

Chuck, like Mike, Pete and Don, remained a mainstay of nonviolent political action since his release. He's been involved with many nonprofits. He went back to law school, but settled on being in business for himself.

6. How do you size up today's youth?

First, folks forget that it took many, many years for this country to become anti-war. Things blew-up in '68 and '69, but before then protests were small and Resistance unpopular. Kids today were like we were. They need what we needed: to get the facts, hear the truth, most important, to meet veterans and hear about the war. In some ways, they have a harder time than we did. We lament the lack of access to media and communication that the internet offers, but, back then, we had at least an independent media. Today, the public media outlets are practically useless. They're entertainment shows, not fact-finding and critical resources.

They kept the war hidden from us for years. Especially, the "secret war in Laos." Today, young people have the internet. But action, while inspired by facts and study, really springs from the heart, not the mind.

What we had were "pictures of the pain." Everyday, the TV was flooded with pictures of people - our soldiers and the Vietnamese. Now, the war is hidden. President Clinton ordered the bodybags of fallen soldiers to be hidden. Bush grinds the volunteer military, mercilessly. That's a major human rights crime in itself. Then, the veterans are not coming onto campuses. That's what radicalized the students - veterans, since 1967, returning and going onto campuses.

Young Americans today are just our own kids. They want to serve their country. In the main - and I'd say 99% - yes, that many - do not want to kill and do not want to go to war. But the culture of violence still rules this country. And it is effective in turning youths into killers.

7. Based on what you just said, did your generation fail to end the war?

No, we ended the war. We failed to imagine a nonviolent world. So, the culture of violence continued, and now threatens our children and grandchildren. Like those before us, we of the Sixties mistook the end of the war with being at peace. The war subsided but the machinery of war, the economics of war, the spirituality of war, war as entertainment - all continued. Stopping the next war - for there will always be "the next generational war" - demands facing the deep roots of violence that nourish the American Dream. We started to put the pieces together, back then. We read the "new histories" of minorities and the oppressed: from Native Americans to people of color to women and the working poor. But we've yet to dream the dream Martin Luther King dreamed and called us to dream. We've yet to respond to JFK's call, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." We've yet to face the fact that America is not God's nor anyone's Chosen Nation. We are all just people of One Family. One nation among other nations. Yeah, we started hearing and dreaming, we just have to keep going on. Dream on!



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