The impetus to write this book goes back to a snowy day in 1968, when I received a letter from one of my high school friends telling me that he had attempted suicide rather than go to Vietnam. I was shocked and, at the same time, not shocked. 

My older brother had just been sent to fight in the war. My younger brother was worried about the draft. All the young men I knew were struggling with how to handle the first big decision of their adult lives — and it was a very big one — whether to follow the dictates of law or conscience and to face the consequences either way. We young women — their sisters, friends, and lovers — were on the sidelines of this moral conflict, but we were also deeply touched by it, and all of our lives were shaped by it. 

I wrote the first version of “Getting Out” when I was a graduate student at Columbia University in 1970. At that time, the wars in South-East Asia and at home were raging, and young people were dying on both fronts. The second and third sections, set at key points in the post-war years, began as short stories. 

The idea of a “triptych” came about when a friend asked me what I wanted to write next, and I realized it was this book about the broad and lasting impact of the war. Although the draft ended in the U.S. in 1973, each new war brings up the same questions: what is justified and when, who will fight and why, and will any good come out of it in the end?

Alice K. Boatwright