Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Dr. Levy On GI Repression (Interview With Paul Eberle)
When a member of the armed forces commits an act of disobedience or opposition to the war, he risks arrest, harassment and imprisonment. He may derive some feeling of reassurance from the fact that there is an active, militant and rapidly growing antiwar movement within the military, with access to lawyers, printing presses and influential civilian support organizations in every major city.
But when Howard Levy refused to train Special Forces troops for Viet Nam duty three years ago, he did it alone. There was no GI movement organization then-only a few individuals whose consciences would not permit them to assist in the rape of Viet Nam;
"I didn't want to train people who were using medicine for political purposes, the result of which would be the genocide of the people of Viet Nam - which I thought was a very poor public health measure," Levy told me. His refusal brought him world-wide fame - and 26 months in prison. He has been out since August.
Dr. Levy was in Los Angeles last week to give a speech at the UCLA School of Public Health, and to lend support to S.O.S. (Support Our Soldiers), the organization that was responsible for starting the GI movement. There are now GI anti-war groups organized at virtually every American military base in the world!
S.O.S. is a civilian support team, quite distinct from the GI's. Its members feel that GI's should be organizing themselves. "The GI's are taking the risks. We therefore feel that they should be running their own programs. It's our job to lend them support," he said.
Levy feels that the GI movement is now the pivotal part of the peace movement: "It's unprecedented in American history that we have a movement within the military that is opposing a war which the United States Government is waging. That's unprecedented! And it seems to me that the Army and Navy and the Marines have something to do with power; and there is the possibility that the peace movement can have that power on, their side. Therefore, the peace movement ought to be supporting the GI movement.
"We are now waging wars that perhaps as much, as 80 per cent of the GI's oppose. That's unprecedented, GI's are coming to understand their own oppression on military bases. This is particularly true of black GI's, but it's also true of white GI's ...
"And the government is facing a contradiction. It's asking GI's to give their lives for a war that they do not believe in. What makes it difficult for the government is the fact that the Army today is quite different from the Army of World War II, or even the Korean War. There was a time when they were dealing with enlisted men who didn't have much education, didn't have much insight into politics - but that's untrue today. You're dealing with an educated army. It's not so important whether they've been to college or notevery kid has heard about the peace movement. Most of them identify with it in some way.
"As a consequence, it's much more difficult for the Army to pull the wool over the eyes of the average GI. The army of today is a thinking army, and that presents enormous problems to Richard Nixon, who hardly ever thinks at all."
I asked Levy what SOS does to support the GI movement:
"We supply literature, pay rents, supply films, entertainers, speakers, and generate civilian support for the GI movement."
"How many GI's go to the coffee houses?" I asked.
"You don't get anywhere near a majority of the GI's into the coffee houses, partly because of the intense pressure the military exercises against the GI's going into the coffee houses. Every time a GI goes into a coffee house, he has his picture taken; there's a file made on him: there are military intelligence informers in every coffee house; the coffee houses are all bugged; and it therefore becomes an act of bravery for a GI to walk into a coffee house or a movement center. It takes an enormous amount of courage for a GI to walk into one of thoae plàces.
"Those GI's that do - and they number anywhere from 40 to 150 in an evening - hopefully become the organizers of movement projects on post. The work that has to he done must he done in the barracks. And that's what the GI's do."
"What can civilians do to help SOS?" we asked.
"There's an enormous amount they can do. I think civilians must appreciate the fact that within the past two weeks, the MDM (Movement for a Democratic Military) office in Oceanside, California, had twelve rounds of .45 calibre bullets fired into at. One GI was hurt, but he's doing fine now. Recently, the Fort Dix Coffee House in New Jersey was subjected to a hand grenade attack. The coffee house at Fort Knox, Kentucky, was firebombed three times. Last week the civilian GI organizers at a Ft. Jackson, Smith Carolina, coffee house were found guilty of organizing a "Public nuisance" (a misdemeanor on the S.C. statute books), and three of them were sentenced to six years each at hard labor.
"So there's an enormous amount of repression coming down on the GI movement and the civilians who support that movement. That repression is exceeded only by the repression that's coming down on the Black Panthers. It is therefore of extreme importance that civilians, in any way possible, demonstrate their solidarity, their support for the GI movement.
"It seems to me of great importance that civilians join with GI's who have called for a demonstration at Camp Pendleton on March 16 (Saturday). Some people call it Armed Forces Day. We are calling it People's Armed Forces Day. It's enormously important that tens of thousands of civilians turn- out for that demonstration, which has been called by GI's.
"It is also extremely important that civilians find the means by which they can offer financial support for the GI movement. We've been operating on miniscule amounts of money. I've been to various projects --where the civilian organizers don't have sweaters to wear in winter, live in unheated houses, do not have adequate food to eat-all because we do not have enough money to meet the demands being, made upon us. We are getting requests for organizing GI's-literally-from all over the-country, And we need money to do that. There's just no way to pay the rent and the phone bills without money.
"And the GI movement is the pivotal point of the peace movement. It is the straw that will break Nixon's back."
originally published in The Los Angeles Free Press, 15 May 1970