Tom Barton had been something of a local legend during his student days at IU. At that time in the ‘50s, ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, was compulsory for male students on many campuses. In 1960, Tom led student opposition to the ROTC requirement, a protest that was inevitably received unfavorably by the Board of Trustees. Conscription was the order of the day in Cold War America, and the trustee chairman also happened to chair the local draft board. Although an enrolled grad student in good standing, Tom suddenly received a draft call, its retaliatory intent transparent.
He applied for Conscientious Objector (CO) status, entailing two years alternate service, but was rejected. There were procedural irregularities in the board’s decision, and Tom refused induction. The FBI was called in, he was arrested, and his case turned over to the US Attorney for southern Indiana for prosecution for draft evasion. Undaunted, Tom appealed to Selective Service headquarters in Washington. Given the punitive nature of his draft call and the IU trustee’s egregious conflict of interest in the matter, the government dropped charges against Tom and granted him CO status.
He performed his alternate service with the Peace Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends, an organization active in the anti-nuclear protests sweeping the country. There he organized local chapters of the Student Peace Union (SPU), a 200-strong group drawn from area colleges and universities and served as Regional Director for the Philadelphia area. In effect, Tom Barton fulfilled his obligation and emerged a seasoned peace activist, experience he would carry into anti-Vietnam War protest later in the ‘60s
When Jeff and Tom first crossed paths, Jeff and fellow SDS leader Jim Wallihan were leading a demo near campus against local merchants, especially a pizza joint that had refused service to high school hippies. The protest, held in front of the doughnut shop across the street from the joint, was peaceful and orderly, perhaps with a few chants in the air. One of the shop owners called the cops, several uniforms and plainclothesmen arrived in four cars. As they pushed the group back off the sidewalk, an IU student began to address the group of demonstrators. A detective grabbed the kid, cuffed him roughly, and shoved him into one of the patrol cars where he began beating him with a flashlight.
Witnessing the arrest, Tom Barton called out, “Get his name.” At that moment another cop collared him saying “That’s all for you buddy” and he too was put in the back of the cruiser, as it happened in the custody of a young cop who turned out to be Tom’s high school classmate. Jeff and others protested the cops’ behavior, and were also arrested. Tom got bailed out and the next day wrote up a broadside describing the entire incident, especially the heavy-handed tactics of the abusive detective. The broadside circulated both in town and on campus and would eventually help Jeff in court, but, more important in the long run, Jeff and Tom would find themselves shoulder to shoulder on the antiwar barricades.
That summer Jeff went to New York, first stopping to meet Jan Barry and join his newly organized Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Afterward, he dropped by to see his new friend Tom Barton. Tom in turn introduced Jeff to his friend, Dave Komatsu, visiting from Chicago. Earlier Tom and Dave had been fellow members of a breakaway group from the American Socialist Party and on the board of the group’s paper. Jeff had mentioned to Tom he hoped to find a way to give active duty GIs opposed to the war a voice in the rising national chorus of protest.
Dave Komatsu was the perfect guy to hook up with. A long-time left activist, Dave knew his way around Chicago where Jeff was headed that fall for grad school at University of Chicago. Jeff was thinking of an underground paper for GIs, and Dave and his wife Kit had had earlier experience writing and producing an off-beat, low budget political paper, American Socialist. During fall term ’67, Jeff and Dave brainstormed the idea. Jeff the ex-GI had the contacts, while Dave had the know-how in putting out a paper, a match made in heaven. Start-up money was the only remaining piece of the project. Jeff solved that by withdrawing from grad school and using his Woodrow Wilson Fellowship funds to launch Vietnam GI (VGI) in early ’68 as the first GI-edited antiwar underground paper for active duty GIs.
In recent years GI Special morphed into the current Military Resistance, now with much greater coverage of the intensified fighting in Afghanistan. Every day after work, Tom Barton puts out the day’s news on the war from both off-beat and mainstream media (“101st Airborne lost 131, the most killed in a single deployment since Vietnam”); as well as stories from the contemporary GI coffee houses that have sprung up near stateside bases; and, always relentlessly, the latest obits from local papers throughout the country lest the losses become aggregate abstractions, many from small towns rarely heard of—Ashford AL, Centennial CO, Checotah OK, Immokalee FL—with sad headers like:
Attack in Kabul Kills Austin Soldier
Marine Lance Cpl Jason Barfield Killed in Combat 10/24/11 in Helmland, Afghanistan
Sgt Alessandro Plutino, a US Army Ranger, Was Killed Monday
Killed by a Taliban Bomb, the Devoted Teenage Mother Who Joined the Military to Fund the Dream of Becoming a Nurse
Sgt Jeremy King: A soldier’s death isn’t anything like the movies. There was no patriotic music, there was no feeling of purpose. It’s just … death