Quaker Waits Out Appeals on Harsh
By Laurence Cohen, The Hartford Courant - Sunday January 26, 1975
Philadelphia – Bruce Baechler faces 26 months in prison for acrime that
has almost become passe.
With the Vietnam war over and the draft ended, the 19-year-old former Glastonbury man has been sentenced to prison for his protest against the Selective Service.
He lives in this city founded by Quakers day-by-day waiting for the legal appeal to be over and his stentence to begin.
"I can't make any plans in advance, " he explains. "I guess it's the price you pay for trying to be a moral person in this kind of society."
Baechler's crime was refusing to register with the Selective Service when he became 18.
His actions were prompted by the pacifist zeal he gained through his membership in the Society of Friends (Quakers).
He speaks of the “ultimate precious good” within all persons which makes killing them unthinkable.
His long-standing Quaker ties would have qualified him for an exemption as a “conscientious objector,” but that was not the real issue for Baechler.
He refused to tell the Selective Service he was 18 years old, because he felt they had no right to ask him. “If I applied, that would indiate that the government had the legitimate right to draft people,” he explained. “I don’t believe the armed forces should have any place in a peaceful world.”
His protest was not really against the Vietname war, he says, but an expression of his basic hostility to force of arms.
A refusal to serve the military is “the only way theres going to be peace in the world,” he said. “They can’t carry on a war without the popular support of the people.”
It took a U.S. District Court jury in North Carolina where he was living with friends, 7 ½ hours to convict Baechler of a crime to which he confessed.
His attorney Deborah Mailman of Raleigh, NC described the case in a telephone interview as “almost a success.”
“They had to think about that civil disobedience.” She explained.
Baechler’s mother, Mrs. Marjorie Baechler of Glastonbury, sat through the trial with her son.
“It’s a pretty heavy thing for someone to get up in a courtroom and say, ‘the United States of America against Bruce Baechler,”’ she remembers. “It’s a heavy burden we put on kids of that age.”
Their son’s antiwar fervor is no surprise to his father, Henry, or his mother. Young Baechler attended his first war protest when he was 8 years old – with his father.
“I’m not bitter or anything like that,” Mrs. Baechler explains. “I have no control over what he is doing. “But you have to wonder about a legal system that makes Bruce a criminal, a felon.”
Henry Baechler and his wife are active Quakers, but both reject the idea that the Baechler home is a radical haven for revolutionaires.
“I consider myself rather stodgy,” Baechler says. He suggests that his son is similar to him in many ways.
“He’s fairly conservative in a great many ways. He stayed on the nonviolent side. He never joined the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) or Weathermen or anything like that.”
But Baechler’s parents, attorney and friends suspect the North Carolina judge who handed down the sentence considered him a dangerous fellow.
“He could have been fined $25,” Atty. Mailman says of Baechler’s sentence. But she says: “The judge did what was usual for this case in this part of the country – 26 months.”
Judge Eugene Gordon also sentenced Baechler to two months in jail on 12 contempt of court citations.
Baechler refused to stand when the judge entered the courtroom – another Quaker-inspired action.
William Samuel, a Washington, D.C. Quaker and close friend of Baechler, said the trial left him bitter.
“They tell me it’s a nation of laws, not men, but in reality, it’s just the opposite, “ he said. “Bruce got about the worst treatment he could have gotten anywhere.”
In a similar case, Grant Kaufman, A Quaker convicted in Ohio in February 1973 for failing to register with Selective Service, received a two-year unsupervised probation, with no prison sentence.
But in December, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Ciruit Court of appeals in Richmond, VA., turned down Baechler’s appeal.
An appeal for a new hearing before that court is pending.
Baechler’s unashamedly biased friends and relatives were’t alone in their unhappiness with the court proceedings.
The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal both editorialized against the sentence. “Why does a trial like this even take place?” the Journal asked.
“There is room in our country for people like Bruce Baechler. The draft laws could be changed to make that room. In a world drenched in blood, the pacifist spirit is a leaven. But our government locks that spirit up behind bars as if it were an enemy of the people, the enemy within.”
Even when Vietnam is little more than a memory, Baechler vows that he and his friends will continue to wage war against those who make war.
“We’re sparking people’s minds so they think for themselves,” he says. “It’s an inherent part of our lives; we just can’t drop it.”