Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Freedom Of The GI Press
Last month we cited a recent army memo “Guidance on Dissent,” which is supposed to guarantee constitutional rights to GIs who wish to distribute GI newspapers on post. To date, we have not heard of one case of the successful distribution of a GI paper openly on post. Where it has been tried, it has failed and courts-martial, investigations and harassment have followed.
Probably the best example of the brass’ reaction to GI papers is the case of Pentagon sailor Roger Lee Priest editor of OM. The Liberation Newsletter. He is facing fourteen charges ranging from soliciting his buddies to commit sedition to wrongfully (?) using contemptuous words against Representative L. Mendel Rivers and Secretary Melvin Laird. About twenty-five agents were assigned to the surveillance of Seaman Priest, and the Washington D.C. Sanitation Department cooperated in making a special pickup of Priest’s trash so investigators could look for evidence against him.
Many other examples of harassment, intimidation and courts-martial could be cited. At Fort Gordon, the GIs who publish The Last Harass have repeatedly been harassed and several thrown into the stockade. Air Force GIs at Selfridge AFB who print Broken Arrow are currently under investigation. Bob Kukiel, marine editor of Head-On, was kicked out of the corps three months early. He got an honorable discharge, but several months ago Dennis Davis, of the Last Harass, with a perfect record received DD six days before ETS. GI Harold Muskat recently received six months at hard labor for passing out an “unauthorized publication.” Everyone remembers Bruce Peterson of The Fatigue Press, who got eight years on trumped up marijuana charges. The list could be continued, because Shakedown, Short Times and others have repeatedly had trouble.
We understand now that Rough Draft, Huachuca Hard Times and Bragg Briefs have applied for permission to distribute their papers. We feel that a dangerous illusion is being fostered that distribution rights will be granted following the army’s memo “Guidance on Dissent”. The purpose of this document is to make the army appear more flexible than it really is. GI s therefore, make harassment, intimidation, and eventual court-martial easier. Harold Muskat, for example, is obviously a gutsy guy. He received an added sentence for “contemptuous utterings to the court.” But most GIs will not willingly embrace a six-month sentence. A GI opposition to the brass cannot be built on bad time. Also, the emerging GI opposition is not merely the assertion of GI rights; it is a determined opposition to the war.
The army memo still leaves the power to determine what “rights” will be given with the individual commanders. With such vague expressions as “acts prejudicial to good order and discipline” (art. 134 UCMJ) or “intent to arouse disloyalty and disaffection amongst the troops” (art. 88 UCMJ) the commanders will decide when freedom of the press can be free.
It is true that the military is on the defensive because of the war in Vietnam and the growing resistance within the service. They are more worried than they admit. The army memo is the way the brass covers its ass when faced with public disapproval. But public disapproval has not ended the war, nor will it gain for the GI his freedom from involuntary servitude. It is a vain hope that mere public disapproval can ultimately control the brass.
In the face of public disapproval the slippery brass are willing to substitute “benevolent” paternalism for independent GI action. But paternalism quickly turns into harassment, court-martial and the stockade, or, with luck, sudden dismissal from the service. The brass are unpredictable and what happens depends upon the situation, the individual commander and even the individual GI.
GIs should not have to ask for permission from the brass to print and distribute these papers. GIs have that right automatically as citizens. The army memo implies that army law superseded the Constitution. GIs should use legal options when they are available and when they make sense; but they should not allow themselves to be used, even humiliated, by rules which violate both the intent and the letter of the constitution.
The army memo shows that the brass neither understand nor respect free speech; their actions prove this even more. GI s should not be sacrificed to this illusion of legality offered up by the brass. GI papers are the essence of the GI opposition and they must continue to appear.
The Ally, no. 19