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Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War


The definitive account of GI resistance to the Vietnam War. New introduction by Howard Zinn.

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Reviews of Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War

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by BruceHH on Aug 2, 2009

History never repeats itself exactly. Situations change, some lessons are learned, others not. Such it the impression I get from reading this 2005 edition of a book first published in 1975. The addition of a postscript and a new introduction serve to reinforce the findings of this study on GI Resistance During the Vietnam War. This work is interesting for its applicability today. The first part of this book numerous instances of GI resistance in all the services except the Coast Guard. Underground newspapers were established with appropriate names, e.g. gigline, FTA, Attitude Check. The Carrier KITTY HAWK had ?Kitty Litter? while the submarine tender HUNLEY had the ?Hunley Hemorrhoid? with the motto ?We serve to preserve the pain in your ass.? The military tried to suppress these papers with minor success. Civilians (some veterans of Vietnam) often helped with staffing of these GI based anti-war organizations. But it was not a one-way street, one of the first indications of coordination between civilian and military activists and heightened political awareness came in early 1971, with GI movement support for the lettuce boycott organized by chicano farm workers in California. Some GI resistance was refusing to report for duty. Cortright found volunteer soldiers more prone to go AWOL than draftees. Having been deceived by the recruitment racket they expressed their bitterness through unsophisticated but effective means they voted with their feet. Numerous instances of ?mutinies? occurred with small groups refusing to board ship and/or deploy to the war zone. In the latter part of the Vietnam conflict groups of GIs refused to enter combat, esp. short-timers. While not as prevalent as in Vietnam some GIs are refusing to go to Iraq and/or have gone to Canada and at least one group in the Iraqi conflict refused to drive a convoy due to lack of proper equipment Many GIs turned to drugs to escape from reality. It has been shown Vietnam led to increased drug use in the US. Some may have been involved with drugs before Nam but many more got addicted there. Perhaps the most tragic symptom of disorder within the armed forces was the level of serious crime?. In the 197th Brigade, at Ft. Benning, the 1971 crime rate was nearly double that of 1970; in the 4th Mechanized Division, at Ft. Carson, there had been 173 thefts in just one month. The press has reported an increase in domestic violence and suicides in the military since Bush took us into Iraq. On July 17, 2009 the Army released a study on violent crimes committed by members of a Combat Brigade stationed at Fort Carson. The study did not reveal any one single cause, but rather a comprehensive list of individual predisposing factors, such as prior criminal behavior, drug or alcohol abuse, prior behavioral issues and barriers to seeking behavioral health care, Cartright refers to George Orwell?s 1984 where war is envisioned ?as no longer an annihilating mass struggle but ?a warfare of limited aims.? In the lurid world of the future, military conflict would become a continuous affair without victory or defeat, fought ?on the vague frontiers . . . or round the floating fortresses,? involving ?very small numbers of people, mostly highly trained specialists.? As we look at the current conflicts in the Middle East we see technology in the form of unmanned vehicles taking part in these wars of ?limited aims? (if there are any real aims). The new GI is a specialist using all sorts of new technology. Perhaps Orwell deserves a re-read. Part II of the work could be called the lessons learned portion. Cartright notes ?For the Pentagon, perhaps the chief lesson of Vietnam has been that sustained counterinsurgency warfare is no longer a realistic option, that the commitment of a huge expeditionary force is politically and militarily disastrous and threatens the very survival of the armed forces.? He continues his analysis with ?by relying on the armies of foreign military dictatorships (Iran, South Korea, Brazil), the United States can continue its interventionist policies despite insufficient manpower resources.? In 2009 reliance on foreign forces is no longer an option. We now have an all-volunteer military which, in Cartright?s view, ?was introduced and accepted. . . primarily because of the political and social pressures caused by resistance to the military [in Vietnam].? In the mid-seventies Cartright found ?most volunteers join the military to escape limited personal and economic opportunities.? The need for extra income plays a role in individuals enlisting in the National Guard and reserves. When we look at the ads for the military at from the 1990s to today the push is money for college if one joins the reserves and National Guard as well as the regular forces. We should note that many of the units in the war zone are reserve and National Guard units composed of enlistees expecting to play soldier one week-end a month and two weeks a year. They did not sign up for multiple lengthy tours in a war zone. In part I Cartright said ?the GI movement imbued the military with the voice of a troubled citizenry, providing a measure of democratic restraint on the otherwise unresponsive and imperious institutions of war.? However, there were instances of GIs running amok, My Lai was not the only instance. In most cases the perpetrators were not prosecuted but in the case of My Lai the Lieutenant in charge was put on trial. This didn?t sit that well with some GI resisters with some urging that the Calley trial be halted and the forming of a ?Citizens Commission of Inquiry? to investigate the criminal responsibility of senior American commanders. In the Iraqi war we have the incident at Abu Gharib where untrained reservists took part in what are considered war crimes. It was the lower ranks that were scape-goated. In Part II, (written in 1975) the author noted international military differences, e.g. the soldiers law of West Germany with the soldier-superior relationship very carefully defined to prevent coercive and unthinking submission to commanders. i.e. the individual soldier must be given not only the right but the responsibility to think and act independently. Thus the Nuremburg defense of ?I was only following orders? could not be used. Troops need to be provided a clear understanding of the rules of war and know they can exercise their right to refuse an unlawful order knowing they would be supported by the system. Cartright?s postscript has the benefit of information that has surfaced since his 1975 work. He notes that ? [In original edition] I argued that American forces were withdrawn in 1969 and afterwards because they ceased to function as an effective fighting force. Richard Nixon brought the troops home not only to accommodate domestic opinion, but to save the armed forces from internal ruin. Stretched beyond their capacity by a prolonged, fiercely fought war in a foreign jungle, lacking domestic political support for their mission, the U.S. armed forces suffered the worst defeat in their history.? Looking back at the divisions within society in the late 60s and early 70s that could be an easily drawn conclusion and perhaps that is what is occurring now. Society is attempting to choose where it wants its ?sons and daughters? to go in defense of our values. There are many comparisons between wars but none fit exactly. Vietnam was a war with draftees, Iraq and Afghanistan are not. Vietnam took place mainly in the jungle and highlands; Iraq and Afghanistan are mainly in the cities and villages. Our entry into both conflicts was based on questionable circumstances. However, in the Iraq conflict evidence was intelligence was purposely cooked and presented to get us into an illegal war. This work is thought provoking and I suggest it to all who want to understand more about ?limited? war and its effect on society.

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