Conscription is part of American history — a distant part. The Selective Service isn’t selecting like it used to. And, sadly, because of that, going off to war today has become as easy as spreading fake news.

If we had a draft today, the U.S. would probably be out of Afghanistan and Iraq. If we had a draft today, our military would not consist mainly of those who face few options in an unfair life. The college educated would also play a bigger part on the front lines.

If we had a draft today, Congress would not be so quick to send troops into wars that could involve their own families. If we had a draft today, there would be anti-war protesters, primarily well-off white youth — some of them the children of elected officials and corporate executives — marching throughout the country and outside the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

This is why the draft ended with the end of the war in Vietnam. It ties the wings of hawks.

The “incursions” and “escalations” in Southeast Asia began to lose support in America when we saw on the nightly news the burning of civilians, of villages and, eventually, of draft cards.

One case that got national attention was the Boston Five — baby specialist Dr. Benjamin Spock, Yale chaplain Rev. William Sloane Coffin, author Mitchell Goodman, Harvard graduate student Michael Ferber and political scientist Marcus Raskin. They held a public draft card burning and then stood trial in 1968 for conspiring to counsel young men to evade the draft. There were convictions that were set aside in 1970 by a Federal appeals court. It would seem the last thing the Nixon administration wanted was these men to be incarcerated martyrs.

All this did was blow more wind into the sails of the anti-war movement, of which I was part. My first wife and I had just moved to Brookline from Cambridge, which had strangely become the draft board’s DMZ. Fewer and fewer from that zip code were being called up because more and more of them were being labeled troublemakers for doing what provoked the arrest of the Boston Five. We moved into a collective or commune or whatever, dedicated to smashing monogamy and just about any other tradition that might have been designed by previous generations. It was a time of disruptive motivation, political action, social justice, warrants for ethical behavior, anti-war protests, civil rights pushes and the women’s movement. It was also known as the era of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

In late 1970, into this idealized sanctuary, moved an amazing couple — our new parents. At least they were old enough to play the part, but they never did. In came Mitch Goodman, fresh from his appeal, and his wife, the internationally renowned poet, Denise Levertov. They had been radicalized in the previous generation. She was equally a fiery romantic anti-war humanist who attacked her subjects in shouts and whispers of free-verse. He was Brooklyn; she was London. Living with them was like playing a part in a super-reality show.

Both college professors approaching 50, Mitch and Denise were also on equal footing with their students and dedicated followers, who came to our humble abode to pay homage and learn to study war no more. They came to be inspired and to be helpful as both professors prepared new books: He was assembling a literary collage called The Movement Toward a New America and she was working on what would become two volumes of poetry – Footprints and The Freeing of the Dust.

They never played the seniority card. They shared in all household chores, from cooking meals to doing laundry to planning America’s future. They wanted a better, more honorable country. They weren’t afraid to at least think that way. Dynamic personalities, they both came from working-class leftist upbringings. Not shy when it came to speaking their minds, they breathed life into my twenties. All the points raised at the beginning of this column were hatched in dinner table conversations with Mitch and Denise.

They both took us on a side trips out of our comfort zones. He was challenging. If you had a set response, he would show you there was at least one other you needed to consider. And he did it with a sense of friendship. She was stirring. Her eyes flashed, her hands flew, her mind raced. With a maternal tone, she offered her principles like the poet’s answer to Auntie Mame.

In that “hotbed” I had an education in revolution and poetry. Some days it felt like we might as well be living with Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda. By the time the war ended, so did my first marriage — and Mitch and Denise were over too — and gone from the house, gone their separate ways. They both died in 1997, married to others, living on opposite sides of the country.

What I learned from this living experience: you should have the courage of your convictions, you can fight city hall, say what you mean/mean what you say and you can say it powerfully in poetry. I learned how to use words and how many different meanings “resistance” has. It also left me with a lot of thoughts about why and how we go to war.

Let Us Sing Unto the Lord a New Song by Denise Levertov

There’s a pulse in Richard
that day and night says
revolution revolution revolution

and another
not always heard:

poetry poetry   

rippling through his sleep,
a river pulse.

Heart’s fire
breaks the chest almost,

and if its beat
life itself shall cease.

Heart’s river,
living water,

and if that pulse
grow faint
fever shall parch the soul, breath
choke upon ashes.

But when their rhythms
then though the pain of living
never lets up

the singing begins.