[News] an anti-war strategy

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 5 12:17:47 EST 2004

Worth considering not just supporting GIs when they decide to refuse 
'suicide missions' but a more long term strategy for organizing. This 
article is strong on the impact of such work during the 70s during the war 
in Vietnam.

Let's rename 'Fleet Week' Mutiny Week!

Harass the Brass

by Max Anger

'Fleet Week' is an annual event in San Francisco, held over a four or five 
day period every September. Ships of the US Navy sail into port, and a team 
of the Navy's 'Blue Angels' stunt fighter aircraft pretends to strafe the 
city. No wonder they call San Francisco 'Baghdad-by-the-Bay!'

Thousands of young enlisted people from the visiting ships flood SF's 
tourist traps in North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf. What follows is the 
latest and longest version of a leaflet distributed to them on three or 
four occasions since 1985:

A friend who was in the US military during the Persian Gulf War told me 
that when George Bush visited the troops in Saudi Arabia before the war, 
many enlisted men and women in Bush's immediate vicinity had their rifle 
and pistol ammunition taken away. The bolts were also removed from their 
rifles. If this was so, it makes it clear that Bush and his corporate 
handlers may have been afraid of the US enlisted people who Bush would soon 
be killing in his unsuccessful re-election campaign.

The suppressed history of the Vietnam war shows that the Commander-in-Chief 
had good reason to fear and distrust the troops. Our rulers want us to 
forget what happened during the Vietnam war, and they want us to forget 
what defeated their war effort -- and the importance of the resistance to 
the war by enlisted men and women.

Until 1968 the desertion rate for US troops in Vietnam was lower than in 
previous wars. But by 1969 the desertion rate had increased fourfold. This 
wasn't limited to Southeast Asia; desertion rates among GIs were on the 
increase world-wide. For soldiers in the combat zone, refusing to obey 
orders became an important part of avoiding horrible injury or death. As 
early as mid-1969, an entire company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade 
sat down on the battlefield. Later that year, a rifle company from the 
famed 1st Air Cavalry Division flatly refused - on CBS TV - to advance down 
a dangerous trail. In the following 12 months the 1st Air Cav notched up 35 
combat refusals.

 From mild forms of political protest and disobedience of war orders, the 
resistance among the ground troops grew into a massive and widespread 
"quasi-mutiny" by 1970 and 1971. Soldiers went on "search and avoid" 
missions, intentionally skirting clashes with the Vietnamese and often 
holding three-day-long pot parties instead of fighting.

By 1970, the Army had 65,643 deserters, roughly the equivalent of four 
infantry divisions.

In an article published in the Armed Forces Journal (June 7, 1971), Marine 
Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr., a veteran combat commander with over 27 years 
experience in the Marines and author of Soldiers Of The Sea, a definitive 
history of the Marine Corps, wrote:

"Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, 
with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their 
officers and noncommissioned officers..."

Heinl cited a New York Times article which quoted an enlisted man saying, 
"The American garrisons on the larger bases are virtually disarmed. The 
lifers have taken our weapons away...there have also been quite a few frag 
incidents in the battalion."

"Frag incidents" or "fragging" was soldier slang in Vietnam for the killing 
of strict, unpopular and aggressive officers and NCO's. The word apparently 
originated from enlisted men using fragmentation grenades to off commanders.

Heinl wrote, "Bounties, raised by common subscription in amounts running 
anywhere from $50 to $1,000, have been widely reported put on the heads of 
leaders who the privates and SP4s want to rub out.

"Shortly after the costly assault on Hamburger Hill in mid-1969, the GI 
underground newspaper in Vietnam, GI Says, publicly offered a $10,000 
bounty on Lieutenant Colonel Weldon Hunnicutt, the officer who ordered and 
led the attack.

"The Pentagon has now disclosed that fraggings in 1970 (209 killings) have 
more than doubled those of the previous year (96 killings). Word of the 
deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of 
certain units."

Congressional hearings on fraggings held in 1973 estimated that roughly 3% 
of officer and non-com deaths in Vietnam between 1961 and 1972 were a 
result of fraggings. But these figures were only for killings committed 
with grenades, and didn't include officer deaths from automatic weapons 
fire, handguns and knifings(!). The Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps 
estimated that only 10% of fragging attempts resulted in anyone going to trial.

In the Americal Division, plagued by poor morale, fraggings during 1971 
were estimated to be running around one a week. War equipment was sabotaged 
and destroyed. By 1972 roughly 300 anti-war and anti-military newspapers, 
with names like Harass the Brass, All Hands Abandon Ship and Star Spangled 
Bummer had been put out by enlisted people.

"In Vietnam," wrote the Ft. Lewis-McCord Free Press, "The Lifers, the 
Brass, are the true enemy...."

Riots and anti-war demonstrations took place on bases in Asia, Europe and 
in the United States. By the early 1970s the government had to begin 
pulling out of the ground war and switching to an "air war" in part because 
many of the ground troops who were supposed to do the fighting were 
hamstringing the world's mightiest military force by their sabotage and 

With the shifting over to an "air war" strategy, the Navy became an 
important source of resistance to the war. In response to the racism that 
prevailed inside the Navy, black and white sailors occasionally rebelled 
together. The most significant of these rebellions took place on board the 
USS Constellation off Southern California in November 1972. In response to 
a threat of less-than-honorable discharges against several black sailors, a 
group of over 100 black and white sailors staged a day-and-a-half long 
sit-in. Fearful of losing control of his ship at sea to full-scale mutiny, 
the ship's commander brought the Constellation back to San Diego.

One hundred thirty-two sailors were allowed to go ashore. They refused 
orders to reboard the ship several days later, staging a defiant dockside 
strike on the morning of November 9. In spite of the seriousness of the 
rebellion, not one of the sailors involved was arrested.

Sabotage was an extremely useful tactic. On May 26, 1970, the USS Anderson 
was preparing to steam from San Diego to Vietnam. But someone had dropped 
nuts, bolts and chains down the main gear shaft. A major breakdown 
occurred, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of damage and a delay of 
several weeks. Several sailors were charged, but because of a lack of 
evidence the case was dismissed.

With the escalation of naval involvement in the war the level of sabotage 
grew. In July of 1972, within the space of three weeks, two of the Navy's 
aircraft carriers were put out of commission by sabotage. On July 10, a 
massive fire swept through the admiral's quarters and radar center of the 
USS Forestall, causing over $7 million in damage. This delayed the ship's 
deployment for over two months.

In late July, the USS Ranger was docked at Alameda, California. Just days 
before the ship's scheduled departure for Vietnam, a paint-scraper and two 
12-inch bolts were inserted into the number-four-engine reduction gears 
causing nearly $1 million in damage and forcing a three-and-a-half month 
delay in operations for extensive repairs. The sailor charged in the case 
was acquitted. In other cases, sailors tossed equipment over the sides of 
ships while at sea.

The House Armed Services Committee summed up the crisis of rebellion in the 

"The US Navy is now confronted with pressures...which, if not controlled, 
will surely destroy its enviable tradition of discipline. Recent instances 
of sabotage, riot, willful disobedience of orders, and contempt for 
authority...are clear-cut symptoms of a dangerous deterioration of discipline."

Resistance to the war effort by men in uniform was a product of 
circumstances favorable to revolt. A civilian anti-war movement in the US 
had emerged on the coat-tails of the civil rights movement, at a time when 
the pacifism-at-any-price tactics of civil rights leaders had reached their 
effective limit, and were being questioned by a younger generation of 
activists. Working class blacks and Latinos served in combat units out of 
all proportion to their numbers in American society, and major urban riots 
in Watts, Detroit and Newark had an explosive effect on the consciousness 
of many of these men. After the assassination of Martin Luther King major 
riots erupted in 181 US cities; the rulers of the United States were facing 
the gravest national crisis since the Civil War. And the radical movement 
of the late 1960's was an international phenomenon not limited to the US. 
There was revolt everywhere, even against the Maoists in China; its high 
point was the wildcat general strike that shut down France in May, 1968, 
the last time a major industrialized democracy came close to revolution.

The relationship between officers and enlisted people mirrors the 
relationship between bosses and employees, and similar dynamics of class 
conflict emerge in the military and civilian versions of the workplace. The 
military is never a hermetically sealed organization. The armed forces are 
vulnerable to social forces at work in the larger society that spawns them. 
Revolt in civilian society bleeds through the fabric of the military into 
the ranks of enlisted people.

Ten years ago, in an article in Mother Jones magazine, corporate liberal 
historian and New Leftover Todd Gitlin claimed that the US anti-war 
movement of the Vietnam period was the most successful opposition to a war 
in history. Gitlin was dead wrong; as a bourgeois historian Gitlin is paid 
to get it wrong. The most effective "anti-war" movement in history occurred 
at the end of World War One, when proletarian revolutions broke out in 
Russia, Germany and throughout Central Europe in 1917 and 1918, and a 
crucial factor in the revolutionary movement of that time was the collapse 
of the armies and navies of Russian and Germany in full-scale armed mutiny. 
After several years of war and millions of casualties the soldiers and 
sailors of opposing nations began to fraternize with each other, turned 
their guns against their officers and went home to fight against the ruling 
classes that had sent them into the war. The war ended with a global cycle 
of mutinies mirroring the social unrest spreading across the capitalist 
world. The naval bases Kronstadt in Russia and Kiel and Wilhelmshaven in 
Germany became important centers of revolutionary self-organization and 
action, and the passing of vast numbers of armed soldiers and sailors to 
the side of the Soviets allowed the working class to briefly take power in 
Russia. The French invasion of Revolutionary Russia in 1919 and 1920 was 
crippled by the mutiny of the French fleet in the Black Sea, centered 
around the battleships France and the Jean Bart. Mutinies broke out among 
sailors in the British Navy and in the armies of the British empire in 
Asia, and even among American troops sent to aid the counter-revolutionary 
White Army in the Russian Civil War.

Organized revolutionary mutiny doesn't happen in every war, but it occurs 
more frequently than military historians generally acknowledge. One of the 
most significant naval mutinies in history occurred in the Spanish Navy in 
July 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. In response to 
massive working class unrest, the Spanish military launched a coup d'etat 
led by Francisco Franco. Franco's army was to invade Spain from North 
Africa with the aid of ships of the Spanish Navy. But a majority of Spanish 
sailors were class-conscious socialists and anarchists, and these men 
planned a coordinated revolt in response. After several days of ship-board 
combat the sailors won. This almost broke the back of Franco's coup 
attempt. A later study by the Spanish Republican government estimated that 
70% of the Naval officer corps was killed in the mutiny.

The crisis that racked American society during the Vietnam war was a grave 
crisis for what has been a historically very stable society, but it wasn't 
profound enough to create an irreparable rupture between the rulers and the 
ruled, or give rise to a full-fledged revolutionary crisis. The US was 
still coasting on the relative prosperity of the post-World War Two 
economic boom. Life wasn't as bad for as many people as it is now, and 
that's why US involvement in a similar protracted ground war, in Columbia 
or Mexico for example, could have a much more explosive impact on American 
society in the near future. History shows that a conscript or draftee army 
is more prey to sedition than an all-volunteer force. This might be one 
reason that all-volunteer armed forces are becoming the norm for the 
world's major industrialized democracies.

It's an ugly fact that war and revolution were intimately linked in the 
most far-going social movements of the 20th century. With the US 
governments' self-appointed role as the global policeman for capitalist law 
and order, it's likely that the crisis that will be necessary to cause an 
irreparable break between the rulers and the ruled in the United States 
will come from a war. It will be a war the US can't quickly win or walk 
away from, a war they can't fight with a proxy army like the Nicaraguan 
Contras, a war with a devastating impact on the civilian populace of the 
US: a minimum of 5,000 Americans coming home in plastic bags. Protracted 
civil unrest or full-scale revolution in Mexico is one situation that could 
give rise to this. At that point widespread fraternization between 
anti-capitalist radicals and enlisted people will be crucial in bringing an 
end to this nightmarish social order.

An examination of what happened to the US military during the Vietnam War 
can help us understand the central role the "the military question" will 
play in a future revolutionary struggle. It isn't a question of how a 
chaotic and rebellious civilian populace can out-gun the well-organized, 
disciplined armies of the capitalist state in pitched battle, but of how 
this mass movement can cripple the effective fighting capacity of the 
military, and bring about the collapse and dispersal of the state's armed 
forces. What set of circumstances can compel the inchoate discontentment 
endemic in any wartime army or navy to advance to the level of conscious 
organized resistance? How fast and how deeply can a subversive 
consciousness spread among enlisted people? How can rebels in uniform take 
effective, large-scale action against the military machine? This will 
involve the sabotage and destruction of sophisticated military 
technologies, an irreversible breakdown in the chain-of-command, and a 
terminal demoralization of the officer corps. Circumstances must make it 
clear to officers that they are fighting a losing war, and that their 
physical safety can best be guaranteed if they give up, surrender their 
weapons and run away. The "quasi-mutiny" that helped defeat the US in 
Vietnam offers a significant precedent for the kind of subversive action 
revolutionaries will have to help foment in the fight against 21st century 

As Capital's global dictatorship causes living conditions to deteriorate 
for the majority of humanity, working class troops will be given an 
expanding role in suppressing the rebellions of other working class people. 
The use of US armed forces during the Los Angeles riots in the spring of 
1992 was a taste of the military's likely future domestic role in 
maintaining this exploitative social order. But the forces that lead to 
mass rebellion in one area of the globe will also give rise to rebellions 
in other parts of the globe; our rulers' power and their economy can be 
collapsed from within by the working class women and men whom they depend on.

Information for this article has been taken from the book Soldiers in 
Revolt, by David Cortright, published by the Institute for Policy Studies, 
the pamphlet Mutinies by David Lamb, which may be available from AK Press 
Distribution in San Francisco, and various issues of the Detroit, Michigan 
anarchist newspaper The Fifth Estate. Information on the Spanish Civil War 
is taken from The Spanish Revolution: The left and the struggle for power, 
by Burnett Bolletin.

And the US Army's Psychological Operations manual is quite useful -- find 
copies of this last one if you can!

Readers should please send copies of this article to any enlisted people 
they know.


An American soldier in a hospital explained how he was wounded: He said, "I 
was told that the way to tell a hostile Vietnamese from a friendly 
Vietnamese was to shout 'To hell with Ho Chi Minh!' If he shoots, he's 
unfriendly. So I saw this dude and yelled 'To hell with Ho Chi Minh!' and 
he yelled back, 'To hell with President Johnson!' We were shaking hands 
when a truck hit us."

(from 1,001 Ways to Beat the Draft, by Tuli Kupferburg).


1. A few far-sighted individuals among the U.S. political elite apparently 
fear that U.S. involvement in a ground war could trigger large-scale 
domestic unrest.

According to Newsweek magazine, at a meeting in the White House during 
President Clinton's intervention in the Balkans, a heated exchange took 
place between Madeleine Albright, then ambassador to the United Nations, 
and then-National Security Adviser Colin Powell.

Newsweek gives the following confusing and semi-coherent account:

"...Powell steadfastly resisted American involvement. He initially opposed 
even air drops of food, fearing that these would fail and that U.S. Army 
ground troops would inevitably be sucked in. His civilian bosses, who 
suspected him of padding the numbers when asked how many U.S. troops would 
be required, grew impatient.

At one meeting, Madeleine Albright, then ambassador to the United Nations, 
famously confronted Powell. "What's the point of having this superb 
military that you're always talkingabout if we can't use it?" she demanded. 
In his memoirs, Powell recalled that he told Albright that GI's were "not 
toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board."

An official who witnessed the exchange told NEWSWEEK that Powell also said 
something quite revealing that has not been reported.

"You would see this wonderful society destroyed," the general angrily told 

It was clear, said this official, that Powell was referring to his beloved 

("Colin Powell: Behind the Myth," by Evan Thomas and John Berry, Newsweek, 
March 5th, 2001)

Colin Powell was a junior officer in the fragging-plagued Americal Division 
during the Vietnam War. On numerous occasions, Powell has said that the US 
defeat in Vietnam was the main influence on the way he sees the world. Pow 
ell clearly understands that the armed forces are a function of the larger 
civilian society that spawns them.

Was Colin Powell speaking about the US Army -- or about US society itself 
with his comment about seeing "this wonderful society destroyed?" You be 
the judge!

The Freedom Archives
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