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Margot Overington: My First Step as a Pacifist

In 1967, I completed my third year at Clark University, Massachusetts, and boarded an airplane heading south to Fort McClellan, Alabama.

I was one of 150 women chosen to enter the United States Army through a programme designating women of high calibre to enter the Army in support of the Viet Nam War effort. One hundred and fifty women entering our last year of university gathered for this experimental four weeks of basic training. The Army needed us...and they made a serious financial offer in order to obtain the top young women in the USA.

The financial offer appealed to me. In addition, my Dad and his entire generation served in various branches of the military during the Second World War, so I had no problem considering the Army’s offer.

On arriving at Fort McClellan, we started basic training...because we were officers in training, we were treated with special care. The offer was four weeks of training...if you like us, join us. If it is not a good fit, we fly you anywhere in the USA.

It was a large army base. There were tens of thousands of new lieutenants getting ready to be shipped overseas. The only people they could date were the 150 women in my section! Because we were officers in training, dating was allowed!

For the first and only time in my life, the male/female ratio was about 1,000 to 1. NICE!

I figured that if I were going to kill another human being, I would want to know exactly why I was going to do it. I would want to look this person in the eye, and then kill. I would want to know.

Every night I dated a new lieutenant. I asked the question: “Given that you are heading to Viet Nam, how DO you justify killing people who live in that country?”

I got responses like:

“I don’t want to disappoint my parents.”

“I don’t know what else to do.”

“I don’t want to go to jail.”

“I don’t want to leave the USA.”

This was my first “Ah-ha.” None of my very eligible dates had thought through what they were about to do.

About the third week of our four week training, we had a “must attend” lecture. A sergeant who recently returned from Viet Nam gave a lecture on chemical-biological warfare. The huge amphitheatre was filled and overflowing with standing room only.

He started his lecture with this sentence, which branded itself on my soul: “It is too bad that we have to kill, but since we do...let’s do it efficiently.”

An atom bomb exploded in my head. I do not remember anything else about the lecture except that incredible premise. “We have to kill.”

My second “Ah-ha.”

After the lecture, I spoke with several of the women in my unit as we walked together back to our barracks. No one that I spoke with had noticed that first assumption. “We have to kill.”

My third “Ah-ha.”

After that lecture, I knew that the US Army, my family, my country, my church were compatible, but I was not.

I knew I had to leave; it was soul destroying for me to live with this lie.

I graduated from Clark University on June 2, 1968, and I was on a plane to Canada the next day. I became a landed immigrant at the Montreal Airport, and boarded my connecting flight to Toronto, where I would start my life as an adult.

I settled down within a few weeks, and found the Union of American Exiles (UAE). The UAE worked nights and weekends, times when the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme (TADP), a Quaker-sponsored organization, was closed. We did emergency housing and food, so that folks coming through the border during the night would find a soft place to land. I was part of a housing co-op that took in deserters, some of the toughest people to place.

In 1971, I moved to Halifax, and in time, I was part of the Quaker Seymour Street house.

Thank you for allowing me to share this part of my life journey.

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