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Put Down Your Guns & Pick Up A Book - Paul Krassner
Now that the possibility of a military draft is, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, a known unknown with no absence of evidence, it’s time to get a firm grip on our Selective Service cards, strike a match and awaken our inner-Zen bastard. Either that or we can be swept away by the fundamentalist right-wing idiot wind that howls about the wondrous opportunity the draft provides for young Americans to serve their God (and country), improve their lot and see the world first hand.

“There are huge social benefits that come from it,” says draft aficionado, Oklahoma Republican Senator and Arm Services Committee Member James Inhofe.

“A new draft?” says Paul Krassner. “I think Canada will get a lot of refugees.”

Krassner burned his draft card in the 1960s. He also energized the psychedelic revolution, co-founded the Yippies (the merry pranksters of the political left), took LSD with Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, edited Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, and conducted the tour of enhanced reality on Groucho Marx's first acid trip. That was all before People magazine ordained him “Father of the underground press" for his coverage of the anti-war movement at The Realist — "the magazine of wrongeous indignation" that he spawned and then published from 1958 to 1974.

Above all else Krassner was, and is, irreverent in the best way possible.

"’Napalm’ is a much more obscene word than any I’ve ever used,” he said during a speech to a packed house in 1967.

Damn, if he wasn’t right. Even so, today our post-napalm war in Iraq features smart bombs that can target an apple off the enemy’s head AND incinerate children. Obscenity is in vogue and with it the possibility of a lottery system whose payout is a dogtag and a trip to Biblical Hell. Krassner, the Zen bastard whose regular column appears in the New York Press, sees the draft as a near done deal with caveats.

“First of all, if the draft happens, it ain’t gonna be before the election,” he says.

After November it’s a different story.

“If George W. Bush gets re-selected a draft would be almost inevitable," Krassner says. "But we’re not safe even if Kerry becomes president. He might go Catholic-at-confession on us and say, ‘I feel very guilty. I’ve committed sending men to their death because of a mistake.’ It wouldn’t be his first admission.”

In the years since Kerry did his time in Vietnam, the draft has become associated more with the NBA and NFL than with the Selective Service. But Bush changed all that. Under his new world order, our troops are overstretched, enrollment is down and re-enlistment is plummeting.

Stay the course and next year at this time, the draft will be up and running. That's the bad news. What's the good news? Images of the drafted dead coming home in their flag-draped coffins might require Americans to honestly reassess their profits and losses. The result could be the end of the war.

“A draft would certainly change the war,” Krassner says. “I remember a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) lapel button that said ‘Not With My Body, You Don’t.’ As young people start to see how an army of supposed liberation becomes an army of occupation, that becomes a sitting duck for insurgents, that becomes a magnet for more enemies around the world, they’ll recognize how futile, absurd and insane war is.”

"Futile," "absurd," "insane" . . . and "crude" Oscar Wilde would have added. According to Wilde, “As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.”

Krassner’s anti-war games of the 60s put Wilde’s sentiment into play. Yippies outed the vulgarity of Vietnam by recontextualizing the myth of power — or, as Jack Black would say, they were "stickin’ it to the man.”

“The Yippies gained notoriety because of the influence of their guerilla theater,” Krassner says. “We did everything from throwing money at the stock exchange to levitating the Pentagon.”

How did the Yippies manage to get media coverage?

“It was a trick borrowed from the CIA," Krassner says. "You don’t have to manipulate the media if you can manipulate the event that the media covers. Wall Street has an abstract concept of money. Sooner or later, it's used to support war. Throwing money at the stock exchange gave us an opportunity to explain to the press about that type of Wall Street corruption.

“With the raising of the Pentagon, we could not only point out the absurdity of the war, but tell reporters at the press conference: 'officials would only grant us a permit to raise the Pentagon three feet.' The reporters wrote that down because it was in quotes.”

Krassner and the Yippies brought levity to the Pentagon, but that was nearly half a century ago. Would these tactics still work today?

“That kind of street theater is not as necessary now," Krassner says. "The Internet has changed the nature of protest. Organizing can be done instantly — without the expense and to a widespread audience. One week ago millions of people around the world who've never heard of Russ Kick suddenly discovered who he was. He’s the guy who runs The Memory Hole where the first pictures of coffins coming from Iraq were posted.

"Power is based on secrecy. And power without compassion deserves to be exposed. That’s what happened at The Memory Hole. Kick exposed the cold heart of power because he’s dedicated. That’s a good thing, if I may paraphrase Martha Stewart.”

Why aren’t there more Russ Kicks?

“Well, partly it’s because the public is stupid and ignorant. Why else would they have swallowed the propaganda that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were lovers?”

…and stupid and ignorant they remain. According to a recent IPA/Knowledge Networks poll, 57% of America still believes that Saddam "was providing substantial support to al Qaeda."

“It’s disheartening,” Krassner says. “All the scandals and programs on TV are diverting the public’s attention from what’s really going on. As an old conspiracy theorist my first instinct is to think that the Republican National Committee was behind the Janet Jackson incident.”

A sublime sense of humor runs through Krassner's latest book, Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs: From Toad Slime to Ecstasy. It's a hilariously twisted collection of consciousness-expanding-substance inspired stories by and about Terence McKenna, John Lennon, Ken Kesey, Ram Dass, William S. Burroughs and others.

What can drugs teach us in these terrorized times?

“Depends on the individual," Krassner says. "You can learn to appreciate new aspects of making love, seeing a movie, listening to music, eating, meditating… spirituality. You can learn about a separate reality, amazingly different from the reality you've been brainwashed into believing by the mainstream culture.”

If used in a conscientiously applied program of mental hygiene, could magic mushrooms end the war in Iraq?

"Only if everybody eats 'em," Krassner says

Since the everybody-must-get-stoned strategy doesn’t seem likely, I ask Krassner if he currently sees any signs of Yippie attitude in America.

“Oh, yeah, definitely. All over. Anywhere from Students for a Sensible Drug Policy to the Women’s March that just occurred in Washington. My own daughter says that people are always asking her if she’s an activist like her dad. She used to say 'No, not really. There’s no war on and abortion rights have been secured.' Well, recently she had an epiphany. Abortion rights ARE being threatened. There IS a war on and with it there’s a real awareness now. As people get educated, it may thrust them into being activists.”

Who knows? It may inspire them to light a match and burn a draft card for freedom — freedom from the absurd, insane and futile vulgarity of war.


— Nathan Callahan, April 30, 2004


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