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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Resistance In the United States Armed Forces
Introduction and Definition:
Why write these notes at all? Why write them now? We write them now; in fall 1968, because the past few months have seen the lifting of a remarkable blindness in the US anti-war movement. By anti-war movement, in this paper, we mean the peace movement in all its forms: the new left, the old left, the pacifists, the radicals and even the honest liberals. We shall call it, from now on: “the Movement.” Much divides the different members of the Movement but, with isolated exceptions, they all shared this “blindness”. Much divides them, but they are all potential Fritas.
What is this blindness? What do we mean by Fritas?
The blindness has been the incapacity of the Movement to see that, over the past three years the anti-war resistance inside the US armed forces (Rita) has been growing, has become a major, perhaps the most important, front in the war against the war, in the war against the system. We shall go into this more fully below.
Fritas are friends of resisters inside the armed forces, friends of Ritas. All honest anti-war activists are potential Fritas. Any forms of resistance inside the armed forces is Rita. We do not consider Frita or Rita as trade names but as activities engaged in by people who may be members of different organizations or, as in the case of most Ritas, of no organization at all- except, of course, of the United States Armed Forces.
Examples of Rita activity are various. For instance: heroic individual confrontations, such as that of Captain Levy or the Fort Hood Three; more or less conscious political desertion; opposition inside a unit to racism, particular aspects of the war or the war in general, to illegal orders or to particularly inhuman conditions. Later forms of resistance include organization of the American Servicemen's Union, of teach-ins, and of more or less structured anti-war groups.
Today Frita is growing at last, and growing fast. More and more individuals and organizations who had, up until now, ignored the resistance inside the army (Rita) are now “supporting our servicemen.”
For maximum effectively, it will be important that the coming mass Frita movement, as far as possible, avoid at least some of the mistakes already made by the pioneer mini-Frita groups which have been working and fighting away these past three years.
What are these mistakes? The principal one is to consider, if only unconsciously, that Rita poses a single problem, independent of time, place, person; a single problem with a single solution. In the past, Frita groups, having found their solution, worked exclusively for it, and often considered other Frita groups as rivals, even as enemies. For many people in the Movement, Rita-Frita has been an auxiliary, secondary activity; they have carried, into this work, aspects of political bickering, hair-splitting, which have been completely incomprehensible to most of the servicemen who felt that the moment had come to oppose the army, the war, the system; they were putting themselves on the line and the political wrangling between different types of “reds” only turned them off.
To the writers, it seems evident that Rita is a rapidly evolving process. Specific solutions can only be proposed when the given problems are considered in function of time, place and personal situations.
For example, let us take the problem: “What does a deserter worry about?” Today, in fall 1968, the reply is quite different than it was two years ago, in fall 1966. We consider only one variable: time (for the moment, abstractionn is made of place, personal situation). In l966, desertners from the US Armed Forces could only hide—sooner or later they expected to be captured and, if abroad, extradited, turned over to the army. At that time, their main pronblem was: not to be caught: Today, American deserters and absentee soldiers live openly in six countries at least. Today, with help, it is not difficult to reach one of these countries ` the main problem now is to find work and maintain morale, a complete change from two years ago.
Once we can agree that Rita/Frita problems are variable, we can still discuss which solutions best apply at a given moment, at a given time, for given individuals. If we stop insisting on any simple “only” solution, cooperation among different parts of the frita movement becomes possible.
Up until very recently, a basic problem faced by all Ritas was that the peace movement as a whole did not even consider us and maintained a profound ignorance about resistance inside the army, in fact about all problems connected with the army in general. Of course, there have been exceptions, such as veterans in the peace movement and those mini-frita groups which have been active during the past years. But addressing ourselves to the movement militants in general, to the man (and woman) who has been picketing draft boards, demonstrating on Fifth Avenue or on college campuses, we would suggest that he ask himself the following questions:
1. How many RA soldiers does he know well, personally?
2. Does he know what RA or US stands for?
3. Does he know what percentage of the armed forces if Ra or Us?
4. Does he read any armed forces “overground” newspapers (Army Times;- Overseas- also known as Oversex- Weekly, Stars & Stripes)?
5. How many per-gi “underground” publications (Act, Ally, Bond, Second Front, Task Force, Vets Stars & Stripes for Peace, Vietnal [sic] GI, Where its At...) Has he read??
6. How many such overground or underground GI papers did he read six months ago?
7..Does he know the difference between desertion and AWOL etc.?
Preliminary polls among peace movement militants have shown us that even today, few can answer these questions positively. Six months ago the ignorance of all facts pertaining to GI life and military matters was abysmal. To the peace movement as a whole, to the average militant, the armed forces were beyond the pale. This was the blindness.
There are two evident reasons for this blindness: firstly, the peace movement has been basically middle class. Draft resistance came naturally to their “constituency” : the college student. Rita (resistance inside), for a basically working class or southern farmer volunteer army, did not. Secondly, Rita is totally new both in terms of american tradition and even in terms of the experience of other countries. It is no exaggeration to say that todays Rita is a world premiere.
The “Bring Us Home” movement of 1945-46 cannot be compared with today’s Rita. At the end of the Second World War, most GIs (and certainly the leaders of the “bring us home” movement) agreed with the expressed aims of the US government—the defeat of fascism. In 1945-46, the government’ secret reason for keeping combat-trained GIs in Europe and in Asia (the future anti-communist, anti-Chinese crusade) could not yet be avowed above all; they could not be avowed to the GIs who realized well enough that they were alive because some Chinese, some Russian, some red had stopped the Japanese or German bullet that lotherwise would have gotten him, had died in his place.
The one American experience that might relate to Rita is the military opposition to the US anti-communist, anti-Russian military campaigns in northern Russia (1918-19) and in Siberia (1919-21). But this movement was small and far back in history - so far it has been successfully eliminated from the traditions of the American left.
To the writers knowledge, no significant Rita took place in the Korean War.
To summarize: today, growing resistance inside the armed forces is turning on the peace movement—the blinkers are lifting. The movement has come from conscientious objection to draft resistance, from draft resistance to aiding and abetting deserters individually. Today we go on: more and more militants understand that they can “support our servicemen” and support resistance inside the army.
Discussion Notes for Ritas and Fritas: Fall 1968