Rep. Roy P. Dyson (D-Md.), who has advocated the use of military force as a representative and been a top recipient of campaign contributions from defense-related companies, received conscientious objector status during the Vietnam draft after almost four years of student deferments.
According to Dyson's Selective Service record, he was classified in April 1971 as "1-O," a conscientious objector, meaning he had convinced members of the local draft board in his native St. Mary's County that he was ethically opposed to participation in war. The records indicate Dyson was opposed to military service even as a noncombatant; his draft status limited him to alternative public service as a civilian.
In an interview yesterday, Dyson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he requested classification as a conscientious objector not to avoid military service, but because he strongly opposed what he called a "politician's war" that the country did not have the resolve to win.
He identified himself as a member of the antiwar movement, and said he participated in several demonstrations against U.S. policy.
"I was part of that movement . . . and I felt very strongly about it and would still feel that way today," Dyson said. "I was part of the turmoil of that period."
According to Dyson's Selective Service record, he maintained a standard student deferment between 1967, when he finished high school, and May 1970, when the local board gave him a more restrictive student exemption good for one more academic year. He first attended Montgomery Junior College, later switched to the University of Baltimore, and eventually to the University of Maryland. He never graduated, and said yesterday he does not remember exactly when he attended the different schools.
Records show Dyson lost his student deferment twice during that time, and was reclassified as available to be drafted.
The student deferments eventually were restored. Dyson said he recalls quitting school temporarily to work, but cannot recall other details of his draft status in those years.
While designation as a conscientious objector was supposed to be granted to those who object to all wars, Dyson said yesterday that his position, spelled out in a written essay, voiced oppositon only to American involvement in Vietnam.
He said he cannot recall when he first registered his objections -- upon graduation from high school, or at the time his student deferment was set to expire in 1971.
As a member of Congress from Maryland's conservative, largely rural 1st Congressional District, Dyson, 41, has fought for military projects that helped defense installations and related companies throughout the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland and in Harford County. He also has collected sizable campaign contributions from defense-related companies -- $102,000 so far for the Sept. 11 Democratic primary in which he is opposed by state Del. Barbara O. Kreamer (D-Harford) and two other Democrats.
He has advocated the use of American troops to burn drug fields, rescue hostages, and, most recently, protect U.S. interests in the Middle East. His ties to the defense industry were an issue in the 1988 campaign, which Dyson almost lost.
He said, however, that his strong stand on defense issues now is not inconsistent with his attitude about the Vietnam conflict because today's military is all volunteer, and the nation has demonstrated adequate resolve before committing troops. He said that even as he protested Vietnam, he believed in a strong national defense because that helps discourage war.
"Today our national objectives are much more clear when we get involved in a situation like that," Dyson said. "I believe in a strong defense and during that same period I believed in a strong defense . . . . Our purpose in this country . . . is that we have a strong defense to promote peace."
Dyson said he does not recall ever discussing his position on Vietnam in public before, but included information about his draft status in a news release yesterday voicing support for President Bush's commitment of troops to the Middle East. The statement was released shortly after the administration briefed members of Congress on the situation, and came one day after The Washington Post requested an interview with Dyson about his draft record.
Dyson said he decided to volunteer the information about his draft record because, "It is in the public domain . . . . I have never tried to hide anything.
"We are about to embark on a very, very sensitive time in our country . . . . I want people to see that, although that was a very long time ago, there has been a change in Roy Dyson. I think that that helps me a lot, not only as a member of Congress but as a member of the Armed Services Committee. The last thing I want to see is anyone get hurt."