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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
The Case Of GIs United Against The War In Vietnam, Ft. Jackson, S.C.
On the evening of March 20.1969, 1969, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, a group of over 100 enlisted men gathered together after diner to discuss the war in Vietnam. The meeting was called by members of Gls United Against the War in Vietnam, a group of antiwar GIs who have been actively arguing against the war at Ft. Jackson. GIs United is predominately black and Puerto Rican in composition, but it includes many white soldiers as well.
The March 20 meeting was one of a series of meetings held by Gls United, dating back to February, 1969. These meetings have been held with the knowledge, and therefore implicit approval, of the Army officials at Fort Jackson. Officers were present at the March 20 meetIng, and, aside from criticizing the dress and haircuts of the antiwar GIs, they did not interfere with the meeting.
But the following day Army officials arrested four of the members of Gls United, and charged them with breach of the peace, disrespect to an officer, disobeying an order, holding an illegal demonstration, and breaking restriction. Later, five additional GIs were placed under barracks arrest. All of the charges refer to the evening of March 20. The Army. now claims that the peaceful meeting was in reality a 'demonstration' (which would make it a violation of Army regulations), and that the soldiers refused to disperse after they were ordered to do so. No orders to disperse were given any time during the meeting. Moreover, there was no 'breach of the peace' because the meeting was perfectly orderly, and broke up of Its own accord after about an hour.
A Political Frame-Up
Why is the Army trying so hard to imprison these antiwar GIs? The answer lies in the fact that GIs United has been vigorously fighting for the constitutional rights of GIs as citizens to discuss the war in Vietnam. As a result, much national publicity has been focused on Ft. Jackson. The Army, in its own clumsy, authoritarian manner, has responded to the situation by trying to railroad these GIs into the stockade.
GIs Untied began last February to circulate a petition addressed to Gen. James Hollingsworth, the Commanding General at Fort Jackson, asking him to make facilities available for an open meeting on the base at which the GIs could "hold a peaceful, legal meeting open to any enlisted man or officer at Fort Jackson. We desire only to exercise the rights guaranteed to us as citizens and soldiers by the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution." Several hundred signatures were obtained on this petition. But when the GIs tried to present it, Army officials refused to accept It because, said the official spokesman, it represented "collective bargaining."
In response to this blatant denial of their rights, ten members of GIs Untied, filed suit in the U. S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. The suit asks for a declaratory Judgment by the court that the plaintiffs and all other GIs at Fort Jackson have the right to hold meetings on or off post to discuss matters of concern to them, including the war In Vietnam, and that they have the right to circulate petitions for redress of grievances. The suit further asks for a court order directing the Commanding General to grant facilities for a meeting at which GIs could discuss public issues. It also requests the court to enjoin the Army from harassing and attempting to intimidate the GIs who are trying to exercise their First Amendment rights. This suit, if victorious, will have Army-wide effect
Of the ten plaintiffs who instituted the suit, five are among those facing courts-martial, one other was given a punitive transfer to Fort Bragg and one is being threatened with a less than honorable discharge.
In short, the Army is responding to the fight by GIs for their constitutional rights, with a crude frame up in an attempt to silence all antiwar or civil libertarian voices of dissent within Its ranks. That is why the GIs are now facing court-martial.
The McCarthyite procedures which the Army is following were made even clearer when it was disclosed that one of the GIs originally arrested was, in fact, operating "in the interest of the command." In other words, as a spy and agent-provocateur within the ranks of GIs United. The fact that this agent, who went by the name of John Huffman, was present at meetings where defense strategy was discussed by the GIs with their attorneys, severely compromises the Army's case. Charges against this man were, of course, dropped. The "Fort Jackson Nine" became the "Fort Jackson Eight".
A Question of Fundamental Rights
The basic issues involved in the case of the Fort Jackson GIs are simple but they are fundamental questions of civil liberties that affect all Americans.
Both the lawsuit against the Army and the frame up directed against the man deal directly with the same issue: are soldiers, who are citizens in uniform, protected by the U. S. Constitution, and in particular the First Amendment to the Constitution? Do GIs have the same right to discuss and take positions on the war in Vietnam and other issues of public concern as do citizens who are fortunate enough not to have been drafted?
Can the Army really expect that, with the entire country divided about the correctness of America's Policy in Vietnam, with millions of Americans demonstrating against the war, with, Senators and Congressmen daily expressing opinions pro and con, the very men who are asked to fight that war will not have an opinion on the question? And don't they have the right to express that opinion even though they are member, of the armed forces?
Writing In the April 20. 1969, issue of The New York Times, Ben A. Franklin clearly exposes the Army's frame-up attempt. "A classic case approaches a climax this week at Fort Jackson, S.C. By harassing, restricting and arresting on dubious charges the leaders of an interracial militant enlisted group there called GIs United Against the War in Vietnam, Fort Jackson's Brass has produced a cause celebre out of all proportion to the known facts. It has also brought about two court actions, directed by capable and contentious civilian legal counsel, which may give a merely fractious episode lasting effect.
"The Fort Jackson lawsuits, if they are upheld, will give the courts a clear opening to declare that American enlisted men do, indeed, have the same right to oppose by all lawful, orderly means the course chosen by their Government and military leaders."
The Fort Jackson GIs need all the help they can get, from all those who believe that soldiers, as citizens , have the same rights as civilians to discuss the war in Vietnam.
A Four Year Bummer, no. 1