The Green Machine

My Army

“The morale, discipline, and battleworthiness of the U.S.
Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower
and worse than at any time in this century and possibly
in the history of the United States. By every conceivable
indicator, our army that remains in Vietnam is in a state
approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or
having refused combat, murdering their officers and
non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden and dispirited
where not near mutinous. Elsewhere than Vietnam the
situation is nearly as serious.”
– Colonel Robert D. Heinl, June 1971
republished & distributed by
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Military Organising During the Vietnam Era
By Matthew Rinaldi
Harass the Brass
Some Notes Toward the Subversion of the US Armed Forces
By Kevin Keating
Olive-Drab Rebels
Matthew Rinaldi
Harass the Brass
Kevin Keating
published by firestarter press, 2004
originally published by Antagonism Press, 2002 & 2003
For more free copies of this pamphlet,
other publications, and a catalog, write:
firestarter press
po box 50217
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Please feel free to photocopy, republish, and steal any of the following text and may yet find themselves recruited to become the replacement
troops for the war-weary still in Iraq.
As these words are being written, the Third Infantry Division
has taken the 148th admitted combat fatality of the current war as
a young soldier was blown from his humvee by a land mine. The
U.S. press has noted his death as the fatality which marks the 2003
war as more fatal to U.S. soldiers than the 1991 war against Iraq.

His fellow soldiers may see a deeper meaning.
Matthew Rinaldi, July 2003
while Bush declared “major combat” operation over on May 1,
2003, as this postscript is being written the Iraqi resistance to the
new empire has caught the U.S. ruling class dramatically off
guard. And the working class foot soldiers, as always, are paying
the price. It is significant that even the “new” volunteer army is
reacting to this reality jolt. Having been sold an entire set of
fabrications to justify the war, including the lie that Iraq could be
tied to Al Quaeda and the 9/11 attacks, the troops on the ground
are beginning to feel deceived.

Troops of the Third Infantry Division, representing 12,000 of the
148,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, and certainly representing
one of the groups most directly involved in ground fighting, aired
their grievances in interviews this month with ABC news. Most of
those interviewed felt betrayed by the triple extension of their stay
in Iraq, one called for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, and
Private Jason Ring (“standing next to his humvee”) was quoted as
saying, “We liberated Iraq. Now the people here don’t want us
here, and guess what? We don’t want to be here either! So why
are we still here? Why don’t they bring us home?”

soldier was quoted as writing in an e-mail, “We have been told
twice that we were going home and twice we have been ordered
to stay in Iraq. Our morale is not high or low. It is non-existent.”
Such dissent brought a quick rebuke from the White House.
Division officers on the ground were given strict orders to silence
the troops; some found their careers threatened. General John
Abizaid starkly announced, “None of us that wear this uniform
are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defence
or the president of the United States.”

But the troops on the ground retain their ability to think. The
current crisis in Iraq has revealed that recruiting working class
youth into the armed forces with the lure of economic
advancement, essentially an “economic” draft of the most
disadvantaged members of the working class, rather than a
society-wide draft, still does not produce a military ready to fight
extensively and with great suffering for the advancement of an
empire. This developing schism can be nurtured not only by
continued education and agitation among military personnel, but
also work among those working class youth who are still civilians
Introduction……………… 4
Harass the Brass…… 10
Olive-Drab Rebels… 19
Postscript………………… 49

The American invasion of South Vietnam is regularly used as an
example of the dangers inherent in occupying territory and then
fighting a protracted and domestically unpopular war against an
essentially hostile population. The potential for this or that war to
turn into someone’s ‘Vietnam’ is repeated ad nauseam. The fact
that by the early 1970s the US military “where not near mutinous”
was “in a state approaching collapse”1 is less widely advertised as
a reason for their eventual humiliating withdrawal.

The two texts reprinted here attempt to understand the effect
that the Vietnam War had on the American military, and its
ongoing consequences. The first, Harass the Brass is the latest
version of a leaflet handed out on various occasions at San
Francisco’s ‘Fleet Week’ – a large naval show attended by
thousands of enlistees who come into the city from the ships. It
provides less specific detail about Vietnam than The Olive-Drab
Rebels but has a better analysis of the potential relationship
between mutiny in the military and revolution in society as a

The Olive-Drab Rebels: Military Organising During The Vietnam
Era, written by Matthew Rinaldi and published in 1974, offers a
detailed account of attempts by soldiers, civilians and the left to
organise within the US armed forces. It provides a lot of
interesting and useful information which is not widely available
elsewhere, and is analysed from a leftist perspective. It does make
some mild criticisms of the practices adopted by the groups and
parties that tried to parasitise rebellion in the military, but mainly
on the level of their lack of success and failure to build a proper
revolutionary organisation or instil the correct ideology.
Its characterisation of the ultimate goal of military organising as
being the winning of “armed contingents for the left” which
would then be part of the “armies of the revolution” is simply
wrong. The point of organising within and against the military
should be to subvert existing structures, hierarchies and roles – not


The U.S. Armed Forces suffered a severe setback in Vietnam.
The rebuilding efforts after 1975 followed the thinking discussed
in Olive Drab Rebels: create an “all-volunteer” army based on pay
hikes, college tuition in exchange for subsequent military
enrolment and promises of high quality training which would
allow recruits to re-enter the civilian world with marketable skills.
As the collective memory of the debacle in Vietnam partially
faded, many have enlisted and the increasing number of enlistees
has indeed opted for combat training, though most doubted such
training would actually involve them personally in a large-scale
war. At the same time, the U.S. military leadership continued to
be wary of the fortitude of its own troops and remained
significantly worried about the willingness of U.S. civilians to
accept high casualty rates.

Hence, the drive toward “mechanised
warfare” accelerated from 1975 through 2003. Boosted by an
unrealistic view of the precision reliability of “sophisticated”
missiles and bomb delivery systems, the ruling class spent
hundreds of billions to develop weapons which could pulverise a
country from the air, leaving the ground troops with the lower
risks of “simply” mopping up the mess left behind.

This was clearly the strategy of the Bush administration in the
current war against Iraq. “Shock and awe” was presented to the
U.S. population as an air assault of such overwhelming magnitude
that resistance on the ground would crumble. Troops were
implicitly promised that they would be greeted by jubilant Iraqis
waving American flags and cheering as the tanks and humvees
rolled by, almost a “re-dux” of U.S. troops entering Paris after the
second World War to the cheers of those now oh-so-ungrateful

But this Bush-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft fantasy was not to be. While
the ruling political system of Saddam Hussein could be blown to
bits from the sky, the notion that the new U.S. Empire could roll in
as an unimpeded occupation force was wrong.

have now returned to civilian jobs and life situations. To what
degree the militancy and consciousness which was created during
this period will be carried on to the civilian class struggle can only
be determined in the years ahead.
to win over groups of soldiers who then continue to function as an

A conventional war of fronts between opposing armies
(which the Spanish civil war decomposed into) is the type of
combat that states engage in and, requiring the replication of
statist organisational forms, does not co-exist well with
revolutionary struggle. The success of which is not dependant on
a conquering proletarian army seizing the terrain and power of
the bourgeoisie but upon the level of social transformation: “The
question is not whether the proles finally decide to break into the
armouries, but whether they unleash what they are: commodified
beings who no longer can and no longer want to exist as
commodities and whose revolt explodes capitalist logic.
Barricades and machine guns flow from this ‘weapon.’”2

The question of the way that wider contemporary events related
to revolt within the army is also not adequately considered. It’s
somewhat curious that the author regards it as a period when “the
working class in civilian life was relatively dormant.” That may
have been true in the early years of the war when the major
unions such as the AFL-CIO were able to maintain their dominant
position in controlling the sale of labour power and social unrest
was just beginning to stir, but by the end of the 1960s wildcat
strikes, workplace sabotage, rioting and other forms of proletarian
resistance which largely existed beyond the control of social
democratic mediators and the left were widespread. As with
some aspects of the anti-war movement they are often forgotten
about in historical accounts.

The extent to which both warfare and the world in general has
changed in the years since The Olive Drab Rebels was written raises
the question of its relevance to the present situation. Downsizing
and mechanisation to minimise reliance on a mass of potentially
troublesome human beings has occurred on a massive scale both
in the military and industry in general, coupled with the defeat
and reversal of the social surge of the 1960s and ‘70s which had
contributed to the scale and sustained nature of the anti-war
movement. The change from conscription to volunteer based
armies in almost all advanced capitalist states has often been
touted as guaranteeing loyalty, but in fact does not necessarily
mean that soldiers will always be willing to die pointlessly, as
Rinaldi points out – “There is a common misconception that it was
draftees who were the most disaffected elements in the military.
In fact, it was often enlistees who were most likely to engage in
open rebellion.”

One of the most obvious effects of the war for the U.S. has been
its deep reluctance to commit large numbers of troops to any one
place for prolonged periods. Although it has military bases in
around sixty countries (and ‘advisors’ etc. in many more) troops
are rotated through these fairly rapidly and are not present in
huge numbers. The general emphasis is on ‘low intensity
operations’ – or in plain English the use of American special forces
alongside local regular or paramilitary forces who are able to
carry out savage repression against civilian populations without
the US appearing to be directly responsible. Prime examples
include Columbia (through the supposed aid package ‘Plan
Columbia’) and the Philippines and to a lesser extent Afghanistan;
the number and scope of these conflicts is likely to increase as the
‘War on Terror’ legitimizes all states’ attacks on their own

The invasion and occupation of Iraq by several hundred
thousand troops with its risks of mass casualties and becoming
sucked into a long-term conflict, breaks the recent pattern of
reliance on bombing victims into submission rather than fighting
on the ground. It seems somewhat ironic that the events of
September 11th made martyrdom in defence of the ‘American
Way’ politically acceptable – the British weren’t, in general, so
eager despite Blair’s insistence on the necessity of a “blood price”
for the continuation of the ‘special relationship’ – not one that
would be paid by him or his friends and family.

The relatively easy initial victory has convinced some that
America’s military power is now unstoppable. The facts both
historical and contemporary suggest otherwise. Global
opposition to the war was on a scale unseen in recent times even
though some of it was the result of the politically expedient
support of some sectors of the ruling class. The open support of
some sections of the mass media for anti-war protests was in part
an expression of the divisions that the war provoked amongst
their masters. The opposition of states such as France and
Germany which elicited a certain amount of praise was more the
result of fears about being sidelined in international politics and

China, Cuba, and Vietnam, this organizing occurred during
periods of direct military confrontation between state armies and
the armies of the revolution, and the organizing was consequently
a continuation of this war in a different form. While there was
some notation within European armies during the two world
wars, the lefts in the respective European countries generally
supported the war effort and consequently did not focus on
military organizing, while the colonial wars of the European
powers were fought without being impeded by left resistance.

role of the military in class society is of crucial importance to the
revolutionary movement, as was tragically demonstrated by the
Chilean coup, yet there has been precious little attention given to
developing the theory and practice of military organizing.
Consequently, the experience of organizing in the U. S. lined
forces during the Vietnam War was fairly unique.

It represented
an attempt to radicalize the working class in uniform while it was
subjected to particular pressures, in a period when the working
class in civilian life was relatively dormant. Given this situation, it
was not realistic to conceive of this organizing as an attempt to
win armed contingents for the left. Rather, the goals were twofold: first, to incapacitate as much as possible the ability of the U.S.
military to carry out its intervention in the Vietnamese revolution;
and second, to stimulate struggle and militancy in a generation of
working class youth.

Some success was achieved in both goals. The disintegration of
the ground forces in Vietnam was a major factor in causing U. S.
withdrawal. A complexity of factors caused this disintegration,
ranging from the upsurges in civilian society to the impact of the
Vietnamese revolution, and much of the breakdown in morale
and fighting capacity developed spontaneously. Nevertheless, the
conscious organizing of radicals both in service and out helped
play a catalytic role in this disintegration.

The long-term effects of this organizing are still to be
determined. The veterans movement, and the political
development of Vietnam Vets Against the War, certainly illustrate
that a durable change of consciousness occurred among
thousands of GIs. At the very least, the military tradition in the U.
S. working class suffered a major setback. More significant,
millions of working class youth who went through the war years

GIs are still finding that the military is not what they had been led
to expect. The indicators for morale and discipline used by the
Army are showing that discontent is high among new enlistees.
At Fort Lewis, the model VOLAR unit on base is called the “New
Reliables.” A study done in the first five months of 1973 showed
the New Reliables to have an AWOL rate averaging 47.2 per
thousand, while the AWOL rate for other units on the based
averaged 21.9 per thousand. At the same time, the Correctional
Training Facility at Fort Riley, which was established during the
war years to deal with chronic AWOLs, is continuing to process
150 GIs a week. Clearly, the new enlistee is often dissatisfied with
his situation.

But this dissatisfaction is not sufficient to generate massive
resistance. The end of the ground war removed the primary
motivation for GIs to risk punishment; while there may be
discontent now, it is generally overshadowed by fear of the UCMJ.
As the organizers at Fort Bragg wrote in early 1973, “We began to
grasp what we had been refusing to understand-the
overwhelming majority of GIs at Fort Bragg had not been to
Vietnam and probably would never be sent. The vets who swelled
the ranks of the GI movement, as well as giving leadership, were
all getting out, and guys just coming into the Army now were not
facing a year of humping the boonies of Nam.”

The organizational forms of the GI movement began to fade
away. Storefronts and coffeehouses folded, newspapers became
infrequent or ceased publication entirely, GI groups disappeared
as their last members were discharged. While some scattered
organizing continued, and some successful work was done at
some forts around class-based issues, these efforts were unable to
generate new growth. The era of massive GI resistance was over.

Historically, the attempts of the left to do military organizing
have taken only limited forms. In the Bolshevik revolution
military organizing occurred in a period of intense revolutionary
upsurge, and consequently had as its goals the neutralization of
the armed power of the state and the winning of armed
contingents to the revolution.

In the peasant based revolutions in
being cut out the plunder of Iraq’s resources rather than concern
for the well-being of the Iraqi population. In the anti-war
movement there were just as many conflicting interests and
positions resulting in absurdities which ranged from those
emphasizing the ‘illegality’ of the invasion, to Ms Dynamite’s
asinine plea at the million-plus strong demonstration in London
on 15th February 2003 for everybody to just love each other. The
massive unpopularity (for whatever reason) of their mission can’t
have gone unnoticed by the troops on the ground but the extent of
dissatisfaction remains an unknown quantity at present due to the
tight control over an already loyal press. At least one ‘fragging’3
occurred in Kuwait before the fighting had even begun, which
was put down to an ‘unstable’ individual rather than an
expression of more generalised dissatisfaction.

At the time of writing it looks like the US will have to do exactly
what it has tried to avoid since Vietnam and keep a very large
presence in Iraq for an indefinite period if it wants to ensure a
steady flow of oil out, US company contracts in and keep the
Islamists out of power. Hundreds of millions of dollars of
reconstruction contracts have already been handed out to
corporations such as Halliburton which are intimately linked to
the Bush administration; according to some reports bidding
commenced before the fighting had even started. Iraq is awash
with arms which are being turned on the invaders in a situation
somewhat similar to the Soviet invasion/occupation of
Afghanistan; they won all the set piece battles as well but were
unable to win the guerrilla war that followed.

It seems somewhat
implausible for the Americans to blame Saddam loyalists for their
troubles when they are busy re-employing the very people they
claimed to be removing.

No doubt the former Baathists’ expertise
in repression and terror will come in very handy in the months
and years ahead. Despite their talk of introducing/imposing
freedom, democracy and by implication consumerism, the US
forces haven’t managed to adopt the strategy that was so
successful for Saddam in previous years – he didn’t survive for so
long simply on the basis of fear, but also maintained social peace
through economic means. The US occupation administration’s
general incompetence, brutality and failure to restore even the
impoverished conditions that most Iraqis endured in the later
stages of Saddam’s rule can only lead to trouble.

The pressing
question now is what kind of trouble? The almost total
destruction of Iraqi society has led to proletarians fighting a three cornered battle against the occupation forces, the ex-Baathists and,
unfortunately, each other. Passive and active resistance to the
occupation is endemic, but it is difficult to discern either its
composition or its trajectory, to what extent it is integrated into a
nationalist or Islamic movement and to what extent it expresses an
autonomous proletarian activity.

The most visible sign of
resistance; the random killing of soldiers who are likely to have
joined up because the military is their sole source of waged work,
as opposed to having a burning desire to defend the ‘heimat,’ is
hardly to be celebrated, but information about any more
potentially revolutionary activity is going to be difficult to get –
unless its so widespread that it becomes impossible to ignore or

The experience of trying to control a hostile Iraqi population is
already sapping the morale of troops suffering from the
psychological after-effects of the slaughter that they have just
participated in. Soldiers are now openly begging to be sent home
and asking why they are in Iraq at all. If they are forced to stay it
may only be a matter of time before they’ll start to refuse to risk
their lives and shoot other proletarians in preference for shooting
up heroin and/or their officers – a possibility which may well
have occurred to Colin Powell who was a junior officer in

Possibly the US’s present program of colonial military
adventurism is already running into serious difficulties and in the
longer term can’t rely on domestic support, especially if the body
bags really begin to pile up. One military strategist has written
that “It is a mistake to think that America’s quick defeat of the
demoralised, corrupt Iraqi regime reflects its new technological
military prowess rather than Hussein’s political weakness.
Rumsfeld wishes to trumpet to strength of the Pentagon’s arms
but this conclusion is scarcely justified by the facts.’4
In spite of the changed social and political landscape the
experience of Vietnam has had ongoing repercussions for the way
that the American military operates; and the movements against

U. S. involvement remained a problematic possibility, the accords
did signal the beginning of a new era. Ground troops were gone
from Indochina, the bombing was ended, and GIs found
themselves to be peacetime soldiers. Coupled with the end of the
draft, these changes marked an opportunity for the armed services
to rebuild themselves.
There are two primary elements to this current reconstruction.
First, the Army and ground forces in general are being deemphasized. Instead, there is an increased focus on mechanized
warfare and the power of the Navy and Air Force.

The advantage
of these services is high mobility, tremendous striking power, and
reliance on a smaller number of men. The second element is the
transformation of the Army into a force composed of
economically motivated volunteers. The belief is that military pay
hikes, coming in period of rising unemployment and general
economic instability, will motivate working class youth to enlist in
larger numbers.

To some degree this effort has succeeded. The military has spent
millions of dollars on advertising, greatly enlarged its corps of
recruiters, and managed to come close to meeting its recruitment
quotas. The Air Force and Navy have had no problems, the
number of women enlisting has increased by 50%, and a
significant number of men have enlisted for the Army and the
Marines. But there has been one glaring failure. They can’t find
enough men to enlist for Combat Arms, the very heart of the
Army. In fiscal year 1973 only 34,000 men, 57% of their stated
goal, enlisted for the infantry, despite a $2,500 bonus for a four
year Combat Arms enlistment.

In order to increase these
enlistments they lowered the educational requirements, but in the
first months of fiscal year 1974 the percentage of black enlistees
rose to 31%, and given the continuing spectre of black
rebelliousness, that scares them. In a new effort to deal with the
shortage of combat troops the Army announced in February of
1974 that it was creating a new combat division by shifting men
from headquarters and support jobs. So much for unit of choice

It is important to stress that an economically motivated enlistee
is not necessarily a gung-ho soldier. Recruiters still spin tales of an
unreal world in order to meet their own enlistment quotas, and
tenant’s rights campaigns, and were frequently open to a
developing women’s consciousness. But there was also a high
level of fear. Under Army regulations a GI is held to be
responsible for the actions of his wife, and a number of GIs were
punitively transferred when their wives became politically active.
This and other factors, such as transience and the absence of stable
GI organizations, tended to greatly hamper the development of a
large movement of dependents.

For the military authorities, this period was one of cautious
retreat. The services were in a state of disarray, many career
officers were leaving in disgust, and the brass wanted to extricate
themselves from the mess as easily as possible. The repressive
apparatus was geared down, and the policy of early outs and
discharges for Nam vets and political dissidents became
widespread. Even in the Navy, which was experiencing
heightened resistance, the brass chose moderation and

The major response was a concentration on the development of
an all-volunteer service. Though the war was still on and the draft
was still functioning, the military experimented in this period
with a number of programs which it hoped would cool out
stateside bases and provide a model for the new volunteer army

These included race relations councils, some loosening
of barracks regulations, and at some forts the development of
ersatz coffeehouses on base, complete with black light posters and
peace signs. (The one at Fort Carson was appropriately called The
Inscape.) These early programs often led to disaster for the brass.
Militant black GIs often disrupted the placid race relations
councils, and an early VOLAR rock concert at Fort Ord turned
into a battle between GIs and MPs. But these early programs were
only the sketchy beginnings of the VOLAR effort. As the military
gradually withdrew from the war in Indochina, the plans for a
fundamental change in the services were put into full operation.
The Modern Volunteer Army

The signing of the Vietnam Peace Accords in January of 1973
marked the formal end of over a decade of U. S. military
involvement. While the war itself still lingered on, and renewed
it, both inside and outside of the armed forces, can still point to
ways in which we can resist and undermine capitalist war.

Harass The Brass is also available at
The Olive-Drab Rebels is also available at
Other texts and information on opposition to war can be found at
1 Colonel Robert D. Heinl, The Collapse of the Armed Forces, North
American Newspaper Alliance, Armed Forces Journal, 7 June,
2 Gilles Dauvé, When Insurrections Die, Antagonism Press, 2000,
3 Vietnam-era term for the killing of officers by their men, often
with grenades.
4 Gabriel Kolko. Iraq, the United States and the End of the European
Antagonism Press, 2003
Harass the Brass
Some notes toward the subversion of the US armed forces
By Kevin Keating

Let’s rename ‘Fleet Week’ Mutiny Week!
‘Fleet Week’ is an annual event in San Francisco, held over a four
or five day period every September. Ships of the US Navy sail into
port, and a team of the Navy’s ‘Blue Angels’ stunt fighter aircraft
pretends to strafe the city. No wonder they call San Francisco
Thousands of young enlisted people from the visiting ships
flood SF’s tourist traps in North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf.

What follows is the latest and longest version of a leaflet
distributed to them on three or four occasions since 1985:
A friend who was in the U.S. military during the 1990-91 Persian
Gulf War told me that before President G.H.W. Bush visited the
troops in Saudi Arabia, enlisted men and women who would be in
Bush’s immediate vicinity had their rifle and pistol ammunition
taken away from them. This was supposedly done to avoid
“accidents.” But it was also clear to people on the scene that Bush
and his corporate handlers were somewhat afraid of the enlisted
people who Bush would soon be killing in his unsuccessful reelection campaign.

The suppressed history of the last big U.S. war before ‘Operation
Desert Storm’ shows that the Commander-in-Chief had good
reason to fear and distrust his troops. Our rulers want us to forget
what happened during the Vietnam War – especially what
happened inside the U.S. armed forces during the war. Our rulers
remember it all too well. They want us to forget what defeated
their war effort, and the importance of resistance to the war by
enlisted men and women.

In the early years of the seventies the organizing collectives at
most bases also felt the dramatic impact of the women’s
movement. The most immediate effect was intense internal
struggle over male domination on both the personal and
organizational levels. The more long-term effect was the reevaluation by many women of the work they had been doing in
previous years, and this frequently led to a decision to begin to
orient toward organizing other women. In the military situation
this meant organizing women in uniform and women who were

Most of the initial work focused on women in uniform. Women
enlist for many of the same economic reasons which motivate
men; the military seems to offer a secure job with “travel”
opportunities and a certain level of respect. As well, many
working class women find that upon leaving high school they
have a choice of either remaining at home or getting married, and
the military seems like a convenient escape from that trap.
Consequently, enlistments are high. Organizing efforts by
collectives of women occurred at both Fort McClellan and Fort
Bragg, but in both situations it was found to be very difficult to
organize WACs. The level of discontent was not high; in fact, 70%
of first term recruits re-enlist.

In addition, gay WACs were found
to feel that the infantry offered them a fairly secure community of
gay women, free from the general harassment in civilian society
consequently they were reluctant to risk discharge for political
activity. While individual WACs did relate strongly to developing
women’s consciousness, their acts of resistance remained
individual and isolated. The women at Fort Bragg concluded, “It
is our feeling that there will not be a mass movement among

There was more success in organizing women who were
dependents of men in the military, particularly wives of GIs. They
were in the position of following their husbands around from base
to base, living in poor housing, and being forced to exist on
meager military salaries.

The lives of these families were often
financially very tight; in fact, a study done by thee government in
1970 found that the families of 50,000 servicemen were existing
below the “poverty line.” These women were consequently often
receptive to anti-military actions, were mobilized in a number of
fear of the UCMJ play a part in the lack of organization. On Fort
Hood, which is mostly Vietnam returnees, the majority of GIs hate
the Army with a passion, but won’t move against it for those
reasons. So, the GI movement today consists basically of fragging,
shamming, individual defiance, and sporadic mutinies and
demonstrations. Anything and everything short of ongoing

The Fort Hood account fairly accurately describes the situation
at most Army and Marine Corps bases in this period. It was
understood that the war was evaporating as an issue, and most
organizers were shifting to issues that related directly to class
oppression at home. A GI group at Fort Hood called the GI
Summer Offensive Committee chose to concentrate on a boycott
of Tyrell’s Jewelers, a national chain of rip-off jewelry stores
which specialized in selling cheap jewelry to GIs for the “wife,
sweetheart, or mother” back home.

The chain featured a “Vietnam
Honor Role” listing all the GIs who had been killed while still
owing Tyrell’s money; the chain magnanimously absolved their
debts. The boycott effort found a responsive note on Fort Hood
and mobilized large picket lines and demonstrations. The boycott
then spread to other bases and forced a number of local Tyrell’s to
alter their business practices. But while this action did succeed in
helping to create an organization at Fort Hood, at the conclusion
of the boycott the old contradictions re-surfaced and the
organization slowly disappeared.

Some of the same problems faced organizers at Navy and Air
Force bases. While those dealing with the attack carriers faced an
explosive situation, the remainder of the Navy and Air Force
exhibited only scattered resistance in this period. There was some
positive work. Papers were begun and continued at many bases,
and at Newport Naval Station on-board organizing occurred on a
ship about to make a “goodwill” tour of Portuguese colonies in
Africa. But this work rarely resulted in either mass actions or
direct impact on the war.

When a major offensive was launched
by the North Vietnamese and the NLF in the spring of 1972 and
the collapse of the Saigon forces seemed a realistic possibility, the
U.S. was able to carry through a tremendous mobilization of air
and sea power without any significant difficulties from the ranks,
a task which would have been unthinkable in the Army.

Until 1968 the desertion rate for U.S. troops in Vietnam was
lower than in previous wars. But by 1969 the desertion rate had
increased fourfold. This wasn’t limited to Southeast Asia;
desertion rates among GIs were on the increase worldwide.

soldiers in the combat zone, insubordination became an important
part of avoiding horrible injury or death. As early as mid-1969, an
entire company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade sat down on
the battlefield. Later that year, a rifle company from the famed 1st
Air Cavalry Division flatly refused – on CBS TV – to advance
down a dangerous trail. In the following 12 months the 1st Air
Cav. notched up 35 combat refusals.

From mild forms of political protest and disobedience of war
orders, the resistance among the ground troops grew into a
massive and widespread “quasi-mutiny” by 1970 and 1971.
Soldiers went on “search and avoid” missions, intentionally
skirting clashes with the Vietnamese, and often holding three-daylong pot parties instead of fighting.
By 1970, the U.S. Army had 65,643 deserters, roughly the
equivalent of four infantry divisions.

In an article published in the
Armed Forces Journal (June 7, 1971), Marine Colonel Robert D.
Heinl Jr., a veteran combat commander with over 27 years
experience in the Marines, and the author of Soldiers Of The Sea, a
definitive history of the Marine Corps, wrote: “By every
conceivable indicator, our army that remains in Vietnam is in a
state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or
having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers…Sedition, coupled with disaffection from
within the ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and
intensity previously inconceivable, infest the Armed Services…”
Heinl cited a New York Times article which quoted an enlisted man
saying, “The American garrisons on the larger bases are virtually
disarmed. The lifers have taken our weapons away…there have
also been quite a few frag incidents in the battalion.”
“Frag incidents” or “fragging” was soldier slang in Vietnam for
the killing of strict, unpopular and aggressive officers and NCO’s.

The word apparently originated from enlisted men using
fragmentation grenades to off commanders. Heinl wrote,
“Bounties, raised by common subscription in amounts running
anywhere from $50 to $1,000, have been widely reported put on
the heads of leaders who the privates and SP4s want to rub out.
“Shortly after the costly assault on Hamburger Hill in mid-1969,
the GI underground newspaper in Vietnam, GI Says, publicly
offered a $10,000 bounty on Lieutenant Colonel Weldon
Hunnicutt, the officer who ordered and led the attack.

“The Pentagon has now disclosed that fraggings in 1970 (209
killings) have more than doubled those of the previous year (96
killings). Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop
movies or in bivouacs of certain units.” Congressional hearings
on fraggings held in 1973 estimated that roughly 3% of officer and
non-com deaths in Vietnam between 1961 and 1972 were a result
of fraggings. But these figures were only for killings committed
with grenades, and didn’t include officer deaths from automatic
weapons fire, handguns and knifings. The Army’s Judge
Advocate General’s Corps estimated that only 10% of fragging
attempts resulted in anyone going to trial. In the America l
Division, plagued by poor morale, fraggings during 1971 were
estimated to be running around one a week. War equipment was
frequently sabotaged and destroyed.

By 1972 roughly 300 anti-war and anti-military newspapers,
with names like Harass the Brass, All Hands Abandon Ship and Star
Spangled Bummer had been put out by enlisted people. “In
Vietnam,” wrote the Ft. Lewis-McCord Free Press, “The Lifers, the
Brass, are the true enemy…” Riots and anti-war demonstrations
took place on bases in Asia, Europe and in the United States. By
the early 1970s the government had to begin pulling out of the
ground war and switching to an “air war,” in part because many
of the ground troops who were supposed to do the fighting were
hamstringing the world’s mightiest military force by their
sabotage and resistance.

With the shifting over to an “air war” strategy, the Navy became
an important centre of resistance to the war. In response to the
racism that prevailed inside the Navy, black and white sailors
occasionally rebelled together. The most significant of these
rebellions took place on board the USS Constellation off Southern
California, in November 1972. In response to a threat of less-than honourable discharges against several black sailors, a group of
over 100 black and white sailors staged a day-and-a-half long sit in. Fearful of losing control of his ship at sea to full-scale mutiny,1,000 men had signed it.

Out of this grew an on-ship organization
called “Stop Our Ship” (SOS). The men engaged in a series of
demonstrations to halt their sailing date, and on November 6 over
300 men from the ship led the fall anti-war march in San
Francisco, Their effort to stop the ship failed, and a number of
men jumped ship as the Coral Sea left for Vietnam. But the SOS
movement spread to other attack carriers, including the USS
Constellation, the USS Hancock, and the USS Ranger.

The Navy continued to be racked by political organizing and
severe racial unrest. In June of 1972 the USS Ranger was disabled
by sabotage, and in October both the USS Kittyhawk and the USS
Hassayampa were swept by fighting. In November of that same
year the USS Constellation was damaged by sabotage, docked to
repair the damage, and was confronted with 130 crewmen
refusing direct orders to return aboard. Though the impact of
these actions only slightly impeded the war effort, they helped to
maintain a constant pressure on the Administration to withdraw
the military from the disaster of the Indochina war.

The changing nature of the war forced the existing elements of
the GI movement to re-evaluate their work. Most of the projects
dealing with ground forces, the Army and Marine Corps, found
that stateside bases were filled with disaffected, angry GIs. Yet the
ground war was “officially” over, and the sense of urgency had
left the movement.

The result was contradictory impulses among
rank and file soldiers; a feeling of anger tempered by the sense
that it was no longer worth the risk to fight back, that the easiest
road was waiting for discharge. The military authorities in their
turn sped up discharges, offered a series of early outs, and moved
to clear stateside bases of Vietnam vets. The anger continued to
lead to sporadic acts of resistance, but it was rarely channeled into
sustained organizing work.

Organizers at Fort Hood, attempting to analyze this situation,
wrote, “The three main elements of the GI movement, as we see it,
are 1) a high degree of militancy 2) a high degree of apathy and 3)
almost a complete lack of organization. The first two may seem
contradictory, but in reality they aren’t. One can be ultra-militant
in your hatred of the brass while being completely apathetic to the
prospect of change.” Dealing with the question of organization
they wrote, “

The transitory nature of the military and the deep
increased use of air power meant not only that more pilots were
flying through anti-aircraft fire to bomb thee Vietnamese, it also
meant that tens of thousands of low ranking GIs were needed as
back-up troops to service and maintain the squadrons of fighterbombers. These men were predominantly third world and white
working class youth who had enlisted in the Air Force or the
Navy mostly because they wanted to escape being in the Army.
There was widespread anti-war feeling among these crews, but
(heir resistance differed from the resistance of Army GIs In some
critical ways.

First, they were not in the direct line of fire, they
neither killed nor risked being killed, and consequently they had
less motivation to rebel than did ground troops. The killing and
the dying was done by the pilots, who were all officers and who
tended to see themselves as “professionals.” Second, because the
support crews were not involved directly with combat, their
resistance did not affect the war in an immediate way. But they
were far from powerless.

The primary resistance which developed in this period was
among crews on Navy attack carriers directly involved in the
bombing. While there was dissidence and some political
organizing among Air Force personnel and in other cm lions of
the Navy, it was where the support crews most directly touched
the war that resistance flared. Probably the most dramatic incident
occurred aboard the Navy attack carrier USS Coral Sea in the fall
of 1971. The Coral Sea was docked in California while it prepared
for a tour of bombing duty off the coast of Vietnam. On board was
a crew of 4,500 men, a few hundred of whom were pilots, the rest
being support crews. A handful of men on the ship began
circulating a petition which read in part, “We the people must
guide the government and not allow the government to guide us!

The Coral Sea is scheduled for Vietnam in November. This does
not have to be a fact. The ship can be prevented from taking an
active part in the conflict if we the majority voice our opinion that
we do not believe in the Vietnam War. If you feel that the Coral
Sea should not go to Vietnam, voice your opinion by signing this

Though the petition had to be circulated secretly, and though
men took a calculated risk putting their name down on something
which the brass might eventually see, within a few weeks over
the ship’s commander brought the Constellation back to San
Diego. One hundred thirty-two sailors were allowed to go
ashore. They refused orders to reboard the ship several days later,
staging a defiant dockside strike on the morning of November 9.

In spite of the seriousness of the rebellion, not one of the sailors
involved was arrested.
Sabotage was an extremely useful tactic. On May 26, 1970, the
USS Anderson was preparing to steam from San Diego to
Vietnam. But someone had dropped nuts, bolts and chains down
the main gear shaft. A major breakdown occurred, resulting in
thousands of dollars worth of damage and a delay of several
weeks. Several sailors were charged, but because of a lack of
evidence the case was dismissed.

With the escalation of naval
involvement in the war the level of sabotage grew. In July of 1972,
within the space of three weeks, two of the Navy’s aircraft carriers
were put out of commission by sabotage. On July 10, a massive
fire swept through the admiral’s quarters and radar centre of the
USS Forestall, causing over $7 million in damage. This delayed
the ship’s deployment for over two months.

In late July, the USS Ranger was docked at Alameda, California.
Just days before the ship’s scheduled departure for Vietnam, a
paint-scraper and two 12-inch bolts were inserted into the
number-four-engine reduction gears causing nearly $1 million in
damage and forcing a three-and-a-half month delay in operations
for extensive repairs. The sailor charged in the case was
acquitted. In other cases, sailors tossed equipment over the sides
of ships while at sea.

The House Armed Services Committee summed up the crisis of
rebellion in the Navy: “The U.S. Navy is now confronted with
pressures…which, if not controlled, will surely destroy its enviable
tradition of discipline. Recent instances of sabotage, riot, wilful
disobedience of orders, and contempt for authority…are clear-cut
symptoms of a dangerous deterioration of discipline.”

rebellion in the ranks didn’t emerge simply in response to
battlefield conditions. A civilian anti-war movement in the U.S.
had emerged on the coat tails of the civil rights movement, at a
time when the pacifism-at-any-price tactics of civil rights leaders
had reached their effective limit, and were being questioned by a
younger, combative generation. Working class blacks and Latinos
served in combat units out of all proportion to their numbers in
American society, and major urban riots in Watts, Detroit and
Newark had an explosive effect on the consciousness of these

After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. major riots
erupted in 181 U.S. cities; at that point the rulers of the United
States were facing the gravest national crisis since the Civil War.
And the radical movement of the late 1960’s wasn’t limited to the
United States. Large-scale rebellion was breaking out all over the
world, in Latin American and Europe and Africa, and even
against the Maoists in China; its high point was the wildcat
general strike that shut down France in May, 1968, the last time a
major industrialised democracy came close to social revolution.

The crisis that racked American society during the Vietnam War
was a grave development in the life of what had been a very
stable and conservative society, but it wasn’t profound enough to
create an irreparable rupture between the rulers and the ruled. In
the early 1970’s, the U.S. was still coasting on the relative
prosperity of the post-World War Two economic boom. Social
conditions faced by working people in the U.S. weren’t anywhere
near as overwhelming and unbearable as they are now. U.S.
involvement in a protracted ground war in Iraq today or
Columbia tomorrow could have a much more rapid explosive
impact on American society.

A number of years ago, in a deceitful article in Mother Jones
magazine, corporate liberal historian Todd Gitlin claimed that the
peaceful and legal aspects of the 1960’s U.S. anti-war movement
had been the most successful opposition to a war in history.
Gitlin was dead wrong; as a bourgeois historian, Gitlin is paid to
render service unto capital by getting it wrong, and get it wrong
he does, again and again.

The most effective “anti-war”
movement in history was at the end of World War One, when
proletarian revolutions broke out in Russia, Germany and
throughout Central Europe in 1917 and 1918. A crucial factor in
the revolutionary movement of that time was the collapse of the
armies and navies of Russian and Germany in full-scale armed
mutiny. After several years of war and millions of casualties the
soldiers and sailors of opposing nations began to fraternise with
each other, turned their guns against their commanding officers
and went home to fight against the ruling classes that had sent
these transformations the military leadership hoped to back off
from its disaster.

A Changing War, A Changing Movement
The years from 1970 to 1972 marked the almost total collapse of
the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Drug use became virtually epidemic,
with an estimated 80% of the troops in Vietnam using some form
of drug. Sometime in mid-1970 huge quantities of heroin were
dumped on the black market, and GIs were receptive to its
enveloping high. By the end of 1971 over 30% of the combat
troops were on smack. Fraggings continued to rise, from 271 in
1970 to 425 in 1971; one division alone, the “elite” Americal
Division, averaged one fragging a week. Search-and-evade and
combat refusals were widespread. In a sense, the Army virtually
ground to a halt. One newsman wrote in early ‘71, “Since the end
of the Cambodian operation last June, the United States Army in
Vietnam has fought no major actions, launched no significant
operations, captured no territory and added no battle honors to its
regimental flags.

In this same period, the army has abandoned at
least one base under enemy fire and suffered most of its losses
from accidents and booby traps.” One top-ranking officer was
moved to lament, “Vietnam has become a poison in the veins of
the U.S. Army.”

Troops sent to Vietnam in the early seventies had good reason to
avoid combat. Not only were they in a war almost no one believed
in any more, but they were shipped over long after the
Administration claimed to be withdrawing. There didn’t seem to
be any reason to risk being killed. At the same time, the States
were being flooded with Nam vets back from the fiercest years of
fighting, and their disillusionment was plainly evident at every
stateside base. Dope and disrespect were everywhere, and the
desertion rate was still climbing, reaching 62.6 per thousand in
1971, Many of these vets connected with the ongoing organizing
projects; within a week after the 173rd Airborne was shipped hack
to Fort Campbell over 300 GIs from its ranks participated in a
local anti-war march.

Though the ground troops were gradually coming home, for
some elements of the U. S. military the war was escalating. The
and the growth of GI resistance all played a part. The key factor
was that political GIs continued to be dangerous in the stockades,
and after numerous stockade rebellions the military often chose to
discharge dissidents and get rid of them all together.

The repression on civilians was not as severe. One of the first
moves against the coffeehouses was the effort to place the Shelter
Half at Fort Lewis off-limits to GIs, but this required a legal
hearing. When GI protest and media coverage were mobilized, the
military backed down and simply cancelled the hearing. The
campaign against the coffeehouses then took a less direct form,
usually carried out by local civilian authorities. The UFO at Fort
Jackson was busted for being a “public nuisance,” and the
coffeehouse at Fort Knox was simply driven out of town. But
though this harassment was costly, it never effectively disrupted
the functioning of the organizing projects. What is significant is
that the federal authorities never moved against the civilians

There is a federal statute, 18 USC 2387, which prohibits
“all manner of activities (incitements, counseling, distribution or
preparation of literature) intended to subvert the loyalty, morale,
or discipline of the Armed Services,” and carries a penalty of ten
years in prison. But while hundreds of civilians openly violated
this law, none were ever arrested. The unpopularity of the war,
the spontaneous nature of GI resistance, and the general desire on
the part of the Pentagon to avoid publicizing this resistance
probably all contributed to the decision by federal authorities to
withdraw from direct confrontation with the civilian organizers.

The new strategy developed by the Pentagon involved a
strategic change in the nature of the war and a cosmetic change in
the nature of the military. The ground war was going badly, the
American public was distressed over high casualties, and the
Administration reasoned that it could fight just as effectively from
the air. The ground troops would be replaced through the
program of “Vietnamization.” So, the central cause of the
military’s decay was to be gradually relieved as ground troops
were withdrawn from the fighting and the new phase of air war
was initiated. In addition, a new image was developed for the
Army, de-emphasizing discipline and attempting to relate to black
pride and the new youth consciousness.

This was seen as the first
step toward the development of a volunteer service. Through
them off to war. The war ended with a global cycle of mutinies
mirroring the social unrest spreading across the capitalist world;
some of the most powerful regimes on Earth were quickly toppled
and destroyed.

Soldiers and sailors played a leading role in the revolutionary
movement. The naval bases Kronstadt in Russia and Kiel and
Wilhelmshaven in Germany became important centres of
revolutionary self-organisation and action, and the passing of vast
numbers of armed soldiers and sailors to the side of the Soviets
allowed the working class to briefly take power in Russia.

French invasion of Revolutionary Russia in 1919 and 1920 was
crippled by the mutiny of the French fleet in the Black Sea, centred
around the battleships France and the Jean Bart. Mutinies broke
out among sailors in the British Navy and in the armies of the
British Empire in Asia, and even among American troops sent to
aid the counter-revolutionary White Army in the Russian Civil
War. Revolutionary unrest doesn’t happen every day, but when it
does break out, it can overcome the most powerful states with a
surprising and improbable speed, and the collapse of the
repressive forces of the state is a key moment in the beginning of a
new way of life.

It’s an ugly fact that war and revolution were intimately linked
in the most far-going social movements of the 20th century. With
the U.S. governments’ self-appointed role as the cop for global
capitalist law and order, it’s likely that the crisis that will cause an
irreparable break between the rulers and the ruled in the United
States will be the result of an unsuccessful war.

That day may
soon be upon us. At that point, widespread fraternisation
between anti-capitalist radicals and enlisted people will be crucial
in expanding an anti-war movement into a larger opposition to
the system of wage labour and commodity production that
generates wars, exploitation, poverty, inequality and ecological
An examination of what happened to the U.S. military during
the Vietnam War can help us see the central role “the military
question” is going to play in a revolutionary mass movement in
the 21st century.

It isn’t a question of how a chaotic and rebellious
civilian populace can out-gun the well-organised, disciplined
armies of the capitalist state in pitched battle, but of how a mass movement can cripple the effective fighting capacity of the
military from within, and bring about the collapse and dispersal
of the state’s armed forces. What set of circumstances can compel
the inchoate discontentment endemic in any wartime army or
navy to advance to the level of conscious, organised resistance?

How fast and how deeply can a subversive consciousness spread
among enlisted people? How can rebels in uniform take effective,
large-scale action against the military machine? This effort will
involve the sabotage and destruction of sophisticated military
technologies, an irreversible breakdown in the chain-of-command,
and a terminal demoralisation of the officer corps. The “quasimutiny” that helped defeat the U.S. in Vietnam offers a significant
precedent for the kind of subversive action working people will
have to foment against 21st century global capitalism and its hightech military machine.

As rampaging market forces trash living conditions for the
majority of the world’s people, working class troops will do the
fighting in counter-insurgency actions against other working class
people. War games several years ago by the Marines in a defunct
housing project in Oakland, California, dubbed ‘Operation Urban
Warrior,’ highlight the fact that America’s rulers want their
military to be prepared to suppress the domestic fallout from their
actions, and be ready to do it soon.

But as previous waves of
global unrest have shown, the forces that give rise to mass
rebellion in one area of the globe will simultaneously give rise to
rebellion in other parts of the world. The armed forces are
vulnerable to social forces at work in the larger society that
spawns them. Revolt in civilian society bleeds through the fabric
of the military into the ranks of enlisted people. The relationship
between officers and enlisted people mirrors the relationship
between bosses and employees, and similar dynamics of class
conflict emerge in the military and civilian versions of the

The military is never a hermetically sealed
organisation. Our rulers know all this. Our rulers know that they
are vulnerable to mass resistance, and they know that their wealth
and power can be collapsed from within by the working class
women and men whom they depend on. We need to know it,
too. stockade rebellions, and resistance to riot control, they did not
relate in large numbers to putting out newspapers and doing
agitational work. The consciousness of the mass of black GIs was
generally higher than the consciousness of white GIs, which
meant that the need for sustained agitational work was higher
among whites. Consequently, black GIs participated heavily in
group actions, while it was white GIs who developed agitational
forms to reach their less politicized brothers.

The organized GI movement was primarily a stateside
phenomenon, but there was also a strong pocket of resistance
among U.S. troops stationed in Germany. Dope use was
staggeringly high here, black consciousness was very developed,
and spontaneous rebellions erupted periodically. Germany was
often a transit point for GIs going to or coming back from
Vietnam, and this added a direct consciousness of the war to the
turmoil. Various papers were published in Germany, including a
widely circulated GI paper with avowedly socialist politics, THE
NEXT STEP. And at times mass actions were organized, one of the
strongest being an anti-racism rally in Heidelberg in 1970, which
drew over 1,000 GIs.

The military leadership was thus faced with the widespread
breakdown of its authority, a deteriorating fighting force in
Vietnam, and political dissidence throughout its ranks. Its
response was twofold; more repression, and the development of a
strategic approach to the problem. The repression was most
intense on individual GIs. Pvt., Gypsey Peterson, who had helped
create the FATIGUE PRESS at Fort Hood, was sentenced to eight
years at hard labor for possession of an amount of grass so small it
“disappeared” during analysis.

Two black marines, William
Harvey and George Daniels, were sentenced to six and ten years
at hard labor for rapping against the war in their barracks.
Privates Dam Amick and Ken Stolte were sentenced to four years
for distributing a leaflet on Ford Ord. Pvt. Theoda Lester was
sentenced to three years for refusing to cut his Afro. And Pvt.
Wade Carson was sentenced to six months for “intention” to
distribute FED-UP on Fort Lewis. The pattern was widespread
and the message was clear-the brass was not about to tolerate
political dissent in its ranks.

But a number of factors helped to
weaken this repressive power. Media coverage, public protest,
national demonstrations were called for Armed Forces Day, a
radical GI at Fort Ord had to relate, “May 16, 1970 was a Saturday,
and there was a huge gathering outside the gates of Ford Ord, but
neither I nor any other GIs could participate, because the
commanding general had ordered everyone to work all day
Saturday, until the demonstration was over.” While scattered GIs
often went AWOL to participate, it was not possible to sustain
mass GI participation in these marches. The power of the military
authorities was simply too limitless.

This often led to a reconsideration of attempts to organize on
base, and a new strategy was developed. Rather than
concentrating on large base-wide actions, an effort was made to
concentrate on localized, unit organizing. This meant that radical
GIs, who were working on a base-wide paper and relating to an
off-base storefront, would also attempt to create an organized
group in their barracks. These groups would put out small,
mimeographed unit newspapers, like SPD NEWS or FIRST OF
THE WORST, struggle against immediate forms of harassment,
and occasionally submit group Article 138 complaints against a
particularly oppressive officer. Because they dealt with immediate
local issues, these unit organizations were frequently able to effect
some genuine changes.

In addition, these unit groups could raise
conceptually the issue of power in the military. For example, the
FTA program written at Fort Knox, which first described the class
nature of society and pointed toward the goal of socialism, went
on to state, “We know that to achieve these goals will take a long
fight. To begin to implement this program we intend to build our
own democratic organizations within our units which serve our
own interests, to protect us now from our present leaders, and
later to replace the existing organization of the military.”

this goal was far beyond what was realistic in this period, it was
useful as a method of describing a possible transition to power.
Throughout this period, the GIs who related most directly to the
organized forms of the GI movement tended to be white working
class Vietnam vets. Racism clearly played a role in preventing
solidarity between white and third world GIs. But the primary
reason it tended to be overwhelmingly white had to do with the
nature of the organizing. While black GIs were frequently in the
forefront of spontaneous confrontations, such as combat refusals,

Much of the information for this article has been taken from the
book Soldiers in Revolt: The American Military Today, by David
Cortright, published by Anchor/Doubleday in 1975.
Readers should please send copies of this article to any enlisted people
they know.

An American soldier in a hospital explained how he was
wounded: He said, “I was told that the way to tell a hostile
Vietnamese from a friendly Vietnamese was to shout ‘To hell with
Ho Chi Minh!’ If he shoots, he’s unfriendly. So I saw this dude
and yelled ‘To hell with Ho Chi Minh!’ and he yelled back, ‘To
hell with President Johnson!’ We were shaking hands when a
truck hit us.”
(from 1,001 Ways to Beat the Draft, by Tuli Kupferburg).
A few far-sighted individuals among the U.S. political elite
apparently fear that U.S. involvement in a ground war could
trigger large-scale domestic unrest.
According to the U.S. magazine Newsweek, at a meeting in the
White House during President Clinton’s intervention in the
Balkans, a heated exchange took place between Madeleine
Albright, then ambassador to the United Nations, and then
National Security Adviser Colin Powell.

Newsweek gives the following confusing and semi-coherent
“…Powell steadfastly resisted American involvement. He initially
opposed even air drops of food, fearing that these would fail and
that U.S. Army ground troops would inevitably be sucked in. His
civilian bosses, who suspected him of padding the numbers when
asked how many U.S. troops would be required, grew impatient.
At one meeting, Madeleine Albright, then ambassador to the
United Nations, famously confronted Powell. “What’s the point
of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if
we can’t use it?” she demanded. In his memoirs, Powell recalled
that he told Albright that GIs were “not toy soldiers to be moved
around on some sort of global game board.”

An official who witnessed the exchange told NEWSWEEK that
Powell also said something quite revealing that has not been
reported. “You would see this wonderful society destroyed,” the
general angrily told Albright. It was clear, said this official, that
Powell was referring to his beloved Army.”

(“Colin Powell: Behind the Myth,” by Evan Thomas and John Berry,
Newsweek, March 5th, 2001)
Colin Powell was a junior officer in the fragging-plagued
America l Division during the Vietnam War. On numerous
occasions, Powell has said that the US defeat in Vietnam was the
main influence on the way he sees the world. Powell clearly
understands that the armed forces are a function of the larger
civilian society that spawns them.

Was Colin Powell speaking about the US Army — or about US
society itself with his comment about seeing “this wonderful
society destroyed?” You be the judge!
between the classes. Similar dilemmas have confronted the left
whenever it has attempted to change its class base.

Despite these internal struggles, the high degree of transience
among GIs, and the pervasive power of the brass, the overriding
intensity of the war ensured that the work continued. Since the
high level of risk limited what actions could be undertaken,
newspapers were the most realistic form of political expression.
Attempts were made, however, to find forms for a higher level of
struggle. At first this involved attempts to find a way to achieve
base-wide actions. Sick call strikes were organized at Fort Knox
early in the war and later at Fort Lewis. Soldiers cannot legally go
on strike, but military regulations supposedly guarantee them the
right to go on sick call, so if masses of GIs went on sick call on the
same day it would in effect create a strike situation. But such
efforts had to be publicized well In advance, and the brass
resorted to intimidation, harassment, and outright refusal of the
sick call privilege to crush these strikes. The attempt at Fort Knox
resulted in failure, though at Fort Lewis it had a moderate impact,
with up to 30% of the base trying to go on sick call.

Attempts were also made to hold meetings on base, partly due
to the example of the GIs United meeting at Fort Jackson, but
these meetings were extremely vulnerable. In October of 1969 an
effort was made to hold a meeting at a service club at Fort Lewis,
but an agent had infiltrated the group which called the meeting,
and soon after it began it was raided by the MPs. Thirty-five GIs
were picked up and placed on restriction. Though formal charges
were never brought against these men, in the following months
almost all of them were either transferred, shipped to Vietnam,
discharged, or simply busted on other charges.

Since it seemed that on-base activities were too risky, attempts
were made to mobilize massive numbers of GIs for off-base
actions. These were at times successful. Frequently, efforts were
made to mobilize GI participation in civilian peace
demonstrations. A series of marches outside Fort Hood and Fort
Bragg and in cities like San Francisco were participated in by
hundreds of GIs, and in December of 1969 almost 1,000 marines
participated in an anti-war march in Oceanside, California. But
the military was able to stifle this expression of resistance, largely
by placing whole units or entire bases on restriction.

Thus, whenrebellion if not with the revolution.” It was generally through
these papers that the mass of discontented GIs were exposed to a
sense of solidarity with other GIs and some level of political
analysis of their situation. While the number of GIs who created
these papers might total in the hundreds, the number who helped
distribute them numbered in the thousands and the number who
read them and related to them numbered in the tens of thousands.
Relations between GIs and civilians on the projects took many
forms. On the one hand, civilians provided some essential
functions, could keep the places running and do legal and
organizational work while guys were on base, and generally
provide contacts and resources from the world of the movement.

These contributions were valued by GIs. But civilians clearly
didn’t share the same experiences or the same risks, and this at
times led to conflict. Most projects experienced an ebb and flow of
conflict and unity. A large degree of the conflict occurred because
of civilian proficiency at certain tasks, which at times led to their
domination. As one organizer expressed it, “People assume power
depending on how priorities are defined and what skills are
valued. If skills that only educated people have, such as speaking
eloquently, laying out newspapers, gathering literature for a
bookstore, legal assistance, etc. are rewarded, then people who
don’t have those skills become intimidated, feel useless, and do
basically what they do in society at large-they withdraw and fuck

The problem was not simply a civilian-GI dichotomy. One
organizer at Fort Lewis wrote, “Often, the problem was much
more blatantly one of classism, that is that the middle-upper class
people would dominate the meetings and directions, with the
lower class people doing most of the work. The way the problem
looks is that the civilians dominated no more and no less, on the
whole, than middle class educated GIs.” But there were few
middle class educated GIs in the movement; the general situation
was that the bulk of the GI dissidents were blue collar working
class youth, while most of the civilian organizers were middle
class. A positive situation, in that it was a meeting between the
middle class left and the working class, but it was a constant
struggle to overcome the inherent roles established in relations

Olive-Drab Rebels
Military Organizing During the Vietnam Era
By Matthew Rinaldi
Taken from Radical America Vol.8 No.3 1974

The morale, discipline, and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces
are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in
this century and possibly in the history of the United States. By every
conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a
state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having
refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers,
drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous. Elsewhere than
Vietnam, the situation is nearly as serious.”

So wrote Col. Robert D. Heinl in June of 1971. In an article
entitled “The Collapse of the Armed Forces,” written for the eyes
of the military leadership and published in the Armed Forces
Journal, Heinl also stated, “Sedition, coupled with disaffection
within the ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and
intensity previously inconceivable, infests the Armed Services.”
This frank statement accurately reflects the tremendous upheaval
which occurred among rank and file GIs during the era of the
Vietnam War. Covered up whenever possible and frequently
denied by the military brass, this upheaval was nevertheless a
significant factor in the termination of the ground war, and helped
to imbue a generation of working class youth with a deep-rooted
contempt for America’s authority structure.

Military morale was considered high before the war began. In
fact, the pre-Vietnam Army was considered the best the United
States had ever put into the field. Consequently, the military hig
command was taken quite by surprise by the rapid disintegration
of the very foundations of their power. But the brass were not
alone in their surprise; the American left was equally unprepared
for the sudden appearance of rebelliousness among GIs. The left
had only recently emerged from the highly polarized years of the
civil rights movement, and was still permeated with a
consciousness that distrusted whites in general and working class
whites in particular. As a consequence, in the early years of the
war the general attitude of the left was that whites were rednecks
and were somehow personally implicated in the continuation of
the war.

The class composition of the American left, particularly of its
ruling segments, played a significant role in separating it from the
realities of the GI experience. When the war in Vietnam first
became an issue, early in 1963, the primary base for organized
anti-war sentiment was the intellectual community and the
middle class. As American presence reached major proportions in
1964 and 1965, the anti-war movement solidified its strength in
the middle class but had little impact on the blue-collar working
class. As a consequence, the movement developed primarily
middle class forms of resistance, which meant that there was
heavy emphasis on draft resistance and draft counseling. While
actual resistance only reached minor proportions, draft counseling
and effective methods of draft evasion saved the majority of white
middle class youth from the U.S. military.

Simultaneously, there were economic factors molding the
composition of the armed forces. Middle class youth could afford
college and looked toward professional careers, while working
class youth were systematically channeled into the military.
Though the draft claimed a high number, a large percentage also
enlisted, since job opportunities were limited and the military
seemed to be inevitable after high school. In addition, the court
system continued to offer “voluntary enlistment” as an alternative
to a couple of years in jail, and many guys thought at the time that
it was a good offer. As a result of these factors, the Armed Forces
were quite efficiently filling their ranks with third world and
white working class youth.

The image these youth had of life in the military was shattered
quite rapidly by the harsh reality they faced.
around to rap with some people and perhaps read an anti-war
paper, and generally got exposed to left-wing politics. The service
was permeated with an FTA (“Fuck The Army”) consciousness,
and many GIs felt so mind-blown by their recent experiences that
they were actively seeking a new way to understand the world
around them. Consequently, they were open to heavy raps about
the war, imperialism, and the class nature of society. A certain
number of GIs who came around reached a point where they
wanted to participate in direct political work, and they plugged
into various activities. The most common form was the creation of
a GI newspaper. While some of these papers developed
spontaneously at certain bases, the overwhelming majority were
begun through joint work by GIs and civilians.

These papers were the most visible and consistent aspect of the
GI movement. Starting with early papers like FTA at Fort Knox
and FATIGUE PRESS at Fort Hood, local papers mushroomed
around the country: SHAKEDOWN at Fort Dix, ATTITUDE
CHECK at Camp Pendleton, FED-UP at Fort Lewis, ALL HANDS
ABANDON SHIP at Newport Naval Station, THE LAST HARASS
at Fort Gordon, LEFT FACE at Fort McClellan, RAGE at Camp
Lejeune, THE STAR-SPANGLED BUMMER at Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base… the list could stretch to over a hundred different
papers. Their contents varied, from paper to paper and at times
from issue to issue, from local gripes and a basic anti-brass, antiwar, anti-racist consciousness to an understanding of the nature of
imperialism and attempts to move toward revolutionary
socialism. Some lasted for only a few issues, folding when the
guys putting it out were transferred or discharged. But most of
those connected with organizing projects came out consistently, if
sporadically, through the war years.

Generally, the papers were produced by small groups of GIs
who then received help from other guys in circulating them. It
was illegal to distribute on base, but nonetheless countless copies
were smuggled on and placed around the barracks, stuck in
bathrooms, casually left in lounge areas. A few found their way
into the stockades, often through sympathetic guards. A large
number were simply distributed in off-base towns, and were well

As one marine organizer put it, “Guys ask if the paper is
underground. If we reply yes, they take it. Guys identify with a
AFB organizer wrote later, “In practice, the WWP, YAWF, and
ASU put very little emphasis on ongoing, day-to-day organizing.
Instead, they rush in when things start happening, carrying lots of
posters, banners, etc., and attempt to assume the leadership.
Hopefully, a number of things will happen – the bourgeois media
will give them credit for what happened, and the ‘most advanced’
of the participants will join the vanguard. This hope is based on a
combination of an early Abbie Hoffman approach to the media
and an extremely mechanistic concept of Leninist party building.”

Thus the ASU, which was most promising in its conception, was
unable to fulfill its potential. Yet because it had a clear political
line and a national image, it was able to remain a consistent force.
A large reason for this was the lack of cohesive politics on the part
of many of the groups developing around the country. As the
same AFB organizer wrote, “One of the reasons the ASU has been
so frequently able to pose as something it is not is the failure of
those of us engaged in military organizing, and of the movement
in general, to come up with a consistent analysis of our own,
rather than a patchwork creation which passes for an analysis.
This shortcoming was specifically the reason AFB fell apart.”

The most consistent, and certainly the most heterogeneous, of
the attempts of the left to relate to GIs in this period centered
around the coffeehouse projects. By the height of the war there
were over twenty such projects, located at most major Army
bases, the two key Marine Corps bases, and scattered Navy and
Air Force installations. Staffed at first primarily by civilians, with
vets soon joining the staffs in increasing numbers, the
coffeehouses and storefronts reflected all the various forces which
existed within the movement.

There was never a cohesive,
national ideology guiding this work; rather, different project staffs
struggled out their orientation toward military organizing, some
projects achieving a unified direction, some projects remaining
scattered in their approach. As the war escalated, though, and as
discontent and anger swept the ranks of GIs, the majority of
coffeehouses abandoned the old orientation toward cultural
alienation and consciously set out to do direct political organizing.
The primary function of these projects was to provide off-base
meeting places for GIs. The majority of guys who came to these
storefronts were attracted by their anti-brass atmosphere, stuck

Those who had enlisted found that the promises made by
recruiters vanished into thin air once they were in boot camp.
Guarantees of special training and choice assignments were
simply swept away. This is a fairly standard procedure used to
snare enlistees. In fact, the military regulations state that only the
enlistee, not the military, is bound by the specifics of the recruiting
contract. In addition, both enlistees and draftees faced the daily
harassment, the brutal de-personalization, and ultimately the
dangers and meaninglessness of the endless ground war in
Vietnam. These pressures were particularly intense for third world GIs, most of whom were affected by the rising black
consciousness and a heightened awareness of their oppression.

These forces combined to produce the disintegration of the
Vietnam era military. This disintegration developed slowly, but
once it reached a general level it became epidemic in its
proportions. In its midst developed a conscious and organized
resistance, which both furthered the disintegration and attempted
to channel it in a political direction. The following will be an
attempt to chronicle the growth of GI resistance and to study the
attempts by the left to organize and intensify that resistance.
Early Resistance

In understanding the development of resistance within the
military it is important to focus on the organic connection between
the civilian political situation and the level of struggle within the
military. The fact that people pass through the military, that it is
clearly defined as a transitory situation, and that there are extreme
dangers involved in resisting leads to the fact that greater pressure
is required to bring about an upsurge among soldiers than is
required to bring about an upsurge among civilians.
Consequently, if pressures are developing within the society as a
whole, they will find expression first within the civilian world.
New recruits will then bring this outlook of developing upsurge
with them into the military.

This phenomenon developed during the Vietnam era. The early
years of the Vietnam War, up until 1966, were fairly quiet. While
there was protest against the war, this protest was still quite
isolated, and to the majority of Americans the war could still be
justified on the grounds of classical anti-communism. In addition,
the black liberation struggle had not yet reached the point where
it was affecting the consciousness of the mass of black youth,
while similarly the anti-authoritarian dope culture had not yet
reached widespread proportions among white youth.
Consequently, soldiers entered the military in this period with a
passive acceptance of the war and a predisposition to submit to
military authority.

At the same time, the mechanisms of internal control were
functioning at maximum efficiency within the armed forces.
Military personnel are deprived of the rights and protections of
the civilian constitutional legal system; instead they are subject to
the feudalistic laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice
(UCMJ). Under the UCMJ there is no trial by your peers. Rather,
rank and file GIs are tried by boards composed largely of officers
and NCOs. The attitude of these trial boards was accurately
reflected by an Admiral serving on the Twelfth Naval District
Court who commented, “Anyone sent up here for trial must be
guilty of something.” Under the circumstances it’s hardly
surprising that the military achieves convictions in 94% of its
court martials.

The ever-present fear which is used to control GIs is quite
consciously cultivated by the military. This is done partly by
creating a state in which you never know what the reaction will be
if you break a particular rule. Thus, at times minor infractions are
treated with very harsh punishment, while at other times they are
treated lightly. Major offenses are more likely to receive harsh
punishment, yet they can also result in simple discharge. It’s
totally unpredictable. The result is to keep GIs constantly off
balance, afraid to take the slightest move toward resistance
because there is no accurate way to judge the response of the

In a world where an authority has total control over
your life and seems to exercise this control in a completely
arbitrary manner, the safest course is to remain anonymous.
The years 1966 and 1967 saw the first acts of resistance among
GIs. Given the general passivity within the ranks and the tight
control exercised by the brass, these first acts required a clear
willingness for self-sacrifice.

For the most part they were initiated
were put on alert for possible use at the Democratic convention in
Chicago, and 43 Black GIs at Fort Hood held an all-night
demonstration declaring their intention to refuse any such orders.
This was a harbinger of continued discontent among black
soldiers. During the summer of 1969 black GIs in the 3rd Cavalry
Division at Fort Lewis walked out of riot control classes en masse,
and the brass were so anxious to avoid an incident that they let it

In this milieu of widespread restlessness within the ranks, the
left worked to generate conscious political action. The attempts
made were varied. Groups like the Progressive Labor Party and
the Spartacist League sent in individual members to organize, but
they generally isolated themselves and were unsuccessful. The
Socialist Workers Party continued to send in members, and at Fort
Jackson in 1969 was able to create an organization called GIs

This group contained a number of very capable
organizers, and in March they succeeded in holding a large open
meeting on base to rap about the war and racism. Over 100 GIs
participated in this free-floating rap session, and the brass moved
swiftly to bring the organizers up on charges. But media coverage
and public support resulted in the Army taking a different tack;
they simply discharged most of the men and scattered the others
around the world. Once this incident was over the SWP continued
to focus on GI rights, and was never again a significant force in
the GI movement.

The ASU continued to be a highly visible force in this period, but
it suffered from the limitations of Workers World politics and
rarely advanced outside of its New York office. When it did, the
results were often disastrous. A clear example of this occurred at
Chanute Air Force Base. Here a number of airmen and radical
civilians created a paper called A FOUR YEAR BUMMER (AFB)
and began organizing on base. They recognized the need for
national connections, and without an understanding of Workers
World Party influence decided to affiliate with the ASU. National
office people then came to Chanute, and within a short time
created an intense split in the group over WWP politics, siphoned
off a few members, and left the rest of the group in disarray. Most
of the newly-active airmen were stunned by the political infighting, and several decided to think it over in Canada.

As one
off. A study commissioned by the Pentagon found that 64% of
chronic AWOLs during the war years were enlistees, and that a
high percentage were Vietnam vets. The following incident at a GI
movement organizing conference illustrates this point:
“A quick poll of the GIs and vets in the room showed that the vast
majority of them had come from Regular Army, three or four year
enlistments. Many of them expressed the notion that, in fact, it was
the enlistees and not discontented draftees who had formed the core
of the GI movement. A number of reasons were offered for this,
including the fact many enlistees do enlist out of the hope of
training, & better job, or other material reasons.

When the Army
turns out to be a repressive and bankrupt institution, they are the
most disillusioned and the most ready to fight back.”
Resistance in this period took a variety of forms. Spontaneous
and often creative individual acts were widespread, from subtle
expressions of disrespect to sabotage on the job. More
significantly, the general mood of anger and alienation led to a
number of instances of spontaneous group acts of rebellion. These
were likely to explode at any time. Often they occurred in the
stockades, which were over-crowded with AWOLs and laced with
political organizers.

In July of 1968 prisoners seized control of the
stockade at Fort Bragg and held it for three days, and in June of
1969 prisoners rebelled in the Fort Dix stockade and inflicted
extensive damage before being brought under control. Probably
the most famous incident of stockade resistance occurred at the
Presidio, where 27 prisoners staged a sit-down during morning
formation to protest the shotgun slaying of a fellow prisoner by a
stockade guard. The men were charged with mutiny and initially
received very heavy sentences, but their sacrifice had considerable
impact around the country. After a year their sentences were
reduced to time served.

A significant amount of resistance also occurred around riot
control. While there were individual white GIs who refused riot
control training, such as Pvt. Richard Chase at Fort Hood and Pvt.
Leonard Watham at Fort Lewis, it was black GIs who
spontaneously reacted in a mass way against being put in the
position of being riot troops. During the summer of 1968 troops
by men who had had some concrete link with the left prior to their
entrance into the military.

The first major public act of resistance was the refusal, in June of
1966, of three privates from Fort Hood, Texas to ship out to
Vietnam. The three men, David Samas, James Johnson, and
Dennis Mora, had just completed training and were on leave
before their scheduled departure for the war zone. Mora had been
affiliated with the W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs in New York prior to
being drafted, and is generally considered to have been the prime
mover behind the refusal. The three announced a press
conference, but federal agents arrested them before they could
make their statement. Nevertheless, the fledgling New York peace
movement succeeded in giving the case wide publicity. The men
were each eventually sentenced to three years at hard labor.

There followed a series of individual acts of resistance. Ronald
Lockman, a black GI who had also had previous connections with
the Du Bois Clubs, refused orders to Vietnam with the slogan, “I
follow the Fort Hood Three. Who will follow me?” Capt. Howard
Levy, who had been around the left in New York, refused to teach
medicine to the Green Berets, and Capt. Dale Noyd refused to
give flying instructions to prospective bombing pilots.

These acts
were consciously geared toward political resistance. Since the GI
movement was a heterogeneous phenomenon reflecting many
different trends in the civilian world, there was also in this period
the beginning of a kind of moral witness resistance.

The first clear
incident occurred at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where in April
of 1967 five GIs staged a pray-in for peace on base. Two of these
GIs refused a direct order to cease praying and were subsequently
court-martialed. While this act was never duplicated pro-forma, it
was the forerunner of numerous acts of resistance based on
religious and moral grounds.

The majority of these early instances of resistance were actually
simply acts of refusal; refusal to go to Vietnam, to carry out
training, to obey orders. They were important in that they helped
to directly confront the intense fear which all GIs feel; they helped
to shake up the general milieu of passivity. But they still focused
on individual responsibility. In a sense they were a continuation
of civilian resistance politics transferred to the military setting, the
notion that individual refusal would shake the system.

But the
military was quite willing to deal with the small number of GIs
who might put their heads on the chopping block; to really affect
the military machine would require a more general rebellion.
In 1967 the left was still suspicious of, and at times hostile to,
GIs, but there was an increasing minority, particularly within the
Marxist left, which was beginning to come to grips with the
possibility and necessity of doing political work within the
military. This growing awareness led to four different efforts to do
such organizing.

The first attempt was the creation of a newspaper called
VIETNAM GI. The paper was created by Jeff Sharlet, a vet who
had served in Vietnam in the early years of the war. He came back
to the States fairly disillusioned, returned to school and found
himself alienated by the student movement, particularly by its
hostility to GIs.

In early 1967 he set out to create some form of
communication and agitation within the military. That vehicle
was VIETNAM GI, which was very effective at this time. It carried
a lot of very grisly news about the war, but it also carried lots of
letters from GIs and consistently ran an interview with a GI either
just back from Nam or recently involved in an act of resistance.
The paper was widely circulated and well received.
Unfortunately, VIETNAM GI never advanced beyond the purely
agitational stage. Vets on the staff occasionally visited bases
around the country, but these visits were primarily to aid
distribution of the paper. There was never an attempt to link
various contacts together and create some form of organization.
With Sharlet’s early death from cancer, the paper never advanced
beyond this point.

The paper continued, but GI resistance
advanced to the point where there was on-base organizing going
on and local papers coming out, and those local papers were for
the most part more interesting to GIs than a national paper put
out by vets. So VIETNAM GI faded in importance. Nevertheless,
it represented a significant breakthrough when it first appeared,
and helped play a catalytic role throughout the service.
Another approach was an early attempt at colonization by the
Socialist Workers Party. Pfc. Howard Petrick, a full member of the
SWP, was stationed at Fort Hood and began to distribute
literature within his barracks. The authorities reacted swiftly and
Petrick found himself threatened with a court martial.

brigade commander in the 25th Division put it, “Back in 1967,
officers gave orders and didn’t have to worry about the
sensitivities of the men. Today, we have to explain things to the
men and find new ways of doing the job. Otherwise, you can send
the men on a search mission, but they won’t search.”
While this malaise seriously affected the war effort, the spectre
of open mutiny was even more startling. In 1968 there were 68
recorded incidents of combat refusal in Vietnam. By 1969 entire
units were refusing orders. Company A of the 21st Infantry
Division and units of the 1st Air Cavalry Division refused to move
into battle.

By 1970 there were 35 separate combat refusals in the
Air Cavalry Division alone. At the same time, physical attacks on
officers, known as “fraggings,” became widespread, 126 incidents
in 1969 and 271 in 1970. Clearly, this army did not want to fight.
The situation stateside was less intense but no less disturbing to
the military brass. Desertion and AWOL became absolutely
epidemic. In 1966 the desertion rate was 14.7 per thousand, in
1968 it was 26.2 per thousand, and by 1970 it had risen to 52.3 per
thousand; AWOL was so common that by the height of the war
one GI went AWOL every three minutes. From January of ‘67 to
January of ‘72 a total of 354,112 GIs left their posts without
permission, and at the time of the signing of the peace accords
98,324 were still missing.

Yet these figures represent only the most
disaffected; had the risks not been so great, the vast majority of
Vietnam era GIs would have left their uniforms behind.
There is a common misconception that it was draftees who were
the most disaffected elements in the military. In fact, it was often
enlistees who were most likely to engage in open rebellion.

Draftees were only in for two years, went in expecting the worst,
and generally kept their heads down until they got out of
uniform. While of course many draftees went AWOL and
engaged in group resistance when it developed, it was enlistees
who were most angry and most likely to act on that anger. For one
thing, enlistees were in for three or four years; even after a tour of
duty in Nam they still had a long stretch left in the service. For
another thing, they went in with some expectations, generally
with a recruiter’s promise of training and a good job classification,
often with an assurance that they wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam.
When these promises weren’t kept, enlistees were really pissed
new recruits from military authority. Thus, GIs came into uniform
in this period with a fairly negative predisposition.

Their experience in the military and in the war transformed this
negative pre-disposition into outright hostility. The nature of the
war certainly accelerated this disaffection; a seemingly endless
ground war against an often invisible enemy, with the mass of
people often openly hostile, in support of a government both
unpopular and corrupt.

The Vietnamese revolutionaries also
made attempts to reach out to American GIs. A medic stationed at
Chu Lai told how he made friends with a local Vietnamese boy
who took him on walks around nearby villages and talked to him
about the war. One day, after there was a trust developed between
them, the boy pointed out a man casually walking from shop to
shop and explained that he was the local NLF tax-collector. “It
really blew my mind,” the GI later said, “to realize that the people
right around our base were willingly supporting the Viet Cong.”

Many GIs also learned through bitter experience that the ARVN
troops were not only unreliable allies, but that in a tight situation
they could be as dangerous as the NLF. The ARVN troops would
often fade away at the height of a battle, and it was not
uncommon for them to turn their fire on the Americans if the NLF
was making headway.

The feeling spread among U, S, troops that
they were fighting this war all alone. These experiences created a
mood of despair, disgust, and anger, as GIs turned increasingly to
dope and played out their time with the simple hope of survival.
As one GI put it, “Our morale, man? It’s so low you can’t even see

This situation led to the rapid decay of the U. S. military’s
fighting ability in Vietnam. The catchword was CYA (“cover your
ass”); as one GI expressed it, “You owe it to your body to get out
of here alive.” Low morale, hatred for the Army, and huge
quantities of dope all contributed to the general desire to avoid
combat. One platoon sergeant stated, “Almost to a man, the
members of my platoon oppose the war … The result is a general
malaise which pervades the entire company. There is a great deal
of pressure on leaders at the small unit level, such as myself, to
conduct what are popularly referred to as ‘search and avoid’
missions, and to do so as safely and cautiously as possible.”

brass watched these developments with general helplessness. As a
focused on this as a violation of “GI rights,” and decided on a
campaign for GI rights as their strategic approach to military
organizing. This had two flaws. First, while Petrick had in fact
been attempting to organize his barracks, the effect of the SWP
campaign was to focus on the case as another act of individual

Secondly, while GIs certainly understood that they had
no “rights,” they also understood that this was not the basis of
their oppression. The war, the class system in the military, the
general oppression of their lives was far more potent to them.
Consequently, when GIs did become politically involved, the
issue of “GI rights” became quite minor. The Socialist Workers
Party, however, never advanced beyond this conception, and
while their early work helped to stimulate GI resistance, they
became increasingly irrelevant when GI resistance became

The most dramatic of these early organizing efforts, and the first
to really focus on the need for collective resistance, was the work
done by Andy Stapp at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Stapp entered the
Army independently, experienced with the civilian left but
unconnected to any organization. He began rapping with the guys
in his barracks, giving out literature, and gathering a small group
around him. The brass soon moved against him, demanded that
he surrender his literature, and busted him when he refused to
hand it over. At this point his efforts at organizing could have
ended. But he appealed to a variety of left groups for support, and
the Workers World Party in New York came forward to help.
Their influence transformed the nature and future of his work.

Their immediate impact, the result of their determined presence at
Fort Sill and the media coverage they were able to generate, was
to save Stapp from heavy repression. He served 45 days at hard
labor in 1967, was busted again and acquitted, and was finally
discharged for “subversion and disloyalty” in April of 1968.

The political impact of the Workers World Party on Stapp was
profound. His work had at first been courageous but unfocused.
The party provided a focus. They emphasized the need for
organization, and convinced Stapp of the viability of calling for a
union within the military. Consequently, a few months before his
discharge Stapp helped to found the American Servicemen’s
Union, and as a civilian he assumed its leadership. Through the
ASU and its paper, THE BOND, GIs around the world were
exposed to the concept of organization, and this influence helped
to stimulate spontaneous organizing efforts at many bases.
Unfortunately, the long-term effects of the intimate link between
the ASU and the Workers World Party were largely detrimental.

The WWP focused its attention largely on the media and on
spectacular acts of confrontation, but rarely undertook any
consistent day-to-day organizing. Ironically, they contributed the
concept of organization but were unable to implement it. As a
result the ASU collected paper memberships, circulated THE
BOND around the world, but was never able to sustain an
organization. Its attempts in the next few years to connect with
local organizing groups consistently led to sectarian battles,
leaving the local efforts in a shambles.

The fourth attempt in this period was the creation, by leftwing
civilians, of the off-base coffeehouses. The coffeehouses
represented the first significant step by the civilian movement to
reach GIs. The first coffeehouse was set up at Fort Jackson in 1967,
and soon afterwards coffeehouses were established at Fort
Leonard Wood and Fort Hood. These eventually developed into a
network of coffeehouses, storefronts, and bookstores which
covered most major bases in all four branches of the service.

The original conception behind the coffeehouses, while
fundamentally valid, was faulty in two regards. First, the initial
coffeehouses were located at major basic training bases, the idea
being to struggle with the brass for the mind of the GI during his
basic training. If the brass won, this thinking ran, they would have
an effective killer in Vietnam; if the coffeehouse won, there would
be refusals and disaffection. Basic trainees, however, are
completely isolated. Not only are they restricted to base and
supervised around the clock but their training areas are even offlimits to other GIs. Consequently, there was never a real
opportunity for organizers to relate to basic trainees.

In a sense,
though, it didn’t matter, for it wasn’t the arguments of the brass
versus the arguments of the coffeehouse which were going to alter
the thinking of these GIs. It was their concrete experience in the
military and in the war which was going to transform them into

The second error concerned the nature and style of the
coffeehouses. The original conception was that by creating a semibohemian counter-culture setting, it would be possible to reach
the *most easily organized” GIs. This emphasis on culture did in
fact attract in the early days those GIs who were just getting into
the dope scene, but it didn’t necessarily lead them toward political
action. Consequently, the political work often floundered. The
advantage, though, of the coffeehouses and storefronts was that
while their original strategic conceptions were faulty, the form in
which they existed was quite malleable, and thus most of the
projects were able to transform themselves to meet the developing
needs of the GI resistance.

The reaction of the military brass to these first attempts at
organizing were in keeping with traditional military practice.
Individual GIs court martialed for political activities received stiff
penalties, and any groupings which developed were broken and
scattered. But the brass were still dealing with a situation in which
their forces were still fairly intact. Though the early rumblings of
discontent were spreading, the troops were still fighting in
Vietnam, orders were still being obeyed, and the chain of
command still functioned smoothly, so there was not yet an
apparent need for the brass to develop an overall strategic
approach to political activity in its ranks. The next few years
would create such a need.

The Ground War Expands, The Movement Grows
The period from 1968 to 1970 was a period of rapid
disintegration of morale and widespread rebelliousness within the
U.S. military. There were a variety of causes contributing to this
development. By this time the war had become vastly unpopular
in the general society, demonstrations were large and to some
degree respectable, and prominent politicians were speaking out
against the continuation of the war. For a youth entering the
military in these years the war was already a questionable
proposition, and with the ground war raging and coffins coming
home every day very few new recruits were enthusiastic about
their situation. In addition, the rising level of black consciousness
and the rapidly spreading dope culture both served to alienate

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