Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
The Underground GI Press
Pens Against The Pentagon
(Reprinted from Commonweal)
“You better not take one of those - that's a Commie paper from New York!”
“New York” issued as an agitated grunt from the crewcut, bespectacled jewelry store owner, who resembled some Puritan preacher pronouncing the name of Sodom itself. For a second the businessman stood frozen on the sidewalk in Wrlghtstown, New Jersey, as he pointed an accusing finger at three GI's from nearby Fort Dix and three “movement people” from New York who were giving away copies of the “Commie paper”. As the GI’s stuffed the papers into their back-pockets, one of them flashed the “V” sign at the jeweler; he frowned and fretted some more about “draft dodgers”, then gave up his crusade against Commies as the half - dozen heathen ambled up the street.
Although most of the off-base distribution of “Shakedown”, the paper which so distressed the jeweler, is handled by civilians, the bulk of the writing and layout is done by GIs. Soldiers who pass their copies around the barracks constantly run the risk of harassment from the brass, First Amendment prerogatives notwithstanding. But even if this were not the case, antiwar GI's and antiwar civilians alike feel that the burgeoning spirit of cooperation between them is healthy and appropriate. It manifests itself not only in the publication and distribution of newspapers, but also in the operation of coffee houses within walking distance of half a dozen Army bases around the country--places for quiet conversation and raucous rock music, where soldiers can sip five-cents-a-cup coffee and escape, if only momentarily, the brass breathing down their necks. Until about two years ago, civilian movement activists and GI's pretty much ignored one another; both the coffee houses and the papers have gone a long way toward breaking down barriers of mutual distrust and resentment. A gap within the much-touted “generation gap” has been at least partially bridged, and as one GI editor remarked recently, “When hundreds of GI's march in demonstrations against the war” --as hundreds did last fall and again this spring -- “you can understand how uptight the brass are getting.”
“Shakedown is only a few issues old, but already more than 5,000 copies of each issue circulate [sic] at Dix and its adjoining installation, McGuire Air Force Base. Two other antiwar papers at Dix preceded it and then fell victim to what is becoming a common pattern: confinement and/or involuntary transfers of GI editors, drug busts, and all the other forms as subtle and not-so-subtle suppression in the officers' arsenal. The papers have a way of reappearing, phoenix-like, no matter how great are the efforts expended to channel the journalistic Interests of GI’s into the “safe trenches of the “Army Times” and other semiofficial organs.
The first antiwar paper, The Bond, was founded in Berkeley by a civilian, Bill Callison, nearly three years ago. Callison and his staff of civilians and soldiers raised circulation to about 1,000, at that time mainly on the West Coast. and then turned over the editorship to Pvt. Andy Stapp, best known to readers of Esquire and other mass-circulation magazines as the founder of the American Servicemen's Union, a would-be collective bargaining agent now boasting several thousand dues-paying members. (The issue of Esquire detailing Stapp's organizing drive was banned last fall from PXs at several bases, as has been the case with other magazines which have sympathetically portrayed GI dissent.) At Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Stapp was court-martialed three times--for refusing to open his footlocker during an inspection, for making an antiwar speech at the University of Oklahoma, and finally for trying to organize the ASU. Today, his dishonorable discharge hangs from the wall of the l0-by-12 cubicle in Manhattan where Stapp and his staff publish The Bond every month and keep in touch with ASU organizers. The paper is one of three such journals with a national circulation (the others are The Ally, published in Berkeley, and Chicago's Vietnam GI.) Its present circulation of more than 20,000 places it at the top of a heap of more than two dozen antiwar GI papers, most of them published and circulated by GIs at their own bases and
therefore only locally notorious.
One of the best of the khaki muckrakers is F.T.A. published at Fort Knox, Kentucky. F.T.A. translates its initials as “Fun Travel and Adventure,” although most GIs are aware of another meaning which can be approximated as “Flog The Army.” Orange day-glo FTA stickers brighten many a jeep and many an officer’s limousine (much to the officers chagrin) at Knox and other bases. A typical issue of F.T.A. contains reports on dissent by soldiers around the globe (“A 40-year-old black major, saying he is fed up after 20 years of service, charged Sunday that the Army is a ‘racist organization that denies equality and justice to its black personnel [sic]...”); news of court cases (Civil law suits have been entered against the Commanding Generals of Fort Knox and Fort Jackson...”); cartoons tending toward the wryly seditious and relentlessly scatological; and news and analysis of the war in Vietnam and American imperialism, much of it reprinted from civilian underground papers and the established liberal-radical press.
But the solidest material in most of the GI papers consists of letters from GIs overseas and particularly in Vietnam. Most of the correspondents request anonymity in print, for obvious reasons, but I have seen files of handwritten letters from “our” boys in Vietnam which leaves no doubt as to their authenticity. One example, from The Bond for April 15, 1969:
“The only thing I can see that we have accomplished over there is to father a race of bastards, pour out money into the Vietnamese black market, and help establish prostitution as a thriving business. You walk down the street and the people give you the finger and spit at you. It really makes you feel the cause is worth dying for. I think the most demoralizing thing is that it is not bad enough you have to fight a war you don't believe in or even condone, but the lifers (officers) have to try to tear you to pieces 24 hours a day”
The May, 1969, issue of F.T.A. confirms that conditions in stateside military stockades are at least equally humiliating. In the Fort Knox stockade, the paper reports: “ . .. 630 men are now packed into a jail that was built to house 280. Rooms that were designed to hold 16 men now have 32 GIs squeezed into them. There was an inspection at the stockade at the beginning of April. Hundreds of prisoners were ‘paroled’ for the day so that the inhuman overcrowding wouldn't be noted as a gig. This shows what's really important to the brass. The next day, the prisoners were stuffed back into the stockade. The number and intensity of beatings at the jail has increased to alarming proportions...”
The very names of some of the GI papers reflect the ambivalent allegiance to a higher patriotism which many GIs feel: soldiers at Fort Campbell, Tennessee, publish Flag-In-Action, while a veterans' paper from Chicago dubs itself Stars and Stripes for Peace. In terms of political orientation, the papers run the gamut from Kennedy liberalism to revolutionary Marxism. But the common thread running through all of them is best shown in the informally “syndicated” material which papers reprint from each other in much the same manner as the civilian underground press. One cartoon has now appeared in at least five papers from highly disparate GI sources. In the first panel, a GI turns to his buddy in a trench and asks, “Wanna hear a joke?” In the second panel is the punch line, the most bitter “joke” of all for hundreds of thousands of young Americans in uniform, and especially those in the swamps and jungles of Southeast Asia.
The joke is “the Paris peace talks.”
Duck Power, vol. 1, no. 4