Paul Good was 19 when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Less than two months after he arrived in country, he was killed.
“In many ways,” said his brother Bob Good of Rochester, “it had the effect on our family similarly to how it had an effect on society. It tore society in half. It ran it right down the middle. And it did much the same to our family.”
Bob Good says his brother’s death and his own subsequent education about U.S. history led him to take a strong stand against the war.
“I came to realize our policies in Vietnam were really an extension of what we had been doing as a country for decades, if not centuries. … Going back to the Monroe Doctrine, we decided that we have the right to control whatever happens in our hemisphere. … We always ended up on the side of the dictator and always ended up against the average people.
“And as I saw more and more of that, and then looked again more closely aside from the emotion of losing my brother and looked at the story of Vietnam and realized that that what was there as well.”
Good became involved in protests, seminars and teach-ins while a student at Xavier University in Ohio. In his junior year, he dropped out and started traveling to different parts of the country, attending trials to support activists who had been charged for their actions.
His path eventually led him to take part in a draft board raid in Camden, New Jersey — and the memorable Camden 28 trial.
“It was all pre-computer days,” Good explained. “The actual draft files were the actual paper mechanism by which they processed hundreds of thousands of people for the draft. So by attacking the draft boards and the draft files, it caused hiccups in impeding the ability of them to wage a war.”
It was 1971, and a group of people decided to raid the draft board, but one person decided to go to the FBI, Good said. When the raid happened, the FBI was ready. Eight people who went into the draft board and nine others outside were arrested. Another 11 people were later charged.
At trial, about 18 months later, most of the defendants decided to serve as their own attorneys.
“The judge, to his credit, allowed quite a bit of leeway in terms of the testimony and that allowed the court and the jury to hear a lot of the surrounding truth,” Good said. “It obviously wasn't just about breaking and entering and destroying a piece of paper. It was about the war.”
During the trial, Good said, his mother, Elizabeth, listened to historian Howard Zinn’s testimony. Zinn said the U.S. wasn’t in Vietnam to defend democracy; it was there for Southeast Asia’s resources. That deeply affected the mother who had lost her son in the war six years earlier.
“It was a real epiphany for my mom who was sitting in the courtroom, and there was this very emotional moment where she broke down and cried very heavily realizing that she had for all these years believed that he had at least died for democracy and freedom and all these good things, and she kind of realized that he had not. And when she came to court the next court day, her testimony just kind of spoke from her heart.
“I think many folks point to her testimony as one of the sort of emotional turning points that really had a big effect on the jury as well. So the end was that we were all acquitted and it was a major defeat for the government.”
Good ultimately landed in Rochester, where he met Susan Schickler, whom he later married. They had two children.
“A lot of my life settled down to being alive and having children and raising them and living here in Rochester but I always kept my feelings and commitment to these issues. That has never wavered.”
He’s been active in ROCLA — the Rochester Committee on Latin America — and Metro Justice. He continues to believe that it’s important for Americans to take a critical look at their country.
“American people are wonderful people at heart, but whether purposely or inadvertently, we've essentially all been ostriches unwilling to look at the history of what our country is.”
Click on the video to see a production of Conscience: The Testimony of Elizabeth Good at MuCCC: