Numbers in a Fishbowl

(The Vietnam Draft Lottery)

And now it all seems so strange
That our lives were forever changed
Not by our own choice
But an anonymous voice
And were we supposed to rejoice?

We sat and we watched on TV
We were all so anxious to see.
Did our number come up?
Would we pee in a cup?
And how fast did we have to grow up?

Some of us thought – Run away!
Just to fight somewhere else for a day
The rest of us stayed
And our lives were defrayed
‘Cause our families were very afraid.

And what in the end was the cost?
And what was forever lost?
Did we only pretend?
To deny it could end
And our country, could it ever amend?

Some brave men came home in a box
And just think – what a cruel paradox
To defend the unknown
And die far from home
When some were just barely grown

So is this what it’s really to be?
When we live in the Land of the Free
That we have no choice
And we have no voice
To say what we feel
And believe that it’s real
When we all feel that we just disagree


So where is this place – Vietnam?
And just why should I give a damn?
I love my own home
I don’t want to roam
I’m as peaceful and happy as a clam

But then with the luck of the draw
We submit to the hand of the law
We try not to cry
And hope we won’t die
But we sure feel the pinch of the claw

We were just numbers in a fishbowl
Each playing out our starring role
If your number was high
You probably won’t die
And you can say the God saved your soul

But we know that Fate can be cruel
It can take us away from our school
It will train us to kill
Against our Free Will
And use us as if we’re a tool

Oh My God, this thing – it’s insane!
Our lives hang on like a chain
And swing in the wind
Forever now pinned
To an outcome that comes with much pain

We were wed to a rifle and bayonet
And we became a new deadly threat
And we’re no more seen
As a cute Mr. Clean
When we’re thrust in fight known as Tet

And what of those who paid the full price
Do we think of them often, even twice?
Where do they lay?
At the end of the day
Does our grief for them really suffice?

My God told me “Thou Shall Not Kill”
But my country said “Oh Yes you will!”
So where do I stand
When I raise my hand
And I pledge my allegiance to whom?

Paul Hickey
December 3, 2016

Paul is a Vietnam era vet although he never served ‘in country’. He has been working with Wounded Warriors and First Responders for years.
While thinking about things the other day, Paul heard someone on the radio talking about the 1969 draft lottery. It inspired him to write this poem.

You can know more about Paul by visiting his website at

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