Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
1st Amendment Crap
How a flippin' little rag scared the barnacles off the marooned Admirals in the Pentagon.
By Roger Priest, U. S. Navy
The steamy heat of the hot July day was being felt by the 102 members of the Navy's Ceremonial Guard as they assembled themselves for riot duty. Armed with M-1 rifles, two clips of live ammo, bayonet, gas masks and the determination to put down with whatever force necessary any riot or insurrection that might take place; the Navy thought itself prepared to launch the pre -trial investigation into the “facts” surrounding the publication of the first anti-war newspaper to appear in the Navy's long and often inglorious history.
So began the U. S. Navy's efforts to “silence” Roger Priest, editor of OM and to crank up the legal machinery necessary to put the lad away behind the bars of military injustice; thus stemming the strident criticism against the Vietnam war and the ways of military “discipline” voiced in his monthly publication.
The Navy made careful preparation for the two hairy hippies, three young girls, two assistants for the defense, a couple of oldsters and reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post and Evening Star who showed up for the pre-trial at the U. S. Naval Station in Washington, D. C. Held in reserve was a company of Marines in full riot dress.
What the Navy was not prepared for on that July 22 day was the revelations made concerning the methods used by the Navy's own investigative apparatus in building a case against Seaman Priest. Testimony was given at the pre-trial to the fact that 25 agents from the Naval Investigative Services Office (ONI) were assigned to follow and harass the Texas sailor. It was also learned then that the District of Columbia Department of Sanitation had cooperated with the ONI by providing a truck for a special pickup of trash outside the apartment building where Priest lives.
When these facts were submitted to a more candid world than customarily resides in the labyrinthine Pentagon, all hell broke loose. Mayor Walter Washington called for a “full and complete investigation.” ONI was called on the carpet; and has since fallen back to its old task of planting informers. After all, political intelligence involves more in the way of intelligence than the ONI sleuths were able to muster.
The two-day investigation itself was just a formality to get on with what the Navy Brass really had on their minds; namely to find guilty and prove guilty and sentence Priest by General Court-Martial for daring to defy the ancient tradition that those of higher rank know what is best for those of lower rank; so those of lower rank should shut up and be quiet about what those of higher rank cause to be done to those of lower rank.
The spectators to this charade of military (in)justice were presented with Cmdr. Norman Mills, a Navy aviator with no legal experience, conducting the hearing and charged with making the recommendation on how best to proceed with the task of putting Priest in prison without creating too much criticism from Congress and the public. The spectators watched as Cmdr. Mills asked Lt. Thomas J. Donegan, the Navy prosecutor, time and time again in helpless amazement at the intricacy of military (in)justice as to the rules of evidence, how to proceed and how to rule on the questions raised by the defense.
Justice? Bullshit! Priest knew all along that it was to be nothing more than an elaborate ritual, very similiar [sic] to a Star Chamber proceeding in which the guilty are to be proven guilty; so that they might be done away with in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort. Priest knew only too well that he was going to have to face that grand and glorious and over glorified kangaroo court; otherwise known as the General Court-Martial.
Priest was not too horribly surprised when on August 28 it was announced that Priest, the journalist seaman apprentice from Houston, the 25-year-old sailor who hated war and the conditions that made it possible; who with the aid of half of his base pay of $110.40 had singlehanded caused the Brass on Capital Hill, in the Navy and in the FBI much consternation, and not just a little expense of public monies; had conceived of and printed on a beat-up, broken-down offset press the flagrantly anti-war, often anti-military but even more often pro-humanity, life-affirming publication known variously as OM- -The Servicemen's Newsletter and OM- -The liberation Newsletter.
Priest's journalistic efforts had not gone unnoticed by those officials who have it as their desire and duty to interfere with what goes on in the hearts and minds of the people for whom they so graciously serve. Priest would now be tried by General Court-Martial to convene on or about November 4 on charges that “Priest solicited members of the military to desert and commit sedition and that he published statements urging insubordination, disloyalty and refusal of duty by members of the military and naval forces with intent to impair loyality [sic], morale and discipline,” as well as publishing statements with “design to promote disloyalty and disaffection among members of the Armed Forces of the United States and which contained statements disloyal to the United States.”
The combined charges, added together for maximum possible punishment, building up up and away with the insanity represented behind those charges, came to a Grand Total of 39 years and a Dishonorable Discharge from the Navy.
Priest was not totally dismayed at the possibility, now quite real of being incarcerated for the better part of his young life in some Devil's Island nightmare that was now being conjured up for him. No, Priest was undismayed, not because he held firm faith in the publicity efforts of his supporters and the brave public officials who spoke out against the ridiculousness [sic] of the charges, and the mean, nasty vindictiveness of those pressing the charges; but on the sheer weight of the charges, Priest knew that even the Navy, historically the most stupid and insensitive of all the services, could not; nay would not punish the soft-spoken, lanky anti-war sailor so severely that its own image would be tarnished.
Priest had the feeling that the Navy Brass could become very sensitive when the gold braid that was lavished on themselves as a reward for showing the flag of American economic opportunity abroad showed signs of being tarnishable. The young sailor also knew that the Navy knew that gold braid tarnishes fastest in the rapid oxidation process of unfavorable press publicity. Stars, gold braid; yes, and even advancement and choice duty spots depended upon how one was held in the public eye and most importantly, the eye of one's immediate superior.
To the utter amazement of Pentagon officialdom, the Priest Intelligence Agency (PlA) in a daring caper managed to find out that the Navy had to pay its “dues” in the Priest case to that member of Congress who pulls the purse strings for things the Navy wants. The Navy fell all over themselves in drawing up charges against Priest--after all, they had to protect that bourbon and branch-water philosophy of “You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.”
So Priest did do battle with the “Better dead than red” tried and true blue Amerikan Patriots that one sees running amok in the Pentagon and Congressional maze. Now he will have to pay his dues. For he chose to demand that an injust [sic] inhuman system recognize its injustice and inhumanity before it was too late. By pointing out that not only does the Emperor have on no clothes; but that the Emperor does not even deserve clothes that are taken off the backs of the poor and oppressed he will be sent to jail and made to suffer for what others chose not to recognize. A martyr, perhaps? No. The cloak of martyrdom does not seem to fit. A scapegoat then? Closer to what is really happening. At the very least someone to punish for the false dreams of conquest and glory now dashed forever in far-off Vietnam jungle mud.
To not have expected it to turn out this way was sheer folly. To half-expected it was naive. And to have fully expected it was insanity. How else can it be'? The leaders of America call themselves “sane”; the opposition to such leadership then must be ”insane.”
OM, no. 4