Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
GI's Fight Back
I. Why a GI Movement was a Necessity
Throughout the history of the U.S. armed forces, servicemen have from time to time found conditions so oppressive that they felt they had to fight back. Besides the individual act of desertion, a popular tactic since the Revolutionary War, various collective acts can be found in history, such as the widespread opposition in about 1808 to the compulsory introduction of the first "GI haircuts" in the Army (troops wanted to keep their shoulder-length hair--sound familiar?) Somewhat later there was a mutiny in the Navy because of rigged courts-martial and brutal punishments such as flogging. During World War I a Black Army unit in Texas revolted, killing some of its white racist officers and breaking out of its post, taking to the countryside. During World War II a large group of Black combat pilots banded together and forcibly entered a legally segregated officers club to protest the lack of club facilities for Black A. F. personnel in Europe.
The current G. I. movement is distinguished from these, and other, acts of resistance of earlier periods by being a continuous and growing Movement, rather than an isolated or one-shot thing. One big reason for this is the Vietnam War. Unlike earlier U.S. wars, the war in Vietnam has provoked active wide-scale protests and dissatisfaction throughout the country. While previous wars have not always been popular, none have been so thoroughly disliked by so many Americans. Many GI's have gone into the service already opposed to the war; many others have been turned off while in Vietnam by the widespread corruption and brutality they have seen. Black GI's especially have been revolted by the racist nature of the war (Vietnamese are called "Gooks" like the Blacks are called "Niggers") and by the racism of the military itself. Lots of GI's dislike the class system of the military, where the people who have had more privileges on the outside like good education, get the good jobs in the service, too. For GI's it's even worse than in a civilian job, because you don't even have the right to organize to protect your interests. The military even serves civilian bosses as a strike-breeder, like it did during the Coal Strike in World War II, the Grape Strike & Boycott recently, and the recent Postal Strike. There are many other examples going all the way back to the 1800's, including the use of tanks against striking workers
II. The Beginnings of the Current GI Movement
Today's GI Movement got started a lot like the earlier protests against the military machine. Thousands of GI's have "voted with their feet," deserting and often leaving the country rather than fighting in the unjust war in Vistnam, Other have individually refused orders to Vietnam. Then GI's started to get together to resist unjust and illegal acts by the brass. The Presidio "mutiny" of Oct. 1.4, 1968, is one of the best known of these spontaneous collective acts. Twerty-seven soldiers held in inhuman conditions in the Presidio stockade, an overcrowded prison without even enough drinking cups for all the prisoners and where the sewer backed up into the the shower rooms causing human feces to float in 2 to 3 inches of filthy water, 27 soldiers driven to desperation by awful living conditions, brutal guards, and the killing of a prisoner by a guard fell out of a work detail formation, sat down, sang songs, demanded to see lawyers and the press because their numerous complaints, made through channels, about the inhuman conditions (illegal under the Army's own rags) had been completely ignored. The subsequent courts-martial for mutiny, and the eventual reversal of their mutiny convictions by an appeals court, attracted a lot of attention to the plight of GI's.
One well-publicized act of resistance occurred at Ft. Hood, Texas, in August of 1968. A group of Black paratroopers refused to board an aircraft which was to take them to Chicago for standby riot duty. These Black troops preferred to take the risk of a courtmartial rather than the risk of pigging on their brothers and sisters in the community.
Numerous other stockade rebellions are well known, such as the one at Mannheim, Germany, this year, in which aeveral buildings burned... and the prisoners fought guards, MP's, and German Army troops from behind barricades for several hours. Rebellions have also occurred at the Fort Dix stockade on June 5, 1969, at Ft. Bragg on July 23, 1968, when about seven prisoners climbed over a fence to defend a Black prisoner who was being beaten by lifer guards--to be followed by several dozen other prisoners; eventually, 238 prisoners seized control of the stockade and held it for three days. Outbreaks have occurred at Ft. Dix, the Pendleton Marine Corps brig, Long Binh Jail ("LBJ") in Viet-nam, and many other places. These rebellions are typically the spontaneous response of men forced to live (if that's the word) in absolutely intolerable conditions.
The inhuman conditions in most military prisons (AF stockades seem to be somewhat better then the others) are part of the military's response to any challenge to authority, whether authority is being used legally or not. This is especially true of servicemen who speak out against the war.
For instance, there was the case of Henry H. Howe, Jr., a 2nd Lt. in the Army and the first serviceman to be punished for public opposition to the war. Howe marched in one of the earliest anti-war demonstrations, in 1965 in El Paso, Texas. He was off-duty and wearing civilian clothes; he did not break any civilian law while participating in the peaceful demonstration. In short, he complied fully with all the regs concerning participation in political demonstrations. Nevertheless, he was convicted under Article 88 of the 1950 U.C.M.J. for criticising the President. (He carried a sign reading "End Johnson's Fascist Aggression in Vietnam") Even though the Supreme Court had previously held that laws prohibiting criticism of elected officials or politicians were unconstitutional, he got a year at hard labor and a dishonorable discharge.
Another famous case was that of Capt. Howard Levy, an Army medic, who was court-martialled in 1967 for refusing to give medical training to Green Berets--even though that was not part of his regular duties and the order to do so was, according to evidence, designed only to provoke Levy into a refusal and was thus entrapment, which made it illegal under the U.C.M.J. This case became especially well-known because the trial officer indicated that if the defense could prove that the Special Forces systematically perpetrated war crimes, that would be a defense, as it is illegal to abet war crimes. But when the defense showed that it could prove Green Berets were responsible for war crimes, the trial officer changed his mind and would not allow that evidence to be entered. It was shown during the court-martial that the brass's hostility to Levy came mostly from their dislike of his civil-rights activities and his criticisms of the Vietnam War, and that his "refusal of an order" was engineered solely to provide a pretext to get him. With Suet a few days to serve on his sentence, Dr. Levy was released on bail pending appeal.
In December of 1967, the Marine Corps gave George Daniels and William Harvey, two Black Marines, sentences of 6 and 10 years for doing nothing more than speaking, in a barracks bull session, about the aggressive nature of the U.S. War in Viet-nam and the racism of the war and the Marine Corp. officer. After nearly two years, the two men were released on bail from the Portsmouth, NH brig pending appeal. Their release was won through the public support rallied by the ASU and civilian support groups. Also, there was the attempted frame-up of Seaman Roger Priest for publishing an underground paper in Washington, D.C. Public pressure forced the brass to keep him out of the brig.
Frequently repression has taken the form of vigilante action., such as the fire-bombing of the GI Coffee House at Ft. Knox, Ky. (repeated until the place was closed) and the firebombing and shooting-up of the MDM center in San Diego, California.
The brass, along with civilian fascist vigilante types, have been able to get away with a lot of this stuff for a couple of reasons. One is, of course, that GI's are denied almost all of their Constitutional rights while in service. In this area, the Court of Military Appeals has no more respect for the Constitution than court martial boards have. A GI's only chance, within ordinary legal channels, is to try to get the Supreme Court to review his case; usually, this is very difficult. Also, it is sometimes possible to sue through a Federal District Court, but again, this requires time and money most CI's don't have.
A better way to fight repression has been to mobilize the support of as many people as possible to keep pressure on the brass. It was mainly through public support, organized by ASU and other groups, that forced the brass to free Marines Harvey and Daniels on bail and smashed the attempt to railroad Priest. Today a repeat of Lt. Howe's railroading would be difficult. In 1965, the anti-war movement itself was small; an organized CI Movement hardly existed.
The organized GI Movement has grown over the last few years largely as the response of serviceman and women to the brass's attempt to repress any and all dissent in the military. From individual or isolated acts of resistance more and more GI's are moving toward more organized forms and long-range goals.
GI's Move to Organized Resistance
I. The American Servicemen's Union
The American Servicemen's Union was actually founded on Christmas morning, 1967, by 14 servicemen, each from a different base. The man whose idea it was was Pvt. Andrew Stapp, then of the U.S. Army, now devoting his time to ASU work.
Stapp had seen the destructive consequences of foreign domination of underdeveloped countries while he was in Egypt, which had been ruled by the British. He became active in the anti-war movement and the draft resistance movement. He soon came to realize that draft resistance was not enough because it could not possibly reach enough people, especially GI's. So Stapp was actually eager to go in when he was called for his induction physical. He had already decided to work on organizing GI's to fight for their rights, including their right to refuse to fight in an illegal and unjust war.
Stapp, and other GI organizers, have never needed to explain the role of the brass and lifer. to servicemen; that is clear to everyone from the first day of basic. They didn't have to "ferment" dissatisfaction and resentment in the services; that starts on the first day of basic, too. The hard part came in convincing GI's to get together to fight for CI rights. Slowly but surely, though, the idea took hold.
Stapp faced brass harassment every step of the way. Units he was in would be broken up and the men scattered to different bases (this move backfired; the word would just be spread to more and more places). He was court-martialed twice. The first time he was found guilty; the second time because his case had attracted so much support from both civilian groups and from troops at Ft. Sill, where Stapp was stationed, Stapp was found not guilty. Finally the Army railroaded him through a Field Board hearing and gave him an undesirable discharge. All through his Army career Stapp was given the lousiest jobs available. That was fine with him, because it put him with the men who had the least use of anyone for the brass. In fact, some of the best ASU chapters have been formed right in stockades.
Basically, the ASU fights for an end to all forms of discrimination in the service, whether by race or by rank, and for the realization of the Constitutional rights of all GI's. The specific demands of the ASU are printed elsewhere in this issue of the Bummer and are posted at various places around Chanute.
The ASU has been very active in arranging for legal assistance for servicemen being harassed by the brass. It can draw on the services of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, The American Civil Liberties Union and other legal aid groups as well as individual civilian lawyers. The ASU also works to attract the attention of the public to cases of military injustice and to the general plight of GI's deprived of their basic rights as citizens of the United States. These support campaign keep the brass from hiding their dirty games from the glare of publicity. It was ASU who supported the struggles of black marines Harvey and Daniels, seaman Roger Priest, the 43 Ft. Hood Black GI's, and many other cases.
The ASU stress unity among GI's. ASU members stick up for each other, whether by showing up to show support at a court-martial or by helping a brother being attacked by some fascist lifer. Solidarity is also promoted by publishing the Bond, ASU's official newspaper. (Active-duty GIs can receive the BOND free by writing to. American Serviceman's Union, Room 538, 156 5th Ave., N. Y., N. Y. , 10010.)
The ASU now has about 10,000 members and is growing daily. Even greater is the number of service men and women who basically support the ASU but who are still a little bit too too intimidated by the brass and their tools, the lifers, to formally join. An ASU chapter was recently formed here at Chanute.
II. Movement for a Democratic Military
MDM started a couple of years ago on the West Coast, mainly at Pendelton Marine Camp and Ft. Ord. It now has chapters at many bases west of Chicago in all services.
The goals of MDM are basically the same as those of ASU--ending saluting, extending Constitutional rights to all service men and woman, collective bargaining, ending racism, minimum wage for EM's. Both groups reject the present system of rigged courts-martial and call for truly fair trial systems. MDM also calls for an end of the draft and involuntary enlistments, an end to the war in Vietnam and the freeing of all political prisoners. (ASU supports the last two issues, but they are either contained within other demands or are not part of the basic 10 ASU demands.)
MDM is also growing rapidly, although we don't have membership figures. A free GI subscription to the MDM paper Up Against the Bulkhead can be obtained from MDM, 2214 Grove Street, Berkeley, Cal. 94704.
The GI Movement is part of the national (and international) movement against the unjust war in Indochina and against all forms of special privilege, inequality and oppression. AFB is part of the growing CI Movement. We work with Chanute ASU and other GI's opposed to the war and the unjust power of the brass, and also with the civilian anti-war movement. Anyone interested in joining the struggle, or just curious about what we're doing and why we're doing it, can write us, or come any Saturday night tn the Red Herring Coffee House in Urbana.
A Four Year Bummer, vol. 2, no. 7