WASHINGTON (Feb. 28)
A U.S. Army private who embarked on a “death fast” because he claimed his religious conviction as an Orthodox Jew prevented him from serving “an army practicing violence” in Vietnam has been taken into custody and confined in a mental ward at Madigan General Hospital, Tacoma, Wash., military authorities revealed today.
The soldier, Pvt. Robert Levy, 22, of Kansas City, Mo., started a hunger strike two weeks ago at Fort Lewis, Wash. For 14 days he ate only milk and honey. Yesterday, he stopped eating altogether, stating that “as an expression of my religious conviction as an Orthodox Jew, I break the law of the United States and refuse to remain a soldier.”
Defense Department officials disclosed that the Army is trying to get rabbis to convince Levy that the war is righteous and his fast unjustified. A Jewish chaplain, Martin Feinsod, met today with Levy at the request of his parents. Chaplain Feinsod saw Levy at the mental ward where he is confined and sought “to establish the facts. ” The Army public information officer for Fort Lewis stated that the chaplain agreed with him that Levy at “unfair to bring religion into it.”
An Army spokesman for Madigan General Hospital said that no court martial charges have yet been filed against Levy because he is being held under mental observation. The spokesman said that the Army regarded adherence to Judaism as consistent with military duty and considered use of the Jewish religion as justification for refusing service to be a symptom of derangement. Levy will be confined indefinitely in the mental ward on the undergrounds, the spokesman said.
Army authorities said that Levy, as a mental patient committed by order of the commanding officer, would be forcibly fed. Army officials in Washington pointed out that Levy voluntarily joined the Army 18 months ago and served in the medical corps. He had just completed training as a clinical specialist and was subject to assignment to Vietnam. In a statement released by a Quaker attorney, Levy said that “as long as I remain a soldier, I am supporting an institution whose sole reason for existence is to kill and destroy. I am prepared to die now, but it will be for what I think right. I choose to starve myself to death rather than serve the gods of war.”