From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject A GI Rebellion: When Soldiers Said No to War
Date August 25, 2019 12:05 AM
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[In an era of “forever wars,” it may be hard to imagine
organizing among active duty military personnel or newly-minted
veterans. Let’s hope that the many examples of grassroots activism
described in Waging Peace prove inspirational and instructiv]
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A GI REBELLION: WHEN SOLDIERS SAID NO TO WAR  
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Steve Early
August 20, 2019
Beyond Chron
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_ In an era of “forever wars,” it may be hard to imagine
organizing among active duty military personnel or newly-minted
veterans. Let’s hope that the many examples of grassroots activism
described in Waging Peace prove inspirational and instructiv _

,

 

Fifty years ago this fall, a campus upsurge turned opposition to the
Vietnam War into a genuine mass movement.

On October 15, 1969, several million students, along with
community-based activists, participated in anti-war events under the
banner of the “Vietnam Moratorium.” A month later, 500,000 people
came to a Washington, D.C. demonstration of then-unprecedented size,
organized by the “New Mobilization Committee to End the War in
Vietnam.”

As we approach the 50th anniversary of both the Moratorium and
Mobilization, it’s worth recalling one critical anti-war
constituency whose role was less visible then and remains little
acknowledged today.

While student demonstrators and draft resisters drew more mass media
attention at the time, many military draftees, reservists and recently
returned veterans also protested the Vietnam war—with equal fervor
and often greater impact.

Fortunately, three Vietnam-era activists have just published _Waging
Peace in Vietnam_ (New Village Press, 2019), which gives long overdue
credit to anti-war organizing by men and women in uniform, and their
civilian allies and funders.

Labor organizer Ron Carver, Notre Dame  professor David Cortright,
and writer/editor Barbara Doherty have crafted a
beautifully-illustrated 240-page tribute to the GI anti-war
movement. _Waging Peace _includes fifty first-person accounts by
grassroots builders of that movement, plus photo documentation of
their work by William Short, a Vietnam combat veteran.

As Cortright notes in the book’s introduction, social science
researchers hired by the military (and later academic experts)
concluded that one-quarter of all “low-ranking service members
participated in Vietnam-era antiwar activity.”

This percentage is “roughly equivalent to the proportion of
activists among students at the peak of the anti-war movement.” In
the rural and conservative communities which surround most military
bases, then and now, “the proportion of anti-war activists among
soldiers was actually higher than in the local youth population.”

THE ANTI-WARRIORS TODAY

Now in their late 60s and 70s, many anti-warriors profiled in _Waging
Peace_ are long-distance runners in the field. Some remain active in
Veterans for Peace (VFP), which held its national convention last
weekend in Spokane. One highlight of that annual gathering was the
unveiling of archival material and photos which appear in _Waging
Peace._

This hotel ballroom exhibit included many striking examples of
underground press work–mimeographed newspapers for GIs with names
like_ Last Harass, Up Against the Bulkhead, Attitude
Check,_ or_ Fun, Travel and Adventure_ (whose acronymic double
message was “Fuck the Army!”

Among those viewing younger portraits of themselves in Spokane—along
with documentation of their own anti-war activity –were ex-Marine
Paul Cox, Army veteran Skip Delano, and former Navy nurse Susan
Schnall. In _Waging Peace_, each one shares a memorable tale of
personal transformation, due to their war-time experiences at home or
abroad.

A native of Oklahoma, Cox served as a platoon leader in Vietnam’s
Quang Nam Province in 1969.  There, he witnessed a massacre of
civilians, “smaller scale but no less barbaric” than the mass
killings at My Lai which occurred a year earlier.

After completing his combat tour, Cox was assigned to Camp Lejeune in
North Carolina. He and several Maine buddies decided it was “our
duty to put out a newspaper and print the truth about Nam.”

Over a two-year period, they and later recruits produced thousands of
copies of a clandestine publication called _RAGE. _As Cox says
today, “_RAGE _was definitely not an example of great
journalism.” But it did allow him to redirect his own anger and
disillusionment into an effort “to warn others who were about to be
deployed.”

In Vietnam, Skip Delano was assigned to a chemical unit attached to
the 101st Airborne Division. After his return to Fort McClellan in
Alabama, he believed he had earned the right “to comment on the war
to other people”—an opinion not shared by his base commander.

Delano helped write and edit a GI newsletter called _Left
Face,_ whose distributors faced six-months in the stockade if they
were caught with bulk copies. In October of 1969 he and 30 others
bravely signed a petition supporting the Mobilization scheduled for
the following month in Washington, DC. This deep South expression of
solidarity with civilian protestors up north triggered Military
Intelligence investigations and interrogations, loss of security
clearances, and threats of further discipline.

PROTESTING IN UNIFORM

A year before Delano’s dissent, Susan Schnall’s dramatic acts of
Bay Area resistance drew heavy military discipline. She was
court-martialed, sentenced to six months of hard labor, and dismissed
from the Navy for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Schnall grew up in a Gold Star family; her father, who she never knew,
was a Marine killed in Guam during World War II. As a Navy nurse in
1967, she toiled among “night time screams of pain and fear” that
came from patients badly wounded and recently returned from Vietnam.

In October, 1968, Schnall became involved in a planned “GI and
Veterans March for Peace” in San Francisco. To publicize that event,
she and a pilot friend rented a single engine plane, filled it with
thousands of leaflets, and dropped them over local military facilities
like the Presidio, Treasure Island, the Alameda Naval Station, and her
own workplace, Oak Knoll hospital in Oakland.

Then, in full dress uniform, she joined 500 other active duty service
people, in a march from Market St in San Francisco to its Civic
Center, where they were cheered by thousands of civilian protestors.

Fifty years after Cox, Delano and Schnall rallied their uniformed
comrades against the Vietnam war, all three are still engaged in
causes like defending veterans’ healthcare against privatization by
the Trump Administration
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Later this fall, they and other VFP members are helping to bring
the _Waging Peace_ exhibit to Amherst and New Bedford, Mass, New
York City and Washington, DC. Next Spring, this book-based display
will reach campus or community audiences in Seattle, San Francisco,
and Los Angeles. (For schedule details,
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RED STATE RESISTANCE

Activists today, particularly those involved in working class
organizing, should buy this book or see the exhibit based on it.
Local-level leaders of the GI movement displayed courage, creativity,
and audacity when rallying their own “fellow workers” who had been
conscripted by the hundreds of thousands.

Much rank-and-file education and agitation about Vietnam occurred on
or near heavily guarded military bases located in what are now called
“red states.” They became unexpected incubators for homegrown (and
imported) radicalism,

Some forms of GI resistance, referenced in the book, involved sabotage
of equipment, small and larger scale mutinies, rioting in military
stockades, and deadly assaults on unpopular officers (the
grenade-assisted retribution known as “fragging.”)

The national network of GI coffee houses described in _Waging
Peace_ became places where active duty military personnel could
relax, socialize, listen to music, read what they wanted, and have fun
with each other and their civilian supporters.  This helped break
down the military vs civil society divide that is far wider
today–due, in part, to the post-Vietnam creation of a
“professional army” to replace the rebellious conscripts of fifty
years ago.

Thanks to their low morale—and heroic Vietnamese resistance to
foreign aggression—U.S. ground forces were no longer “an effective
fighting force by 1970,” according to Cortright. “To save the
Army,” he says,” it became necessary to withdraw troops and end
the war. Their dissent and defiance played a decisive role in limiting
the ability of the U.S. to continue the war…”

In an era of “forever wars,” it may be hard to imagine such
impactful organizing among active duty military personnel or
newly-minted veterans. Let’s hope that the many examples of
grassroots activism in _Waging Peace_ prove inspirational and
instructive for younger progressives today.

This valuable book might even stimulate some new thinking about how
the left can better relate to the 22 million Americans who have served
in the military or continue to do so–to their own detriment and that
of people throughout the world.

_STEVE EARLY WAS A CAMPUS-BASED RECRUITER FOR BOTH THE OCTOBER
MORATORIUM AND NOVEMBER MOBILIZATION IN 1969. HE LATER SERVED AS A
FULL-TIME ANTI-WAR ORGANIZER FOR THE AMERICAN FRIENDS SERVICE
COMMITTEE IN NEW ENGLAND. HE IS COLLABORATING ON A BOOK ABOUT
VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND CAN BE REACHED AT [email protected]_

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