Soldier-dissent in real time

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I started this week staring at the #WallofVets. The video above bears re-watching: for its diversity of ages, for the military branches represented, for the solidarity among the protesters, the “walls” of mothers, dads and veterans converged to face federal agents sent to suppress their node of the George Floyd uprising.

The wall was created after Navy vet Chris David was beaten and tear-gassed for trying to ask federal agents clubbing protesters: What about your oath to defend the Constitution?  Veterans for Peace types note that Vietnam vet Mike Hastie was in that position  before David, under a similar principle: veterans should be protecting protesters.

Progressive vets across the country had been showing up soon after George Floyd died,  especially  after  June 1—when peaceful protesters in D.C. were chased out of Lafayette Park by the Park Police, backed up by a grudging National Guard contingent.

This week Major Adam De Marco of the latter testified before Congress about that day, quoting the late John Lewis: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

Speaking under the protection of Military Whistleblower Act, De Marco described a largely peaceful protest aggressively disrupted by the Secret Service, the D.C. Park Police, and “under law enforcement agencies I was unable to identify.” Since that day, of course, we’ve learned about the vicious braid of federal law agencies tapped by Trump to “restore order” by stomping out protest.

A few days after that moment in Lafayette Park, veterans from all over the country converged at the Lincoln Memorial, under the hashtag #Vets4BLM and #ContinuetoServe. Former Navy corpsman David Smith writes about that day: ” Veterans from upstate New York drove to DC to be a part of this protest. Veterans from across the country have been messaging me this week, asking about organization, who to contact, how to find people in their communities, what I am doing to organize a group here, how to donate, on and on and on.”

Smith, who served 2007-2019 and thus through multiple administrations, started  ContinuetoServe.vet that week. He adds that these veterans feel sworn to  “support and defend the Constitution and the citizens of this country. All citizens. Not just privileged citizens. Not just white citizens. Not just rich citizens. ALL CITIZENS.” His D.C.-based group is just once component of what’s being done in support of Black Lives Matter.

I’m working on an op-ed piece that puts this into historical context, but for right now I hope you’ll look at that video again.  Note the mix of older vets and 20-somethings like the young woman above. Or like Clint Hall, who   told the New York Times that the scene reminded him of Iraq:

After suffering through the tear gas that was shot into the crowd, Mr. Hall said that the tear gas was so strong that it was leaving burns on his skin. He said it felt worse than the tear gas he recalled from his time in the Army.

“This response from the feds is over the top,” he said.

I first noticed Hall in coverage of the Wall because of his sign: Disabled Vets For Black LivesMatter. That nod to what all this is about was common to these vets–to David Smith in D.C., to Christopher David, who kept telling journalists “I’d like to try to shift the tdiscussion back to Black Lives Matter.” These vets remind me that the historical parallels in my op-ed need to be soldiers and vets who spoke out for Black Lives. There’s no shortage of those. Stay tuned.

Notes toward an introduction

 

July 2020: As the book approaches publication WITHOUT an introduction, I decided to repost this from ten years ago, when it was still under the aegis of UC Press and Chelsea Manning was still imprisoned at Quantico. The book evolved as well, but the themes below whisper from between its pages.

It’s been a long time since I first started batting around the idea of a book about the G.I. Rights Hotline, (a book I’d still love to write someday), and instead took on this behemoth of a project. Below is what I’m calling my faux-introduction; we hope that someone with more clout (Dan Ellsberg? Cynthia Enloe?) will write the real one, but in the meantime I tried to articulate my multiple themes and my reasoning behind who I included and didn’t. For those who’ve been following my travails all along,  some of what’s below will feel familiar; my hope is that it will also explain, a bit better, why I zeroed in one the people I did.

My inspiration, kind of my gold standard, was people who’d taken the path directly from warmonger to peacemaker, like Philip Berrigan or the just-recently-lost-to-us Howard Zinn (seen as a 1944 bombardier, right). But that inspiration, and the way I frame it above, is too incomplete to be honest,  or even narratively interesting to me.

On the simplest level, some kinds of military dissent — desertion comes to mind —  ALWAYS constitute a challenge to the military’s functioning, and need to be described even when it’s for non-political reasons.

More profoundly, what’s come clearest as I finish the book is that my interest is not only the total transformers, though that’s kind of the core of the inquiry, as the partial ones along the way. For each chapter and each war, I’m asking for what ends government-sponsored violence and preparation for same were being relied on —especially, perhaps,  including odious ones like slavery and genocide of indigenous people — and honoring soldier-dissent against them, too. My old friend Sam might argue that since the means — military action — is odious, that should be enough; but it’s not.

Back when I was on staff at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, I used to half-joke that  “if there’s gonna be a revolution, it’s going to happen because of antiwar veterans,” like those who volunteered for my branch of the G.I. Rights Hotline. Being defiantly uninterested in Marxist predictions of actual revolution, what I meant was that fundamental, progressive change has been escorted into American life with such figures, half-ignored even as they’re being lionized for other reasons.

I’ve usually described my criteria for inclusion in the book as “a kind of reverse funnel,” one ending in a laser-sharp focus on truly antiwar soldiers but beginning with a much wider palette:  Chapters 1-7 including mutinies over late pay and desertion in protest of the freeing of slaves (one of the least glorious moments for Civil War soldiers) and then narrowing through Vietnam and beyond —until, by  the 21st century, “we have our hands full just challenges thrown up to what some Iraq vets call “gee-wot” (the Global War on Terror).” Earlier rebellions, such as the 1779 mutinies against price-gouging and the 1930 Bonus March, seen only as “important reminders, especially through the Cold War, of the immense potential power of such rebellions.” That all sounds way too glib to me now, after three years of learning and writing.

What feels both more honest, as a journalist and historian, and equally true to the spirit of Philip Berrigan and Howard Zinn, is this:  Include a selection of those who, having had a significant experience in the U.S. military, have used that experience to help nudge American society as a whole away from militarism. Mili-what? Think simply of the concept of “relying on armed enforcers to protect us and our stuff” (the latter meaning land, or water, or oil, or more amorphous concepts such as national identity, ideology or “credibility” ,e.g. saving face).  You can look up the Webster’s definition if you like.

As I write this, Howard Zinn has just died, and a 2004 Nation quote has just surfaced: “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.” It’s those surprises, in the form of challenges thrown down to the established order by soldiers, that I’m tracking, making semi-educated guesses as to which of those zigzags was pointed toward peace.

Show me the money. The name “soldier” is derived from the French “soldat,” meaning money: and issues of how well troops are paid was a flashpoint of dissent from day one.  The opening chapter, “A Country Born of Dissent,”  is rooted in such rebellions, including the 1754 mass desertions of colonial soldiers, the 1781 Mutiny in January that almost got Washington involved, Captain Daniel Shays’ uprising against bankers (whose veteran-troops were called “The Regulators.” Take that, Bernanke!). Class issues were alive and well, continuing when Lt. Matthew Lyon, one of Ethan Allen’s “Green Mountain Boys,” was defeated by a mutiny on July 4, 1776 when his men refused orders that involved not fighting the British but guarding absentee landholders’ property. Matthew Lyon, the commander of that 1776 mutiny and publisher of the anti-Federalist newspaper The Scourge of Aristocracy and the Repository of Important Political Truths, ended up, twenty years later, a foe of John Adams imprisoned under the 1798 Sedition Act.

There wasn’t yet a concept of an antiwar soldier, especially after James Madison nearly secured for Quakers an exemption from military service for conscientious objectors. But in the meantime, men from “peace churches” in uniform were a wild card of their own, as when Methodist minister Lee preached peace to his Continental Army brigade: “ Many of the people, officers as well as men, were bathed in tears before I was done.”

Hardcore mavericks and original sins. For the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, one of the main tasks of the American soldier was to perpetrate those two original sins I mentioned earlier — the slave economy, and the bargain first proposed for native peoples by  Thomas Jefferson. “They will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi,” Jefferson wrote to future president William Henry Harrison, adding that if they resisted “we need only close our hand to crush them.”  Or, either become private capitalists and gentleman farmers like us or kicked off your land, which conveniently becomes ours. Precious few, especially during active duty, saw anything wrong with the latter, though half-native soldier William Apes did wonder why he was fighting in the War of 1812 against those who’d despoiled his Pequot ancestors.  His matter-of-fact “I could not think why I should risk my life, my limbs,  in fighting for the white man, who had cheated my people out of their land,” cast triangulated light on that war’s expansionist aims (for all the geopolitical context and diplomatic spittle, the war ended when the Brits exacted an immediately-broken promise not to mess with the Indians).

A few years later General Ethan Allen Hitchcock called the Jefferson-Jackson expansion policies “a blight upon the Indian.” Hitchcock, the Hamlet of American expansionism, railed in his diaries against President Andrew Jackson, who was acting to put Jefferson’s Indian policies into bloody practice. When another president sent him to Mexico for another very-regretted war, Hitchcock made common cause with West Point dropout and rogue diplomat Nicholas Trist, who negotiated peace with Mexico, even as hawks back home were chanting for his recall.

Those who actually took public action against “Indian policy”   were, almost without exception, also connected somehow to the abolitionist movement, which had begun to move from relentless newspapering and prayer to a harder core. These included Hitchcock, who found in the Civil War the fight he could finally get behind, andSilas Soule, who offered some of the rare light refusing to participate in the  massacre of Indians at Sand Hill after having volunteered for Lincoln’s war against slavery, along with two of his brothers.

Also lining up to end slavery were Ambrose Bierce’s uncle Lucius Bierce, who sent guns to John Brown before raising two regiments for the war; the iconic Charles Shaw and George Garrison, sun of the iconic William Garrison, among the white officers leading battalions of black soldiers, and the Carpetbagger officers who went South to try to enforce Lincoln’s promise. These soldiers were engaged in something intrinsically radical even when working for the President, throwing “surprises” at the powerful economic and social forces that had fed the slave economy.

Without them, we would likely not have the minority who took the next step and went on to become prominent antiwar voices when the Spanish-American and Philippine wars came along —  Frederick Douglass’ son Lewis; the younger Bierce, who William Randolph Hearst feared sending to the Philippines because of his veteran’s skepticism;   and the flotilla of grizzled vets who joined with Andrew Carnegie’s Anti-Imperialist League, like Donelson Caffery (whose brigade had fought Bierce’s at Shiloh), John Adams descendant Gettysburg veteran Charles Francis Adams. Not to mention Mark Twain, who lived to vacation with Woodrow Wilson years after the League was gone and few remembered his“The War Prayer.”  But Twain’s antiwar poems and the writing of the younger Bierce, especially his story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” would be remembered by those looking centuries later for a soldier’s story that rang true.

From “nostalgia” to“shell shock and beyond. Bierce, darling of the yellow press and bete noire of plutocrats, would eventually become what  journalist and veterans’ advocate Lily Casura has called “the quintessential, though unrealized, poster boy for PTSD,” wandering to suicide in Mexico via a tour of old battlefields. A close read of his early postwar writing. as in “What I Saw at Shiloh” which ends: I will willingly surrender an other life than the one that I should have thrown away at Shiloh;  when that same battle took place, hundreds of soldiers of both sides broke down, carried onto hospital ships with a case of what doctors called “nostalgia.” That was around the time that commanders and military doctors started tracking soldiers’ breakdowns as less “weakness” and more something related to war, even positing that the trials of battle damaged the heart muscle — both accurate and prescient, considering the complex hormonal and developmental re-wiring that we now know takes place when stress responses harden.

This, unlike the money and mavericks, is a stream I was looking for, having been near-obsessed with PTSD as a subject long before I knew I would write this book. The relationship between the military and traumatic stress is a complex one, as noted by experts like Col. David Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Consequences of Learning to Kill on War and Society. Some, like Andrew Jackson, never got over it but subsumed it into national policy; others, like Bierce and George Garrison, turned it all inward. Still others, of course,  turned trauma into art —like World War I vet Lewis Milestone, the protagonist of whose All Quiet on the Western Front tells a group of schoolchildren: “We live in the trenches. And our bodies are earth. And our thoughts are clay. And we sleep and eat with death. And we’re done for, because you can’t live that way and keep anything inside you.”

By then, the Freudians were grabbing hold of what laypeople had called “shell shock,” a grip that was complete by the time John Huston, still having nightmares from his World War II service in Europe, made the long-suppressed documentary Let There Be Light,  whose subjects ask earnestly to be cured of their “psycho-neurotic” ailments.That suppression, added to general cold-war amnesia, meant that when Vietnam veterans started experiencing something similar, they had  to work hard to know what was going on.

The process of doing so, getting those truths near-permanently exposed and their treatment mandated, also has required a lot of those surprises, and a fair amount of dissent; like soldiers’ compensation, its psychological damage is another cost of war.

Speaking of the cold war, however,  civil rights icon Bayard Rustin once told his old friend David McReynolds that before the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, national discourse was like a brittle steel wall, and it took a mighty shake from Montgomery to fracture it. That wall squelched a lot of early postwar surprises, from Howard Zinn’s own American Veterans Committee and early organizing by Medgar Evers, while energy underneath it continued to bubble in all sort of unexpected ways, as J.D. Salinger and Joseph Heller poured PTSD onto the page and the paradigm-shattering ROTC dropout Rustin, who’d long since finished his prison term for refusing the draft, began organizing to infuse “Gandhian” principles into the fight for racial justice,  until he showed up at Montgomery to help Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. take his boycott national.

The fracturing of that wall, its accompanying surprises (the Beats, the civil rights movement), is part of the origin story of the 20th-century peace movement. As soldiers and veterans increasingly became involved in the latter, the learning was mutual:

Stand up for your beliefs, brother. How do the less-antiwar dissenters interact with the most hardcore objectors? The dynamic between the two is simultaneously twisted and heartening: From the Revolution on, non-dissenting soldiers often took note of what we’d now call “peaceniks” not with horror but with solidarity, and when the wars themselves turned explicitly bad looked to them for guidance, or at least proof that to object wasn’t insane.  Early examples included  Civil War medic Jesse Macy, who kept refusing to be shunted aside all the way to the end of the war; conscientious objectors who encouraged strikes at military prisons during World War I and II; and in-service CO’s like Desmond Doss, who saved hundreds of soldiers as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa, and Lew Ayres, who went from playing a traumatized soldier in AQWF to spending months as a medic in the Philippines, some of it under the command of Major William Kunstler.  In these new wars, many young soldiers and veterans tell similar stories: “There’s a lot of respect for what you did,” a Marine once told Stephen Funk (above), one of the founders of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

I hardly mean to claim that the pacifists were making converts left and right (certainly not right). It’s probable that the majority of the soldiers were little affected by these dissenters, but I’m not writing about the majority. And at many points on this zigzag path, there they were —the series of surprises, the wild cards in the deck, the grace notes or minor crescendos that cut against the standard music. As the book proceeds, you’ll glimpse both sides of these interactions — and watch them collude, as when some of them show up sick.

Also in this stream are the civilians without whom the soldiers might never have been able to get the word out, from War Resisters League founders Frances Witherspoon and Tracy Mygatt to the stalwart military law experts and volunteers, from Citizen Soldier’s Tod Ensign to the indomitable Kathleen Gilberd, co-author of Rules of Disengagement, the Politics of Military Dissent. (I know that by doing so I leave out whole swaths of equally dedicated activists who did NOT focus on dissenting soldiers, but ….) In a few cases, like my old friend Steve Morse, it worked the other way just a little; Steve went from Swarthmore to joining the Army so he could better organize soldiers, though at the time he was also part of a somewhat pernicious subset of civilians who saw in soldiers (working-class  and armed!) the  perfect recruits for their brand of socialism. (That subset has remained in action, on all sides of the political spectrum  – from Ron Paul to World Can’t Wait.)

One is for fighting, one is for fun. As better scholars than I have noted, the U.S. military has long been identified with a certain kind of exaggerated masculinity, in ways that have actually increased as those other walls kept crumbling. And the mouse in all those houses is the presence of non-gender-conforming soldiers, from the women who “passed” in the pre-20th century wars to the gays who did the same (Walt Whitman’s lover Peter Doyle or Major Alice Davey Sheldon, also known as James Tiptree Jr.). By the time we get to the 1990s, women have been welcomed into the U.S. military with mostly open arms while gays remain simultaneously criminalized and ubiquitous; the resulting fights for equal treatment, sparked in part by revelations of sexual assault of women in uniform just as gay service members really began to organize, is actually where gender could stop mattering, and stop threatening the military ethos — and thus, no longer belong in this book. Stay tuned to find out if that ever happens.

Everything old is new again. So what’s happening right now, in the dual wars that some aggregate into “the long war” or the “global war on terror?” A series of new and old surprises on all the paths above, along with some new ones enabled by technology and globalization and the sheer kick-ass defiance of the soldiers themselves.

the mother of all injustices

Right this second I’m listening to the Supreme Court debate Native American treaty rights, but first I had to watch the West Wing episode above, which asks its Native characters how they keep fighting amid the “mother of all injustices.” The answer, of course, is a question: “What’s the alternative?”

As a non-Native journalist, I know that my words aren’t the ones that count here as McGirt is being argued: better to read Ruth Hopkins at Indian Country Today, or the Twitter feed of Debbie Reese. But I listen in part because I’ve written a little about the Mashpee Wampanoag, the tribe featured in most tales of the First Thanksgiving. That Nation is at this moment in danger of being “disestablished” by the Dept of the Interior, an issue being fought in court right now. As the Harvard Crimson explains well, the Mashpee have been fighting for sovereignty for 200+ years. Indian Country Today tells us that on May 20, in DC, the tribe already fighting the pandemic will stand up and tell the court why it should not be disestablished.

Neither ICT, the Crimson nor the Justices mention William Apess, who I’ve been reading, writing and thinking about for more than a decade, including on this blog. Though that 2011 post doesn’t give you why Apess, a soldier in the War of 1812 born to a Pequot father and formerly enslaved mother, led me to the Mashpee:

“Apess’ last home was in Boston, a hotbed of anti-removal activism. In 1832, William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, whose masthead included a symbol of broken treaties, noted, “A short interview with [Apess] has given us a very favorable opinion of his talents and piety.” Garrison was also a key supporter when, in the following year, Apess was arrested in what the newspapers called the “Mashpee riot.”

On a visit to the Groton Pequot reservation soon after he met with Garrison, Apess was told by his father that if he truly wanted to help Indians, Apess had to go north and minister to the Mashpee. A tiny, 329-strong nation, the Mashpee had tried without success to disrupt their absentee overseers, but were blocked by an assigned, Harvard-paid white Congregationalist missionary. When Apess arrived, the Mashpee adopted him so that he could advocate for them. He either wrote or heavily influenced the petition with an accompanying four-point autonomy plan that the tribe presented to Governor Josiah Quincy. The petition mentioned Mashpee warriors who had died while in the Continental Army.

Apess was certainly at the Mashpee plantation when four white lumbermen showed up and began to cut wood from the tribal forest, only to be informed by some large, armed Indians that they had better stop and leave. Governor Quincy, reportedly fearing a Nat Turner-style rebellion, sent in the state militia and ordered the “rioters” arrested, including the “Indian preacher.”

For the next six months, Apess became famous and/or notorious, in the now-classic role of civil-rights-organizer-as-outside-agitator. One issue of The Liberator swooned over Apess’ statement before the state House of Representatives. “He illustrated the manner in which extortions were made from the poor Indians, and plainly declared that they wanted their rights as men and as freemen,” Garrison wrote. The following year, with support from “Garrisonian” legislators, a far-reaching law gave the Mashpee more autonomy over their lands.[i]

Such limited victories hardly spelled the kind of justice for which Apess was riding around the country. His final work was the passionate Eulogy for King Philip, referring to Metacom, the 17th-century Wampanoag leader who had fought the Puritans. “Does it not appear that the cause of all wars was and is: That the whites have always been the aggressors, and the wars, cruelties and blood shed, is a job of their own making, and not the Indians?”[ii] |


[i]       Kim McQuaid, “William Apess, Pequot: An Indian Reformer in the Jackson Era. “The New England Quarterly,” 50: 4 (1977), 605-625.

[ii]      The Black Panthers,150 years later, could have borrowed that sentence intact.”

The above has just been officially copyrighted by New Press, along with the rest of Da Book (pre-order now if you like). I found Apess as I was looking for Native soldier-dissenters, previously only represented in Ain’t Marchin’ by Simon Girty, a “White Indian” who deserted the Continental Army when he witnessed open genocide. Now, I find myself thinking Apess would address that May 20 hearing with the same answer given by that Native character on The West Wing, seeing no alternative than a return to the battlefield.

I can only hope that his story will be present that day, and that it helps cut the base out from under the foundational injustice.

For the 50th (?!) anniversary of Kent State

Written 10 years ago, and most of the text below didn’t make it into the published book.

I’m listening to a program on NPR’s Talk of the Nation about the events of May 4, 1970, at Kent State University. including a survivor of the shootings and a few historians that reminded/explained the super-intense political context. While I was eight years old at the time, this year I feel I do have some memories to offer: those of the people I’ve spent four years writing about. A few paragraphs from the book:

vvaw_logoThe U.S. had just invaded Cambodia, sparking mass protests around the country. William T. Ehrhart, later of the laureates of Vietnam poetry, told Gerry Nicosia, author of Home At War, that he and his fellow vets in Philadelphia were stunned:

We hadn’t heard of [Vietnam Veterans Against the War] yet but they were in green and they were obviously Vietnam vets and they were obviously trashing the ROTC building with great glee. And the students ate it up: “The Vietnam vets are going crazy!” The next morning we found out about the students getting killed at Kent State.

On May 4, four students were shot and killed by National Guardsmen after the university’s ROTC building was set aflame. The lasting image in a nation’s mind was not the one the protestors remembered, of hippies facing down children who’d joined the Guard (perhaps to avoid Vietnam) and putting flowers in their M-16s, but one young girl weeping over the dead body of Alison Krauss, twenty years old.

Erhart told Nicosia what the killings meant to new vets — to people who, like him, had thought they were sent abroad to prevent the harming of U.S. civilians. It isn’t enough to send us halfway around the world to die, I thought. It isn’t enough to turn us loose on Asians. Now you are turning the soldiers loose on your own children. Now you are killing your own children in the streets of America. GI’s and civilians protested together in dozens of cities. In Seattle, near Fort Lewis, nearly 13,000 blockaded the Seattle Freeway, to protest both the Cambodia invasion and the Kent State and Jackson State killings.

Turned cynical by Chicago '68, Ochs always turned up for soldiers.

Turned cynical by Chicago ’68, Ochs always turned up for soldiers.

Two weeks later, the national Armed Forces Day traditionally celebrated near military bases was celebratcd differently at some U.S. bases, in the first annual Armed Farces Day. At Fort Bragg, 700 GI’s marched through the base, addressed by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland at the rally’s end; at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota Phil Ochs, in his now-trademark gold suit, asked over his guitar “Who’s the criminal here?”

At Fort Lewis, 20 miles from Seattle, my old friend Steve Morse, once a young Quaker who had not been subject to to the draft, was Sgt, Morse, appearing before a special court-martial for distributing seditious material. Instead of a term in the brig, though, Morse was soon headed to Cambodia as a member of K-Troop, 11th Cavalry Division.

What? I hear you cry.

That same question was sort of what inspired me to do the book in the first place; I first published Steve’s story, about the Quaker boy who ended up a GI organizer, as an article in the 50th-anniversary magazine of the now-defunct Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. (When I started the book I phoned him and said, “Steve, I’m writing a book about….you!”) To read my version of the rest, you’ll have to wait till the book comes out.

But I’ll take this moment to salute the veterans who, just like the former hippies, are busy calling each other to say – “F***k, has it really been FORTY years?”

watch?v=Qxk0x5wuRH0

p.s.  Since I mentioned Phil Ochs, here he is a year after that Armed Farces Day, shortly after his legendary performance to launch the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation. Legendary because I have yet to meet ANYONE who remembers hearing him that week, even those who were central to the event like Scott Camil and Bill Perry.  Maybe someone reading this remembers that early concert?

Outtake: the first GI organizer I ever met.

stevemorseThose of you who follow me on social media know that The Book is finally headed for bookshelves this fall, as I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters and Objectors in America’s Wars. And the list of important people who didn’t make it into the final draft is impossibly long–which could also be said for most of my drafts.

That list includes Scott Olsen, which is why I featured him at New Year’s, and Edward Snowden, whose own book certainly obviates any need for his inclusion. But I’m still searingly sorry to have lost Steve Morse, who I met when I worked at CCCO — and who first taught me about the GI movement, through his own story.

Thinking about them all, I’ve contemplated starting a podcast or trying to publish these stories separately; these blog posts are just a start. But I owe Steve so much.

To present his story here, I had to go back to my actual first submitted draft, in which my tone and intent feel quite different from what the book became. I still stand by each word. Let’s start with young Morse waking up to learn that the Supreme Court had just ruled in favor of all conscientious objectors to war:

Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, Morse had long been told of the generations of Quakers on his mother’s side and a grandfather on his father’s who was a Jesse Macy-style internationalist. “He was a big booster of World War I,” Morse said. Thinking like Macy that his conflict could be actually end all wars, the senior Morse “went up and down the East coast promoting it….Kind of unrealistic,” Morse said quietly.

Morse’s father had been CPS-eligible f during World War II, “but he felt it was important to fight Hitler… He ended up in Hawaii monitoring the phones of Japanese-ancestry people, and not feeling good about it. After the war, he became a more active Quaker — was on peace committees, ban the bomb campaigns, and so on.”

Morse thus arrived at Swarthmore as immune from the war as was possible — which turned out not to be much. Excited by SDS’ political manifesto, rather than feeling the draft board’s guarantee as a relief Morse agonized, wondering whether the student deferment and that CO deferment were both too privileged. He thought about it as he boarded a bus for Washington.

“I remember seeing the World War II and Korea vets at the head of the demonstration,” Morse added. “It was very powerful.” The April 17 march drew a then-unprecedented 25,000 to the Capitol, and lit the match for many more to come. Staughton Lynd, who wrote about the event a few months later for the pacifist magazine Liberation, articulated a vision half-poet and half-prankster, in which the usual means of influence had been rendered irrelevant.

It seemed that the great mass of people would simply flow on through and over the marble buildings … nothing could have stopped the crowd from taking possession of Its Government. Perhaps next time we should keep going …. One can now envision a series of nonviolent protests which would. question the legitimacy of the Administration’s authority where it has gone beyond constitutional and moral limits, and might, if its insane foreign policy continues, culminate in the decision of hundreds of thousands of people to recognize the authority of alternative institutions of their own making.[i

Lynd’s vision, which took Gandhi’s principles to a hyper-American, Beat extreme, articulated a future that SDS and much of the “new Left” was busy trying to enact. It also got Lynd in trouble at Yale for being a flagship “commie,” the F.B.I. having reopened his Army file. The day aftet the march, J. Edgar Hoover issued an announcement that “Communists [had] participated in the student march on Washington in April and were striving to start other demonstrations against United States foreign policy.”[ii]

As 1965 ended at Swarthmore College, Steve Morse was as conscious of the class gap between students and soldiers as anyone. He’d spent a “pretty influential” summer working for SDS’ Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP).[iii] And he was about to leave the college that was his best shelter from the war.

“At ERAP we were trying to build an interracial movement of the poor,” Morse said. “It mostly didn’t work, but the failures were interesting.” When he returned to school in the fall, Swarthmore suddenly felt a staid backwater compared to the fervor that was popping in the rest of the country. He also “didn’t quite know what I wanted to do.”

He could major in mathematics, but the poetry of higher math interested him less than the practical calculations used by engineers “The kind of math that I was interested in seemed oriented to war.” Morse found himself listening “pretty intently” to Bob Dylan’s song Tombstone Blues, its signature line“the geometry of innocent flesh on the bone.”[iv] He left Swarthmore and headed to San Francisco, of course, his new 1-O draft card in hand.

While he did some antiwar work, he said, mostly he had arrived just in time for the Summer of Love. “I was twenty years old,” Morse said. “For a while I was living nowhere and just hanging around the Haight, showing up at meetings of the tenants union…. sort of a hippie,” he half-smiled.[i]

The Bay Area was by then abuzz with antiwar organizing, including some directed at those in uniform. That summer in Berkeley SDS’ Bill Callison founded The Bond, the first alt-weekly in the country directed at people in uniform.

There was a moment in the early stages of the anti-war movement when some anguished demonstrators blamed everybody they perceived as ‘in the military’ for the atrocities that were happening in Vietnam. The movement corrected this error, and found a large anti-war constituency among the enlisted, who were mostly draftees….In June, 1966, the first of many anti-war G.I. newspapers, called The Bond, was published by civilians, edited by yours truly. [ii]

Callison was careful to eschew any labels. “The Bond is published by socialists, but is not associated with any socialist or communist organization, either officially or unofficially.” Its posture was, however, mighty similar to that of SDS: “We believe that the best way to end war, poverty, and racial injustice is for the people of the United States to take the productive machinery of society out of the hands of its present owners and to own and manage it for themselves.” And the paper’s first issue sounded a little academic, like the more political of Berkeley’s underground papers:

Dissatisfaction with the war in Vietnam, racism in America, and the functioning of American society generally has increased tremendously in the last two years, especially among the victims of the system— black people and poor people – and young people who are hip to what’s happening. People are beginning to evaluate the whole society and to understand their position in it, and they are demanding some basic changes.

The men in the Armed Forces, who are mostly young victims of the system, are naturally no exception to this process of ferment. In fact, for servicemen the urgency of getting information and of organizing to protect themselves is very great, since they face the possibility of being sent to Vietnam to be killed or maimed before they have a chance to figure out the issues.

So far the peace movement which is centered mainly around college campuses, has ignored and often alienated the people who will actually have to fight the war in Vietnam. At the same time the military authorities have attempted to isolate and suppress dissent among enlisted men. Therefore the full strength of servicemen standing up together to defend their rights has not even begun to be felt.

Among the sincere young socialists handing out the Bond in Oakland was Steve Morse, the Quaker SDS member who’d by then passed out of his Summer of Love phase.  Morse had by then fallen in with the Progressive Labor Party (long split from the CP for the latter’s flirtation with electoral politics and “class enemies”). Sincere in wanting to end the war, Morse’s group felt that appealing to soldiers was part of their strategy to cultivate working-class revolutionaries.

At first, Morse wrote years later, outreach to these armed proletarians wasn’t easy. “When I tried to distribute [the Bond] to GI’s, the MP’s would escort me out in a matter of minutes.” Eventually, he added, “I had better luck at the Service Clubs. I met a guy who was trying to organize in the Navy. We became friends and from him, and reading in the Bond about activists within the military, I absorbed the notion of resisting from within.”[iii]

From the beginning, the papers’ news pages told of courts-martial, starting with the Fort Hood Three and Howard Levy. They wrote about the GI coffeehouses where soldiers could hang out, drink coffee, rap about politics and the war, started by SDS’ Fred Gardner. In June 1968, Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis started a fund called “Support Our Soldiers.” to support the papers, coffeehouses, and servicemen’s groups like GI’s United, the Navy’s Movement for a Democratic Military, or the American Serviceman’s Union (ASU). ASU’s Andy Stapp, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, had joined the Army intentionally to organize from within, and encouraged others to do the same — especially among members of Young Americans Against War and Fascism, as did the Progressive Labor Party (e.g. Oakland’s Steve Morse). When tossed out for organizing, Stapp had moved to New York, became more firmly associated with Workers World and taken up The Bond from its Berkeley founders. This gave the paper a harder-left feel than the base papers or Sharlet and Tom Barton’s Vietnam GI.

 Skip ahead to 1970, when the movement had matured:

The national Armed Forces Day, traditionally celebrated across America, was at some U.S. bases the first annual Armed Farces Day. At Fort Bragg, 700 GI’s marched through the base, addressed by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland at the rally’s end. Phil Ochs, in his now-trademark gold suit, asked over his guitar “Who’s the criminal here?” at Grand Forks Air Force Base. And at Fort Lewis, 20 miles from Seattle, Steve Morse, no longer a Quaker CO, appeared before a special court-martial for distributing seditious material. Instead of a term in the brig, Morse was soon headed to Cambodia as a member of K-Troop, 11th Cavalry Division.

Morse had already been in uniform for six months, most of it in the stockade. When his term of alternative service ended the prior year, he’d finally enlisted in the Army as the PL was urging. “I messed up up part of the aptitude test,” Morse remembered, to keep from becoming some “isolated Army clerk.”

My enlistment involved tricky questions: how to be effective in stopping the war and building an anti-imperialist movement, and how to keep the faith with the non-privileged of my generation and with myself. What if I were sent to Vietnam? If I went and were put into combat, would I refuse? Under what circumstances?Would I even have the chance to refuse if things got hot and heavy? Could I avoid putting my fellow soldiers in jeopardy, yet also contribute as little as possible to the war effort (or hinder it)? […] I felt then that we who were white, male, and over 20, who had some experience in protest, who knew something about the war, who could talk to people and had the commitment to resist ought to consider joining. It was an unsatisfactory option, but how problematic was every choice we had at the time!

[i]

Morse approached this project in a spirit resembling Abbie Hoffman’s. “I was AWOL a week before I showed up for AIT at Fort Ord,” he remembers, and arriving at the overseas replacement Barrack at Fort Lewis his arms were more full of agitprop than infantry gear. “Seeing the stockade as no worse than Vietnam infantry, I wasn’t subtle about passing out leaflets or circulating petitions,” he writes. “I did this for ten days before they caught up with me.”

As an overseas embarkation point, the Ft. Lewis stockade contained a few prisoners who had refused orders to Vietnam and Korea. I plugged into an existing network of resisters. We smuggled in books, organized, and looked out for each other. For April 15, we gathered 100 signatures on a petition protesting the imperialist war in Vietnam, and carried out a fast. We had “revolutionary training” — gymnastics and political discussion every evening for a week — until the guards broke it up and threw Freddy, who led the gymnastics, in solitary confinement.

While the stockade was harsh including “beatings and food deprivation in solitary confinement,” said Morse, it was also boot camp for organizing: “the only institutional situation I have ever been in that had such a community of resisters.”

If all that sounds a little overheated now, it didn’t to many at the time, when Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war meant escalated bombings and passing the ground war on to the decimated South Vietnamese Army while infiltrating leftists and churches at home. If in 1968 students taking over universities had felt they were changing the rules of the game, by 1970 those same people were asking one another in sober conferences “Would you personally be willing to die for the revolution?” recalled Dave Zeiger, who ran Fort Hood’s Oleo Strut coffeehouse with Dave Cline.[ii]

Different coffeehouses, Zeiger added, had “different political tendencies”; the Oleo Strut favored “early Maoist thinking, “ especially since one of the co-founders had “been in Panthers when he was drafted, started a black GI group.” Fort Lewis had its own underground paper, Fed Up, and its own coffeehouse, the Shelter Half at 5437 South Tacoma Way. Arriving there after a year in the Fort Riley stockade, Morse thus found in his fellow prisoners a ready market for The Bond and his lefty antiwar talk. By then, of course, the Army was well aware of organizers like Morse, and his trial was part of the cat-and-mouse game both sides knew well:

The military leadership was faced with the widespread breakdown of its authority, a deteriorating fighting force in Vietnam, and political dissidence throughout its ranks. Its response was twofold: more repression, and the development of a strategic approach to the problem. The repression was most intense on individual GIs.

Pvt. Gypsey Peterson, who had helped create the FATIGUE PRESS at Fort Hood, was sentenced to eight years at hard labor for possession of an amount of grass so small it “disappeared” during analysis. Two black marines, William Harvey and George Daniels, were sentenced to six and ten years at hard labor for rapping against the war in their barracks. Privates Dam Amick and Ken Stolte were sentenced to four years for distributing a leaflet on Ford Ord. Pvt. Theoda Lester was sentenced to three years for refusing to cut his Afro. And Pvt. Wade Carson was sentenced to six months for “intention” to distribute FED-UP on Fort Lewis….

A number of factors helped to weaken this repressive power. Media coverage, public protest, and the growth of GI resistance all played a part. The key factor was that political GIs continued to be dangerous in the stockades, and after numerous stockade rebellions the military often chose to discharge dissidents and get rid of them all together.[iii]

Morse’s special court-martial was part of a two-prong strategy: a six-month sentence followed by orders to Cambodia which he was expected to refuse. During the two-day proceeding, he writes, “I proved that there was no realistic mechanism for getting approved by the command structure to distribute literature, that the regulation was selectively enforced [and] got Major Cox to admit that he had no legal basis for placing me in pre-trial confinement,” he writes. After two months Cox commuted the rest of Morse’s sentence and issued orders for Vietnam, assuming the strange Quaker-lefty soldier would refuse, setting him up for a five-year sentence.

Instead, Morse accepted, “figuring I could oppose the war over there, too.” After three weeks in Vietnam, Morse was sent to the field with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Cambodia — which wasn’t bad, he said, as organizing opportunities go:

I was thrown in with two guys who were quite hostile to me, and combat conditions kept us from socializing much with others. Three days after getting to the field, I received 25 copies of Challenge, PLP’s newspaper, with the words REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST on the masthead and above that the title GI’s Destroy Stockades, referring to a long article about my court-martial. I wasn’t a happy camper: I was scared. But the stress of being a protester in combat distracted me from worrying about actually being killed.

As time went on, Morse added, he found that much of K-Troop was already anti-war already. “The Army kind of saved me by sending me back,” he said. At twenty-four, he said, he was older than most others, which “made it a little easier…. People didn’t think I was a flake for my views, [and] I had the space to talk about politics and stuff.” The troop’s platoon sergeant, a “sad guy” known to the men as Platoon Daddy, regularly told him not to talk “like that.” So did did their lieutenants, one of whom made the mistake of adding: There are three things you shouldnt talk about to the men: politics, religion and sex. “I laughed at him.”

Between being older and college-educated, Morse was also in demand by both lieutenants for chat about the war. One, who was a history major, openly said I want to talk politics with you. “He was a hawk,” Morse said. “I felt not engaging them was the smart thing to do. They weren’t really open to listenng. And besides, I wanted to be more enigmatic than that to people in power.” So Morse stayed with his unit, still a “buck private” because of all his dissent-demerits. When they walked on point, he was torn about what to do with his gun. “I didn’t want to put anyone in danger,” he said. “Mostly, I shot at the ground.”

While Morse was busy figuring out how to be an actual soldier, Veterans Against the War was beginning to rediscover what it could mean when hundreds of soldiers speak with one voice — as in Princeton in 1780, as in the World War I “bonus march.”

*****

While Morse was busy figuring out how to be an actual soldier, Veterans Against the War was beginning to rediscover what it could mean when hundreds of soldiers speak with one voice — as in Princeton in 1780, as in the World War I “bonus march.”

Steve’s activism afterward could be another book; the ms. never contained scenes of math teacher Morse showing up at a CCCO open house in the 1990s and getting recruited for the Board, and co-founding a team of vets who volunteered on the GI Rights Hotline. Or when, as CCCO staff, he received a call from the girl who recruited him, with the words “I’m writing a book about you!”

It still is, Steve. And I hope you can hear your voice whispering out of each printed page.

 

 

[i] Steve Morse, “Odyssey of Conscience,” Objector, op.cit.

[ii] Personal interview, February 2006.

[iii] Matthew Rinaldi, “The Olive-Drab Rebels.”

[i] Ibid.

[ii] Posting to Berkeley listserv of Antiwar.com, late 2004.

[iii] Steve Morse (with Chris Lombardi), “Odyssey of Conscience: From Civilian CO to Cambodia.” The Objector (50th Anniversary Issue), Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, November 1998.

[i] Staughton Lynd, “Coalition Politics or Nonviolent Revolution?”, Liberation, June-July 1965. Via Gaddis Smith, “Yale and the Vietnam War.” Paper presented at the University Seminar on the History of Columbia University, 1999. Accessed at http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/cuhistory/yale.htm in January 2009.

[ii] RED ROLE IN PROTEST CHARGED BY HOOVER, New York Times, June 2, 1965, p. 52 in Food/FamilyFurnishings section.

[iii] Dat book on ERAP etc….

[iv] Personal interview, Oakland, CA., January 2006.

 

[i] Personal interview, Oakland, October 2007.

[ii] Lew Thomas, “Report on the American Antiwar Movement,” Socialist Workers Party memo,International Socialist Review, January 1968. Via NYU Tamiment Libraries ,Transcribed & marked up by Andrew Pollack for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL). Acccessed at http://marxists.anu.edu.au/history//etol/document/swp-us/awar.htm in January 2009.

[iii] Ibid., p. 194.

[iv] Staughton Lynd, “Coalition Politics or Nonviolent Revolution?”, Liberation, June-July 1965. Via Gaddis Smith, “Yale and the Vietnam War.” Paper presented at the University Seminar on the History of Columbia University, 1999. Accessed at http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/cuhistory/yale.htm in January 2009.

[v] RED ROLE IN PROTEST CHARGED BY HOOVER, New York Times, June 2, 1965, p. 52 in Food/FamilyFurnishings section.

[vi] Dat book on ERAP etc….

[vii] Personal interview, Oakland, CA., January 2006.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Posting to Berkeley listserv of Antiwar.com, late 2004.

[x] Steve Morse (with Chris Lombardi), “Odyssey of Conscience: From Civilian CO to Cambodia.” The Objector (50th Anniversary Issue), Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, November 1998.

[xi] Steve Morse, “Odyssey of Conscience,” Objector, op.cit.

[xii] Personal interview, February 2006.

[xiii] Matthew Rinaldi, “The Olive-Drab Rebels.”

[i] Personal interview, Oakland, October 2007.

[ii] Lew Thomas, “Report on the American Antiwar Movement,” Socialist Workers Party memo,International Socialist Review, January 1968. Via NYU Tamiment Libraries ,Transcribed & marked up by Andrew Pollack for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL). Acccessed at http://marxists.anu.edu.au/history//etol/document/swp-us/awar.htm in January 2009.

[iii] Ibid., p. 194.

[iv] Staughton Lynd, “Coalition Politics or Nonviolent Revolution?”, Liberation, June-July 1965. Via Gaddis Smith, “Yale and the Vietnam War.” Paper presented at the University Seminar on the History of Columbia University, 1999. Accessed at http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/cuhistory/yale.htm in January 2009.

[v] RED ROLE IN PROTEST CHARGED BY HOOVER, New York Times, June 2, 1965, p. 52 in Food/FamilyFurnishings section.

[vi] Dat book on ERAP etc….

[vii] Personal interview, Oakland, CA., January 2006.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Posting to Berkeley listserv of Antiwar.com, late 2004.

[x] Steve Morse (with Chris Lombardi), “Odyssey of Conscience: From Civilian CO to Cambodia.” The Objector (50th Anniversary Issue), Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, November 1998.

[xi] Steve Morse, “Odyssey of Conscience,” Objector, op.cit.

[xii] Personal interview, February 2006.

[xiii] Matthew Rinaldi, “The Olive-Drab Rebels.”

How could you run, when you know?

A journo friend of mine adapted the lyrics of the song above to mark last weekend’s explosion, as well as covering those events for Souciant. Like  many who weren’t there, I feel the least i can do is reflect here/

As a super-late boomer (the Obama generation), I’ve spent much of my life feeling I missed out on something important, with the 1960s in the rear mirror. And growing up in a community drawn to the GOP by Nixon’s “southern strategy,” I knew damn well that the fight wasn’t over. In some ways, I’ve spent 40+ years trying to make up for that earlier absence.

But by 2017 I thought the evil had mutated, become more complex: reality-show propaganda (cf Jennifer L. Pozner), Army of One video games, cyberwar. It’s both bracing and more than a little depressing to see the original turn up in such a naked form. Like many of us, I spent much of yesterday glued to the news during the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But will having to confront the coming KKK assault on campuses (Charlottesville was practice, apparently) help the Trumpaniacs get on with their big task of shredding what’s left of our civil rights and the country’s safety net? Or will it help unify the fight?

So grateful to have re-connected here with Jan Houbolt, who I first met when he was my boss at a Baltimore anti-hunger organization. I never picked up on hs VA accent, or knew he’d been a footsoldier in that earlier movement. You all look like giants now, Jan.

Also grateful for the young activists already taking up the thread and weaving it into something powerful.We lost one yesterday.

She was a 32-year-old paralegal named Heather, and was one of the young leftists who’d joined others confronting the Unite the Right rally, and was mowed down when a guy driving a Dodge Charger intentionally mowed into the crowd. At a vigil last night for her in Philly, so many were younger than she, giving me hope for the future.

vvaw1970I’m also heartened by the soldier-dissenters who immediately stepped up, including the Iraq/Afpak vets on Common Defense. And the Vietnam Veterans Against the War are gearing up to join the fight, offering this photo to connect with struggles of the past.

Those guys in 1972 probably sang that song about Kent State at the top of this post. I’ll end with the words of Ari Paul, who changed the lyrics for our time:

Tin soldiers and Donald’s coming,
We’re finally on our hill.
This summer I hear the drumming,
One dead in Charlottesville.
Gotta get down to it
Nazis are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

.

Happy 45th Anniversary, Daniel Ellsberg — or why he belongs in my book

Ellsberg-Daniel-TruthinMedia.com_I spent a lot of time incorporating the story of the founder of  the Freedom of the Press Foundation into my understanding of the movement to end the Vietnam War, including a brief phone interview of the guy himself about his Marine Corps roots. My editor has now just persuaded me that that his story shouldn’t foreground in my way-too-cramped Vietnam chapter. But today, almost exactly 45 years after a Marine Corps vet finally rocked the world, here’s what I wrote about him. Now you know why I tried,  and why my fantastic ex-colleague Judith Ehrlich followed her landmark CO movie with one about Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg’s Story Mirrors Almost Exactly  That of the Vietnam Anti-War Movement

1963 was  four years after a young State Department operative and ex-Marine named Daniel Ellsberg had visited South Vietnam, tasked with examining “problems with non-nuclear, limited warfare.” Young Ellsberg was already starting to work with the Rand Corporation, helping Washington contemplate the region’s role in the chessboard of global military strategy….

In 1964, as a civilian adviser to the Pentagon, Ellsberg was the one who first received the cable from Tonkin in which naval captain John J. Herrick “said he was under attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats and had opened fire on them. He was in international waters, over sixty miles off the coast of Vietnam.”i The resultant political firestorm led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the first step to all-out war.

By all accounts April 17, 1965, was a perfect spring day, described by Daniel Ellsberg in his memoir Secrets as “blue skies over the cherry blossoms and anti-war banners.” Then still working at the Pentagon, Ellsberg retains sharpened memory of that day because it was also the first weekend he spent with his wife-to-be Patricia Marx, who was covering the protests for her Boston radio program. Quietly dubious about the war he was helping prosecute, Ellsberg carried Marx’ tape deck as they marched, silently agreeing with Joan Baez and the Nation’s I.F. Stone. “I would have been glad if all of this had enough influence to get the bombing stopped and put a lid on our involvement,” he writes. But when it was over, he had to call the Pentagon just to check in.

Ellsberg doesn’t mention that Howard Zinn spoke that day, or that the march portion was led by veterans of the Good War. 

As the year ended, a group of intellectuals and military experts was meeting secretly in Bermuda, convened by former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy and asked to develop some alternatives to more massive bombing. Among the group was Dan Ellsberg, who found quiet common cause with and another veteran as opposed to the war as he: Charles G. Bolte, now executive director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Bolte was newly hired, though he’d known since AVC the endowment’s director Joseph E. Johnson from working together at the United Nations. Ellsberg knew all about Bolte’s status as a wounded veteran, that his role at the Bermuda retreat was largely administrative, and that Bolte needed to be more cautious than he. Still, Ellsberg told me, the older man “was definitely against the war.”

Both Ellsberg and Bolte thought the panel should recommend withdrawal. But the majority simply developed a strategy of enging civilians, “without surrender or a wider war.”i They urged McBundy to reach “hearts and minds.”

Ellsberg went back to the Pentagon and kept hammering on his contribution to Rand’s multi-author history of U.S. policy in Indochina. That 7,000-page document, United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, would later come to be known as the “Pentagon Papers.”

In 1968, the civilian movement partnering the military one had disparate responses to that year’s disorientation. Daniel Ellsberg had returned from 18 months in Vietnam determined to end the war, and was working with Council on Foreign Relations president Charles G. Bolte (of the e World War II-era American Veterans Committee) to try to release the records of the war’s planning.

He was still trying when millions came together a year later for the Vietnam Moratorium:  William Sloane Coffin described the Moratorium as an alternative to the dance of violence playing itself out in Chicago and elsewhere: ““We yearned for a revolution of imagination and compassion. We were convinced nonviolence was more revolutionary than violence.”i Soldiers were far from absent that day: VVAW placed a full-page ad in the New York Times, signed by 1365 current GIs.

In New York on October 15, “a student nurse from Mount Sinai tried to present a handbill to a soldier who was wearing a green beret. He declined it, with a grin, but gave her a peace sign in return. The nurse stopped dead in her tracks. ‘He did it,” she said incredulously. “A Green Beret gave me the peace salute.’”ii

Read aloud at the October 15 march was a letter drafted by Daniel Ellsberg, who was shaken after hearing, at an August anti-draft conference, testimony from William Sloane Coffin protege Randy Kehler. After Koehler asserted how happy he would be to join his fellow draft resisters in prison, Ellsberg “left the auditorium and found a deserted men’s room. I sat on the floor and cried for over an hour, just sobbing.”iii Still on the Rand payroll, Ellsberg had gone back to Washington and began to try to persuade his peers in the establishment, at Rand and the Carnegie, to issue a public statement in favor of ending the war.

Ellsberg had wanted a letter that would urge an end to “the bloody, hopeless, uncompelled, hence surely immoral prolongation of US involvement in this war.” He reached out to Charles G. Bolte at the Endowment. But when Bolte took Ellsberg’s letter to his boss, the latter’s only response was: “We can’t invite Ellsberg to any more of our meetings. He’s lost his objectivity.”iv Nonetheless, Bolte was a signatory to the letter Ellsberg wrote, published in September in the New York Times before it was read aloud at the Moratorium.

By March 12, 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg sat in a borrowed apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was at peace with becoming a prankster.

Across from him was Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, paging through the binders containing the 7,000 pages of US-Vietnam Relations. Sheehan knew that these were highly classified documents, and had consulted his paper’s lawyers before flying into Boston. He and his wife had even registered at the Treadway Inn in Cambridge under assumed names..i

Ellsberg had by then spent close to a year in confidential briefings with antiwar Democrats from Senator Fulbright on down, showing them these pages and finding none willing to blow the whistle, before finally contacting Sheehan.. He reiterated now: “You know you can’t make copies.” Sheehan agreed, and went back to New York to do just that.

Ellsberg then went home and worried, while Sheehan read and verified the documents, writing and consulting again with counsel. On June 13, the Times would publish the first of nine excerpts of the Papers. While the Times never revealed their source, Ellsberg turned himself in on June 30, and was charged under the Espionage Act. In the stream of mail that followed — most of it calling him a “traitor” — Ellsberg was struck and warmed by the supportive letters from fellow Marines, who “had all along hated the job that the Corps had been given.”

The series, the rest of which was famously delayed until the Supreme Court ruled they could be published, showed at the very least that the Pentagon’s confident narrative of the war had been distorted. The message, wailed President Nixon’s chief of staff, was “You can’t trust the government, an idea that damaged America’s “implicit infallibility of presidents.”ii That ‘infallibility’ was already being questioned by the GI resistance movement, which had long ago given up on the authority of their commander-in-chief.

Persuade those twelve people on the jury that Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo were right in what they did.”

On January 27, 1973, the long-awaited Paris Peace Accords were announced, within them an agreement on exchanges of prisoners of war. A few months later, the trial of the man who’d exposed that war as a fraud ended unexpectedly, with due to “government misbehavior.”

Ellsberg’s defenders had come up with a strategy that they thought might work – thanks to Arthur Kinoy, Bill Kunstler’s law partner and CCR co-founder. Legal niceties, Kinoy told the defense team, were not the point when talking to a jury, especially one that included at least one decorated Marine. “You need to do just one thing,” Howard Zinn remembers Kinoy telling him and the others. “Persuade those twelve people on the jury that Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo were right in what they did.i But the jury never even rendered a verdict – the trial was stopped, and all charges dismissed, after it emerged that the Nixon Administration had wiretapped the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in 1971.

On May, 11, 1973, a mistrial was declared; Ellsberg was free to return home, while much of the legal team was expected in Florida for one more trial, that of the Gainesville case. In the latter, the testimony of star witness Arthur Lemmer “left the chief prosecution witness looking like a violence-obsessed, confused, and irrational psychopath”ii . And just as with Ellsberg, as with the Panther 21 trial two years before, all charges were dropped.

iZinn, Moving Train, op. cit., p. 160.

iiNicosia, Home to War, op.cit., p. 208.

iDavid Rudenstine, The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 52.

iiWatergate Tapes, June 14. Via Sheehan.

iWilliam Sloane Coffin, Once to Every Man: A Memoir ( Atheneum, 1977), p. 299.

iiElizabeth Kolbert et al, “Moratorium.” The New Yorker, October 25, 1969, p. 54.

iiiTestimony, PP trial.

ivEllsberg, Secrets, op. cit. p. 283.

iGeorge Herring, “Tet and Prague.” In Carole Fink, Philipp Gassert, Detlef Junker (eds.), 1968, the World Transformed ( Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 36.

iDaniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Penguin, 2003), p.7.

 

Bayard Rustin had class: a story from Todd Gitlin

bayardrustin_drtrmhoward_civil_rights_rally_may241956Which disguised his radicalism only occasionally.

A story the invaluable Todd Gitlin told me a few years back, which I likely can’t include in the book, but don’t want lost:

In the beginning of March 1965, Rustin met with former SDS president Todd Gitlin, who was considering a protest at Chase Manhattan Bank to explore potential for multi-racial, innovative organizing. Dressed to the nines and in his trademark stentorian voice, the civil-rights leader and executive secretary of the War Resisters League had an unusual message for the earnest young students. Despite his suspicion of SDS’ hard-left allies such as the the US Communist Party’s student “W.E.B. du Bois Clubs,””1 the elder organizer also told Gitlin that SDS needed to be more radical in what they sought. “He said we weren’t being militant enough,” Gitlin remembered. “We saw him representing the seamlessness of Gandhianism — and he was saying that with a week of sit-ins at Wall Street and the banks, we weren’t risking enough.”

I can almost hear the man singing.

 

 

A day late salute to St. Patrick’s Battalion

stpatsbattIn yesterday’s excitement at the Inquirer piece, I forgot to observe St.Patrick’s Day by saluting the dissenting soldiers who took that saint’s name as inspiration. These Catholic soldiers emerged amid the killing spree known as the Mexican-American War, 1845-47.

In a war staffed entirely by career staff and volunteers, morale started  low and got worse. Between nonexistent wages and politically appointed officers, many Volunteers eventually fled to Galveston, where “they easily found employment, one as a school-master at $60 a month,” a Boston newspaper reported.

Desertion was by far the best-known form of dissent in Polk’s war. More than 13,000 deserted, out of a total force of 100,000—surprisingly less among the state volunteers than among the longer-serving regulars.

As for the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, who crossed over to the Mexican side: John Reilly, who left Scott’s army in April 1846 without firing a shot, assembled the battalion from Catholic soldiers discomfited by the nativism and anti-Catholicism of most of the American troops. They were welcomed by the understaffed, under-trained, and under-equipped Mexicans, helped them hold Monterrey, and in 1847 became a foreign legion of the Mexican Army, the First and Second Militia Infantry Companies of San Patricio.

 However, after their defeat at Chiarabusco in September 1847, many were tried and some executed, whether or not they had actually fought against the United States. That September, fourteen “San Patricios,” including Reilly, were flogged and branded with two-inch “D”’s on both side of their faces.

You’ve heard the San Patricios saluted at many an Irish bar. If you’re lucky, you’ve also heard this version:

 

96-year-old outtake: fort leavenworth goes on strike

Even when you’re mistakenly thinking you’re taking advice from William  Faulkner. it’s not so easy to kill your darlings. I learned about the riot at Fort Leavenworth early in my natterings at the Swarthmore Peace Collection, and it’s taken a long time to declare the riot less relevant to Ain’t Marching’s story than I thought.  Most of what’s below has been now excised from the text, but you might be as compelled as I was. Drawn on a magazine story by Winthrop Lane, buddy of Emma Goldman, for its dialogue:

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Leavenworth_View_of_Building_caThe steam hissed through the pipes, but not enough to warm the prisoners at Fort Leavenworth.

Temperatures that normally averaged just at freezing, for January in Kansas, hovered nearer the ten-degree mark. Which meant that the steam pipes kept banging and whistling, trying to keep up, and none of it cooled the blood of the 3,560 men packed together like tightened gears.

Two months after the Armistice, the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth was full to bursting. Workers on the 75-year-old sandstone fortress, on 12 acres surrounded by a 40-foot concrete wall, had built more barracks a mere two years ago, in 1917, so that it could hold 1,500 men — soldiers convicted of theft, murder, deserting the Great War. But the War itself had brought all sorts of new offenders to the prison, many of them dumped by other military installations who’d found they couldn’t handle them. In late January, if the Barracks were a person, it would have been obese, with a high fever and a case of nervous exhaustion.

Certainly Colonel Sedgwick Rice, the prison’s commandant, was trying to prevent such a state that month, when the prisoners went on strike.

The rebellion had begun with a melee after a card game between black and white soldiers, who weren’t used to being in such close quarters. Rice could deal with that. But then they’d started to refuse to work. The real problem, Rice thought, was those troublemaking conscientious objectors, who claimed to “oppose war” and simply refused to do anything. He knew some of them were from the peace churches, but others were more political, probably communist agitators. Like that Evan Thomas guy, brother of a buddy of President Wilson’s: The brawl over the card game had started after Thomas and 112 other objectors were released with $400 in each man’s pocket. Now all work had stopped: no one was cooking, or cleaning the toilets, or painting the new training grounds across the way. Now, everyone was claiming to be “on strike.”

On the morning of January 29, five days after the melee over cards, Sedgwick made his way down to the boiler room, where the strike organizers were doing their work. A large man with a relaxed bearing, he spoke matter of factly to the skinny “objectors” and tired workmen, who looked at him with a mix of rage and fear. “Who here thinks he has a grievance?” A slender young man with cheeks flushed by cold stood. Something about him, about the way he held his cigarette, told Col. Rice that the guy was a Red.

  1. Austin Simons stood carefully, for the colonel’s inspection. A poet and sometime journalist, he knew better than to be surprised when the older man asked: “Are you with the I.W.W. [International Workers of the World]?”

Simons could barely make himself heard over the steam pipes. “No, sir,” he said carefully. He knew a lot was at stake here – right now, his ability to bargain on behalf of the other soldiers. “I never belonged to that organization.”

Rice also asked if Simons was a “constitutional objector – one who objects to all forms of government and order.”

“No, sir, I do not.”

“Well, most Socialists do,” said Rice.

Others in the group approached with complaints ranging from their individual sentences to the “rotten” meat served the prisoners. “The war is over,” cried W. Oral James, a small-bodied man shivering in his thick raincoat. “The government has already released 113 of our fellows. Has it had time to investigate the justice of other claims?”

After three agonizing days, as Rice negotiated face-to-face with the prisoners and sent telegrams to Washington, the various “strike committees” assembled on February 1. Holding a telegram from the capital in his hand, Rice tried not to look as cold as he felt. He read aloud a statement from Secretary of State Dean Baker, which promised that each of their cases would be reviewed. “I fully appreciate that the cessation of hostilities and the return of conditions approximating those of peace,” Rice intoned on Baker’s behalf, “render it just and proper that clemency should now be exercised.”

It’s not recorded, even by journalist Winthrop Lane, who followed the strike carefully, whether the prisoners cheered at the words. Or whether they laughed bitterly, since the author of the statement was the chief architect of “the present war” – without which none of them would have been crowded within these walls to begin with.

Long after the Armistice was signed in November 1918, open rebellions continued to startle military authorities, including the conglomeration of deserters, CO’s and malcontents that stuffed the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks . While the uprising at Leavenworth was covered by major newspapers, especially the Chicago Tribune, the most detailed account was Winthrop Lane’s “The Strike at Fort Leavenworth,” published in the February 1919 issue of the left-leaning Survey Magazine.

Lane, who had visited Emma Goldman in prison and written famous investigations of Harlem poverty and the coal mining industry, had been hired by the National Civil Liberties Bureau to investigate Kansas jails. His perspective is thus explicit, but he was still trusted by Colonel Rice to witness their negotiations. Lane observed quickly that the prison population was singular: “In private life the soldier had been a clerk, a mechanic, a day laborer, a politician, a business man…He may have quitted his post for five minutes, he may have been absent without leave for a week, he may have intentionally deserted.”

They stood at attention or saluted when these officers passed. An unquestioning obedience was expected of them that is not expected of men in civil prison. Yet they organized themselves in the approved labor union way and presented their demands just as if they had the full power of collective bargaining.

H.A. Simons, one of the “elected representatives,” was a poet whose main obsession before the war had been whether his poems would be published in the Little Review. His educated manner helped Simons negotiate with Colonel Rice and others, but he still had to deny first that he had ever been a member of “the I.W.W.” . Pentagon sources, quoted in contemporary accounts, consistently blame the the International Workers of the World for the disturbances at Leavenworth, right up until they started blaming “the Bolsheviks.” The I.W.W., founded in 1905 and nearing the crest of its power with scores of affiliates, had long refused to endorse Wilson’s war.

Objectors were hardly immune to the time’s fervor. After the war, Simons would join his friend Wallace Stevens in writing for The Masses and for The Liberator, “the premier journal of American radicalism,” while Evan Thomas’ brother would be hailed in 1918 as “Comrade Thomas” by the “Queens Socialist Party,” having joined the Party in 1918 and just as his brother was released from prison.

Russia’s infant revolution was also exciting to some at Leavenworth, curious about “class war.” And thus began, perhaps, the nervous, complex love-hate romance between rebellious G.I.’s and the sectarian left that has lasted for nearly a century. Lane tells of the strikers’ “last soviet” with Simons, who said that one worker could be moved “but together, we are immovable.”.

The January strike was only the first in a series. The last ended in July 1919, after most of the conscientious objectors had been released and the remaining prisoners were demanding a full-fledged amnesty. Appropriate to the period, they’d nicknamed their barracks Lenine, Anarchia, and Internationale, according to contemporary newspaper accounts.

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If you’ve read this far, you may be struck by the fact that dissenting soldiers have been a tempting target for sectarian-left organizers for as long as both have existed. I still wonder how  this will end up in the book. Any suggestions?