Most Americans believe that soldiers returning from Vietnam were spat on, and called “baby killers.” This was written into the “Rambo” movies, for example.
Actually it never happened. It is an urban myth. No book, magazine, newspaper, or web site has ever featured a returning soldier that claimed to have been spat on. None. (If you doubt this, check for yourself.)
The myth overlooks soldiers’ contribution to the anti-war effort. Many soldiers resisted in Vietnam.
A feature-length documentary titled Sir, No Sir! focuses on efforts by U.S. Vietnam troops’ opposition to the war. Many soldiers were court-martialed. Some were imprisoned. Thousands fled to Canada and Sweden. GIs and civilian peace activists alike condemned Nixon, Kissinger, and the gulf between White House rhetoric and Vietnam reality.
David Cortright’s book Soldiers in Revolt says there was massive resistance among U.S. troops in all the branches of the military, and at most military bases. Soldiers and sailors produced over 200 underground newspapers, such as All Hands Abandon Ship and Harass the Brass. GIs could be court-martialed for reading one of these. Soldiers also organized off-base meetings in coffee houses, and helped stage civilian demonstrations against the war. They continued despite police spies, agent provocateurs, and vigilante bombings of their offices.
Meanwhile in Vietnam, “survival politics” led to refusals to make contact with the Vietnamese, plus 12 mini-mutinies of companies and platoons.
We’ve all seen films of hippies protesting the Vietnam War. There were frequent and widespread clashes between MP’s and soldiers as well. Sailors protested aboard many naval ships. According to the Pentagon, over 500,000 incidents of desertion took place between 1966 and 1977.
Sir, No Sir discusses an Air Force intelligence group in Thailand that refused to transmit further intelligence when it learned that the information was being used to bomb Cambodia. Pilots refused to fly bombing raids. Officers were fragged. Whole units refused battle. Special Forces agents also refused. For example, Sir, No Sir talks to Donald Duncan, (a decorated member of the Green Berets) who resigned in defiance in 1963 after 15 months of service in Vietnam.
Today, Iraq veterans have formed some protest groups, but there is no draft, and the media sanitizes everything. Therefore it is up to people like Lt. Ehren Watada, who refuses to go in the first place.
Many enlisted personnel have refused to go to Iraq, but Watada is the first officer to refuse. His court marshal (which began yesterday) is the surface manifestation of growing dissention in the ranks. Watada says many officers agree with him in secret, but aren’t yet willing to join him in public.
A dam does not collapse all at once. A leak appears, and quickly becomes a catastrophe. Watada is a leak. If he is imprisoned, he will become a martyr. If he is released, he will declare victory. Either way, the Army loses.
There are several web sites devoted to Watada. One says the Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Laureate) salutes him. So do many celebrities, plus groups like Veterans For Peace. Also Courage to Resist.
In Iraq, no one can say what the mission is. No one can define what “victory” is. The madness can only be stopped by the public, or by the troops themselves.
The thing that frightens power-holders most of all is non-cooperation, since there is no way to fight it. Once a group refuses to cooperate (as opposed to fighting back) the game is over. If all the troops mutinied in Iraq, Bush would still have private contractors for Israel’s death machine, but an army of mercenaries-for-hire can’t win a full-scale war. Without a moral victory (or at least an ideological one), defeat is inevitable.
All Americans must find ways to non-cooperate, though this may not seem possible, since the rich own everything. However, we all make choices every day. When we see a media source that supports war, or a company that advertises on that media source, we can simply choose to buy from a competitor.
That’s how we can support the patriotic anti-war effort.