WALPOLE: You then went to Vietnam and served in civilian capacities,most especially with the Committee of Responsibility to Save WarBurned and WarInjured Children. Did your beliefs change in any way?
BALABAN: I wasn’t much of a pacifist. I grew up with guns. I huntedwith my father and brother. I was a good shot and even had an NRAsharpshooter medal when I was fifteen. So I wasn’t gun-shy. I just didn’tthink there was any reason to fight in that war in Vietnam. I didn’t wantto kill anybody, but if somebody was going to come and try to kill me,I’d shoot him.
When I went to my hearing at the draft board, I was afraid they weregoing to ask me about a belief in a supreme being, so I had concocted astory about there being a kind of goodly energy, a life-giving force thatflowed through the universe that I believed in. Fortunately, they didn’task me anything like that. All they asked me was, would I be willing togo to Vietnam? I said I’m not willing—I’m going to Vietnam whetheryou approve of me or not, and they just looked at each other, these oldmen, like what a dumb-ass kid, because now all they had to do was checkoff their list one more name going to Vietnam, and I had volunteered, sowhat was the problem?
WALPOLE: Why did you insist on going to Vietnam? By going toVietnam, you would be giving up the writing of poetry, wouldn’t you?
BALABAN: I wanted to stop the war. I was going to do it single-handedlyby what Quakers call the power of witness. I thought I would go andsee what I saw and tell people about it, and that would be my endeavor.Witnessing. But one of my regrets was that I’d be leaving poetry behind.I wanted to stop the war. I was going to do it single-handedly by what Quakers call the power of witness. Ithought I would go and see what I saw and tell peopleabout it, and that would be my endeavor.