ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, June/July 1969


Kim Moody

GIs on the March


From Survey, International Socialism (1st series), No.37, June/July 1969, pp.13-14.
Reprinted from Independent Socialist, April 1969.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Things aren’t going too well for the military these days. The Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, reported in early March that desertions and AWOL’s were ‘substantially’ higher than last year.

According to the Committee’s report, 155,536 GIs went ‘over the hill,’ in fiscal 1968 (mid-1967 to mid-1968), of whom 53,357 were classified as deserters, i.e., absent for more than 30 days. The comparable figures for fiscal 1967 were 134,668 AWOLs and 40,227 desertions. Senator Inouye, who you may remember from his famous role as hatchet man at the Democratic Convention, bemoaned the fact that ‘only 250 have been tried and convicted.’ At about the same time, the Pentagon announced that the ‘drug’ problem in the military was growing. The Pentagon’s response to this situation has been massive investigations. In 1968, there were 14,041 investigations throughout the armed forces for suspected drug use, as compared to 7,641 in 1967.

The problem, they say, is most severe in Vietnam, where there have been 3,225 investigations of marijuana use alone. In fact, as the Pentagon knows very well, the ‘problem’ in Vietnam is much greater than their figures indicate.

What they also know, but are not telling, is the fact that these ‘drug’ investigations are sometimes used as a smoke screen for political harassment. This was the case with Pfc. Bruce Peterson, the publisher of the Fatigue Press at Fort Hood, who was given eight years at hard labour ostensibly for possession of marijuana.

GI resistance

The biggest problem facing the brass, however, is the growing GI resistance movement. The mass GI-civilian marches last October, and again at Fort Lewis on February 16 (from 200 to 300 GIs attended), are the most visible form of this resistance.

More important are the growing number of groups and organizations appearing on bases across the country. The American Servicemen’s Union, one of the first GI organizations, has small groups on most bases. The appeal of the ASU, however, is limited by the crass ‘old left’ tone of its paper, The Bond, and by the ‘cult of the personality’ around its chairman, Andy Stapp. Nonetheless, many local ASU groups function like the other GI groups and are quite autonomous of the ASU’s national office.

Most GI groups are informal and don’t even have names – more a network of activists on the same base than an organization. Others that are attempting to build some sort of in-service organization are the GI Association, in the SE Bay Area; the GI’s and Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Vietnam, in Los Angeles; the GI’s United Against the War, at Fort Jackson; the GI’s Peace and Freedom League, in the Washington, DC area; the FTA, at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland; the Mickey Mouse Club, at Fort Hood; the Fort Dix Free Speech Movement, at Fort Dix; and the Vietnam Veterans Union, in the New York area, are attempting to build some sort of in-service organization.

In some cases, unfortunately, the name of the group is longer than its membership list. On the other hand, on the larger or more active bases, such as Fort Hood, Fort Lewis, Fort Dix, and the Bay area bases and installations, it is not uncommon to find more than one on-going group or organization. At Fort Dix, for example, there is an ASU group which functions on its own; the Free Speech Movement, a small group which orients toward the Student Mobilization-SWP single issue approach; and a larger network of GI’s with generally new left politics. This latter group now puts out its own tabloid paper, the Shake Down.

On-base papers

Along with these growing and multiplying core groups have come a number of on-base GI papers to supplement national GI papers such as Vietnam GI and The Ally. In addition to Shake Down, these local papers include: Fun, Travel and Adventure at Fort Knox; Flag-in-Action at Fort Gordon; Short Times at Fort Jackson; Counterpoint at Fort Lewis; and Head-On at Camp Lejeune.

For the most part these papers print local exposes and atrocity stories, reports on resistance activities on base, and general political articles, usually centred around the war. Most of these papers share a generalized version of movement politics; seldom do they follow any particular ‘line.’

More often than not they are the result of collaboration between guys with different political backgrounds, or with very little political background. This is to say, that they are genuine products of the GI movement, which explains their popularity. Most importantly, they often serve as organizing and co-ordinating centres in a situation where open organization is difficult if not impossible.

Obviously, a military base is a difficult place to organize an action. For example, when a group of GIs at Fort Dix recently tried to organize GIs to give the peace sign (raised arms, fingers in a V – very much the symbol of the GI resistance) in the middle of Basic Training graduation, the word leaked out to the brass. As a result, each graduating Company was cut in half, the site of the ceremony changed, and numerous Military Intelligence (MI) agents placed around the edges of the auditorium. To avoid a disastrous bust, the leaders had to call the action off at the last minute.

Nonetheless, actions of various kinds do take place. These range from small incidents – such as a group of guys petitioning the base Inspector General (IG) to stop harassment by some NCO or officer – to the dramatic refusal of 43 black GIs at Fort Hood to do ‘riot’ duty in Chicago last summer (their demonstration involved 160 GIs at its height) and the sit-down strike by 27 men at the Presidio military prison in San Francisco last October.

Recently, political petitions have been used as a means of organizing GI anti-war sentiment. At Fort Dix, a petition opposing the war was passed around a Medical Company (over 200 medics) and was signed by a majority of those in the Company. At Fort Jackson, GIs have been circulating a petition calling for a free and open discussion of the war on the base. The petition was initiated by GIs United Against the War in Vietnam, a base organization that claims to get about 35 guys at each of its meetings. The leaders, who face court martials for their actions, say that about 150 guys are circulating their petition.

GIs at Fort Dix are now discussing the possibility of a base-wide petition along the same lines. As with the underground papers, these petitions are viewed as organizing tools, rather than as ends in themselves.

The brass is, indeed, worried. And, with the aid of their political buddies on the Senate Armed Services Committee they are launching a counter-offensive. At almost the same time that the Senate Committee recommended a ‘get tough’ policy for deserters, a Fort Dix court martial sentenced Spec./4 Edwin Arnett, who returned voluntarily from Sweden, to 4 years hard labour for desertion ‘with intention to shirk important service.’

Even more shocking than this was the severity of the sentence given to the first three of the Presidio ‘mutineers’ to be tried. The 27 GIs who sat down and sang We Shall Overcome at the Presidio on October 14, did so to protest the senseless shooting of a 19-year-old prisoner, Richard Bunch, by one of the guards. Their demonstration had been peaceful and when the guards carried them off they offered no resistance.

Yet, the first three tried received sentences of 14, 15, and 16 years at hard labour. The ‘leaders’ of this spontaneous action are expected to receive even harsher sentences. Three of the 24 still facing trial have had the good sense to escape.

Brass counterattack

The brass is making a ‘big deal’ out of the Presidio trial. They had the whole thing moved to Fort Irwin, in the middle of the Mojave Desert – safe from the wrath of the movement. Then they turned around and accused the GIs’ defense attorney, Kayo Hallinan, of having instigated the mutiny a full two weeks before the shooting of Richard Bunch. The Kafka-esque staging of the trial and the severity of the sentences is no doubt designed to intimidate the GI resistance. GI activists are, in fact, watching this trial closely, but they have not ceased to organize.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 17.1.2008