[News] The Collapse of the Armed Forces - G.I. Resistance to the Vietnam War

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 10 12:10:28 EDT 2014

Weekend Edition October 10-12, 201


*The Collapse of the Armed Forces*

  G.I. Resistance to the Vietnam War


    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/

A friend who was in the U.S. military during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf 
War says that before President George H.W. Bush visited the troops in 
Saudi Arabia, enlisted men and women who would be in Bush's immediate 
vicinity had their rifle and pistol ammunition taken away from them. 
This is a standard practice when a President meet the troops, but along 
with obvious safety concerns it was clear to those on the scene that 
Bush and his corporate handlers were at least somewhat afraid of the 
enlisted people who Bush would soon be killing in his unsuccessful 
re-election campaign.

The suppressed history of the last big U.S. war prior to 'Operation 
Desert Storm' shows that the Commander-in-Chief had good reason to fear 
and distrust his troops. Our rulers want us to forget what happened 
during the Vietnam war --- especially what happened inside the U.S. 
armed forces during the war, and the importance of resistance to the war 
by enlisted men and women.

Until 1968 the desertion rate for U.S. 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 G.I.'s were 
on the increase world-wide. For soldiers in the combat zone, 
insubordination 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 U.S. 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 the author of Soldiers Of The 
Sea, a definitive history of the Marine Corps, wrote:

    "By every conceivable indicator, our army that remains in Vietnam is
    in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or
    having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned
    officers...Sedition, coupled with disaffection from within the
    ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and intensity
    previously inconceivable, infest the Armed Services..."

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 

In the Americal Division, plagued by poor morale, fraggings during 1971 
were estimated to be running around one a week. War equipment was 
frequently 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 resistance.

With the shifting over to an "air war" strategy, the Navy became an 
important center 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 re-board 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. In 
one of these instances, on July 10, 1972, while moored at Norfolk, 
Virginia, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Forrestal was disabled by a 
catastrophic fire in an O-3 level computer room, immediately beneath the 
flight deck.  This fire was apparently set by a member of the crew. In 
an attempt to put out the fire from above a hole was cut into the flight 
deck and hundreds of gallons of water were pumped into the computer 
room. This ruined crucial computer equipment and the aircraft carrier 
took on an exaggerated list, prompting concern that the aircraft carrier 
might capsize. After this a nickname for the Forrestal among sarcastic 
sailors was the 'Forest Fire.'

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 Navy:

    "The U.S. 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."

The rebellion in the ranks didn't emerge simply in response to 
battlefield conditions. A civilian anti-war movement in the U.S. had 
emerged on the coat-tails of the civil rights movement, at a time when 
earlier pacifism-at-any-price tactics of civil rights leaders had 
reached their effective limit, and were being questioned by a younger, 
combative generation. 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 these men. After the assassination of Martin 
Luther King Jr. major riots erupted in 181 U.S. cities; at that point 
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 wasn't 
limited to the United States. Large-scale rebellion was breaking out all 
over the world, in Latin American and Europe and Africa, and even 
against the Maoists in China; its high point was the wildcat general 
strike that shut down France in May, 1968, the most recent point at 
which a major industrialized democracy came close to revolution.

Some years ago, in a deceitful article in /Mother Jones/ magazine, 
corporate liberal historian Todd Gitlin claimed that the peaceful and 
legal aspects of the 1960?s U.S. anti-war movement had been the most 
successful opposition to a war in history. Gitlin was dead wrong; as a 
bourgeois historian, Gitlin is paid to render service unto capital by 
getting it wrong, and get it wrong he does, again and again. The most 
effective "anti-war" movement in history was at the end of World War 
One, when proletarian revolutions broke out in Russia, Germany and 
throughout Central Europe in 1917 and 1918. 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 commanding officers and went home to fight against the 
ruling classes that had sent them to war. The war ended with a global 
series of mutinies mirroring the social unrest spreading across the 
capitalist world; some of the most powerful regimes on Earth were 
quickly toppled and destroyed.

Soldiers and sailors played a leading role in the revolutionary 
movement. 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 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.

The collapse of the armed forces is a make or break event for any mass 
revolutionary movement. In July 1936, Francisco Franco's invasion of 
Spain from North Africa was hampered by a mutiny that nearly destroyed 
the Spanish Navy. A study by the Spanish Republican government during 
the subsequent civil war concluded that roughly 70% of the officers of 
the Spanish Navy were killed in this revolt. During the May 1968 revolt 
in France, President Charles de Gaulle fled the country to consult with 
commanders in Germany, in part over his concern that he did not know if 
he could count on the loyalty of French troops in the event of the mass 
strike wave continuing and turning into a civil war.

As recent events in Egypt show, any mass social movement that thinks 
"the army is on the side of the people" is doomed. An examination of 
what happened inside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War can help 
us see the central role "the military question" is going to play in new 
mass social movements in the 21st century. It isn't a question of how a 
chaotic and rebellious civilian populace can out-gun the well-organized, 
disciplined armed forces of the capitalist state in pitched battle, but 
of how a mass movement can cripple the effective fighting capacity of 
the military from within, 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 and ongoing 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 future effort 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. The "quasi-mutiny" that helped 
defeat the U.S. in Vietnam offers a significant precedent for the kind 
of subversive action working people will have to foment against 21st 
century global capitalism and its high-tech military machine.

As rampaging market forces trash living conditions for the majority of 
the world's people, working class troops will do the fighting in 
counter-insurgency actions against other working class people. War games 
a decade ago by the Marines in a defunct housing project in Oakland, 
California, dubbed 'Operation Urban Warrior,' highlight the fact that 
America's rulers want their military to be prepared to suppress the 
domestic fallout from their actions, and be ready to do it soon. But as 
previous waves of global unrest have shown, the forces that give rise to 
mass rebellion in one area of the globe will simultaneously give rise to 
rebellion in other parts of the world. 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. The relationship between officers and enlisted 
people mirrors the relationship between bosses and employees, and 
similar dynamics of class conflict emerge in both military and civilian 
versions of the workplace. The military is never hermetically sealed off 
from the forces at work in the larger society that spawns it.

Our rulers know all this. Our rulers know that they are vulnerable to 
mass resistance, and they know that their wealth and power can be 
collapsed from within by the working class women and men whom they 
depend on. We need to know it, too.

/*Kevin Keating* can be reached at: kevinkeating2010 at gmail.com 
<mailto:kevinkeating2010 at gmail.com>./

/Much of the information for this article has been taken from the book 
'Soldiers in Revolt: The American Military Today,' by David Cortright, 
published by Anchor/Doubleday in 1975./

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

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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