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.”

Cadences, voices, and the book’s final chapter

podcast movementThis week, I received in the mail Rosa del Duca’s book Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War. My interest in Rosa’s story is kind of a no-brainer; I’ve been thinking of people like her even before I joined the staff of the Committee for Conscientious Objectors (link is to an archive of the org’s website during my last spring there, before it dissolved after 50+ years and handed its mission to the Center on Conscience and War). The photo on Del Duca’s website even reminds me of myself in those years: Bay Area tan-ish, with gym-toned arms and a wry smile (though I was never as pretty as she). I told the folks at Ooligan Press that I wanted to review it and talk to her, and I will; but right now I need to talk about how I found her, and how this generation of Forever War vets confounds my efforts to end this book.

I discovered del Duca first through her podcast, whose subtitle is Insights from a Modern-Day Conscientious  Objector — to distinguish her, perhaps, from Vietnam-era civilian COs or World War II figures like Desmond Doss (whose biopic Hacksaw Ridge has acquainted many with the whole concept of a military CO). Hers is among a circle of many that has served as my backdrop in recent days.

I’m usually surrounded by the voices of anti-war vets, as the book slouches toward the Bethlehem of publication. But these voices are all in a medium whose power has taken time to dawn on me (a form of radio invented by the iPod).My first podcasts were the usual liberal blather from Slate and the New Yorker, as well as my guilty pleasure West Wing Weekly. My journo friends all got retrained in how to podcast, and certainly the democratic-socialist world where I volunteer is brimming with pods. Which is how, of course,  I tumbled down this rabbit hole: I discovered the DSA Veterans Working Group, which includes some of the most cogent voices from this generation of vets.

@DSAVeterans led me to Joe Kassabian, first to his addictive and powerful memoir The Hooligans of Kandahar; I had to interview Joe then, and he told me about the “anti-war lefty veteran” network of podcasts. Not just Kassabian’s own Lions Led by Donkeys podcast, but the reliably hilarious A Hell of a Way to Die, from Nate Bethea and Francis Horton, or Fortress on a Hill, hosted by Iraq vets Chris Henriksen and Daniel Sjursen. Fortress is where I first heard of Del Duca and learned about her podcast, whose subtitle gives the game away: “Insights from a Modern-Day Conscientious Objector.”

In an upcoming post, I’ll write about each of these, and a few others they’ve turned me on to, such as  Eyes Left, hosted by already-celebrities Spencer Rapone and Mike Prysner. I’ll review/recommend episodes that I find particularly strong, and muse about pods’ connection to organizing and activism. But right this second, I’m wondering whether all these pods are just distracting me from writing that still needs to be done. Or are these forever-war vets helping me think more clearly about my final chapter?

This blog’s Drafts folder is littered with beginnings with titles like “The new generation os soldier-dissenters, wherein I riffed between Reality Winner and

the other drone veterans, who broke their silence to tell truth about the drone program – and who are still traumatized by it. As warfare has changed, the routes for dissent against it change to, some measured in bits and bytes.

Then there’s Will Griffin, who I met at a No Foreign Bases conference and whose Peace Report  has long been an essential source of news about that movement. Will moved to my town last year and is burning up the links offered for dissenting veterans here, including Warrior Writers.

Or the one called “The Forever War’s forever chapter,” about what I’m still doing while we get the rest of the book flat:

Working backwards, from this year to 2001, starts to feel as challenging as the dread Vietnam chapter.

Reality Winner, whose leaks weren’t about war — but who, like Snowden, was deeply affected by watching drone strikes in near-real time.  Will Griffin, the military brat who served in both Iraq and Afpak but flipped 200 degrees after he went to Okinawa for VFP; Griffin also was part of the short-lived Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, and now runs a video-journalism outfit called the Peace Report. Matt Hoh and Rory Fanning, Afghanistan veterans who came out the other side to pursue truth. Chelsea Manning, who contains multitudes (and is now running for Senate.) Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh.

Those post-2008 figures don’t mean I’ve forgotten the earlier wave: Garret Reppenhagen, Stephen Funk, Aidan Delgado, Camilo Mejia, Jon Hutto, Dan Choi, Jennifer Hogg. All of whom I need to touch base with before including them now.

I swore to start every day freewriting for the book, but every sentence instead comes out like a query letter or status report.

 

I wrote those words nearly a year ago, and they’re still true. More so now, with Will’s video blog competing with those podcasts in my ears. And I’m not even talking about the books they’re all publishing, of which del Duca’s is only one. All still teaching me about their wars, and the many across the globe as I write this.

So what war does the chapter cover, anyway?

When I go back to my first “final draft” (the one first submitted to UC Press). I see a final chapter called “The New Winter Soldiers,’ which featured vets featured frequently here, people I’ve now known for over a decade. Though it started with words from elder statesman Philip Berrigan, and with the 2001 day that prompted so many to enlist:

On September 11, I watched appalled as the second tower of the World Trade Center came down. The guards called me out, took me to the lieutenant’s office, shackled and handcuffed me, and took me to solitary. I inquired several times as to why. One guard grunted, ‘Security!’ During twelve days in segregation, no further daylight was provided. One lieutenant came to announce, ‘No phone, no visitors!’ And no stamps. I was locked down ten days before mailing out letters. The result? Limbo-incommunicado.[i] Berrigan told that story to The Progressive after his wife, Liz McAllister, finally learned what the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Elkton, Ohio, had done with him. Berrigan’s detention was not for his own safety but the prison’s: the 77-year-old cleric, veteran of both World War II and a career of serial civil-disobedience, was considered trouble.

Berrigan, fighting in prison the cancer that would soon kill him, was heartened by the demonstrations against what seemed a certain war in Iraq. “The American people are, more and more, making their voices heard against Bush and his warrior clones,” he wrote in the last letter he wrote before he died, six weeks before the massive February 2003 demonstrations against the war. The night before those demonstrations, Coffin echoed Berrigan at Riverside: “It is not a patriotic thing to send our brave men and women into an unjust war. That is not patriotic. If you ask if you are willing to die for your country, you must also ask if you are willing to kill for your country….War is a coward’s escape from the possibility of peace.”

These words from turbulent World War II veteran/priests could have been read as a repudiation of the newest generation of young soldiers, many of whom had joined or rejoined after the towers went down. But it was also an invitation, if one offered more explicitly by Howard Zinn, who knew from Vietnam and his old friend Dan Ellsberg how powerful those younger voices could be. And just as protestors were flooding the streets, one tall young Army sniper was walking into an alternative bookstore in Manitou Springs, Colorado and being told that before going to Iraq, he had to read Zinn’s flagship work A People’s History of the United States.

That sniper was, of course, Garett Reppenhagen, who I met when he was president of Iraq Veterans Against the War and who’s now a coordinator for the VetVoice Foundation. Garett, Stephen Funk and Aidan Delgado are among those I know I want to keep in the chapter, but I don’t really want the book’s narrative to end with the end of the Bush Administration.

This last revision process is reminding me of so many other threads that need to resonate, and for which I am so far unprepared. How can the chapter include mostly White voices, even if their movement is not as multi-racial as the U.S. military? Or am I answering my own question here?

But if this latest dance with the podcasters is teaching me anything, it’s that this generation doesn’t need me to tell their story. They’re telling it every day, in every form of media that exists. It’s my job to put it all in context, and make their part of our story sing.

 

 

Oceanside soldiers, John Brown, and how the Civil War flips the script on dissent

 

fort-warrenI was reshaping my Civil War chapter, with a scene on May 12, 1861 — with soldiers in the newborn Union Army singing a song for John Brown. That happened at Boston’s Fort Warren, on the harbor’s Georges Island.

250px-Fort_Constitution,_New_Castle,_NHAs I was trying to evoke that day, I realized a potential problem; I’d begun the prior chapter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as members of that state’s Seventh Infantry boarded a train in 1846 taking them to the Mexican-American War. (Above is a rendering of their base, Fort Constitution. Did I need to ditch one of those scenes, and avoid the rhyme?

In some ways, however, the imperfect rhyme made sense:  the wars were very different, but some of the themes and players were the same. That earlier war had a lot to do with slavery, something the soldiers in 1846 had likely heard from New England preacher William Lloyd Garrison. Just west of Portsmouth, in Springfield, MA, John Brown was making a name for himself as a wool broker, joining the local Black church, and becoming part of the Underground Railroad. And it was Brown, as much as anyone else, who persuaded many anti-slavery activists that slavery could only be ended with violence.

So the young men convened at Fort Warren that day, mostly members of the 11th and 12th Massachusetts Regiments of the newborn Union Army, were not just responding to April’s assault on Fort Sumter by the Confederacy. They had grown up hearing about the Slave Power, the powerful Southern planters who controlled half the national economy with a product born of free labor. They knew about that previous war, with Mexico, which ended with two new slave states in the Union. They knew about Bleeding Kansas, right after that war ended, in which pro-slavery Missourians battled “Free Staters,” the latter under the leadership of John Brown.

And they certainly knew about Brown’s effort to jump-start a war against slavery — including his prediction, in the New York Tribune in 1857: “They never intend to relinquish the machinery of this government into the hands of the opponents of slavery. It has taken them more than half a century to get it, and they know its significance too well to give it up. If the republican party [sic] elects its president next year, there will be war.”

John-brown-song-cs-hall-1861-librofcongressThe election of Abraham Lincoln, the previous fall, had been followed by the secession of most Southern states, and the assault on Fort Sumter. No surprise, then, that when they wanted to  relax and sing a drinking song, they chose this one.

I don’t know if those soldiers thought of themselves as dissenters, though I’m choosing to include the entire Union Army as acting in dissent. Certainly Ambrose Bierce did, signing up with the Ninth Indiana around that same time, honoring an uncle who’d supplied guns to John Brown, while Harriet Tubman was already a Union spy, committing gender-dissent in her field-hand disguise. Not to mention Frederick Douglass’ sons, among the very first U.S. Colored Soldiers, or Jesse Macy, a Quaker who insisted on becoming a battlefield medic, thus creating a new form of conscientious objection.

I’ve been saying that “The Civil War flips the script on dissent,” a cheap phrase that nonetheless conveys how disorienting it feels for me, an anti-war writer, to count as ways my characters whose actions helped one side kill multitudes. What is less in dispute: they felt they were creating something entirely new, and willing to die for it.

So far, my chapters have started only in the Northeast: Chapter One in on a Pennsylvania battlefield, Two in a Bronx boarding house, and now this twofer for Portsmouth and Boston. Though both of these chapters then venture far west and south, from Kansas to Cuernavaca. I hope readers don’t find problematic my using these New England stories as springboards, but so much American dissent was born there right along with the country.

Just as disorienting, of course, is alternating between these final revisions and reporting on present-day dissenters like Reality Winner. Unstuck in time no longer covers it.

Before Evan Thomas became an iconic conscientious objector

sailorsandsoldiersmonument
The summer before Evan Thomas leaves the country, 1915 smells of war.

The smell sickens Thomas, a lean young man with a narrow face and alert eyes. Thomas hates living and working at the American Parish, the East Harlem immigrant settlement house pastored by his brother Norman. On every newsstand, headlines scream of battles in Europe and news from Mexico, whose unfinished revolution now includes tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors. The parish’s immigrants look on with anxiety: They don’t need English to count the European war’s twelve battle zones.

America is officially neutral in that conflict, unlike New York City. Two weeks ago a German submarine attacked the luxury liner Lusitania, leaving 43 Americans among 1153 dead – including one of New York’s own, the dashing millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt. Both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers call Germans “murderers” and demand vengeance. The city’s boy-mayor calls for “preparedness,” as if it’s possible to be prepared for hell.

Even Union Theological Seminary, where Thomas is pursuing a divinity degree, offers little respite. It clusters next to Columbia University, whose flagpoles urging students to “cherish, love and respect ….] the flag of peace and prosperity.” Both campuses mark the 1779 Battle of Harlem Heights. At the seminary, Thomas’ classmates discuss what “preparedness” will require of them.

On Memorial Day tens of thousands cram onto Riverside Drive, to see the veterans of five conflicts march uptown to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. Elderly Union soldiers and sailors, their uniforms carefully mended for the occasion, march past signs of the city’s growing wealth: At 74th Street, the veterans and some active-duty troops slowed as they passed Riverside, the three-block French castle built by German immigrant and steel magnate Charles Schwab. At the memorial, a Greek marble stand of Corinthian columns, the United Spanish War Veterans salute General Leonard Wood and retired Rear Admiral Sigsbee, who commanded the U.S.S. Maine when it exploded. Thomas doesn’t go across town to watch the spectacle.

A few weeks later, a similar scent suffuses Princeton, when Thomas goes down for his brother’s graduation. The site of both a 1777 battle and the 1781 Mutiny in January, his alma mater has whole rooms honoring alumni on both sides in the Civil War; at the graduation, its president tells the graduating class of the dangers of peace. If they avoid war, he says, they might lose the chance to become real men.Thomas and some fellow alumni, self-named “the Crusaders,” huddle to wonder aloud what that means for them. The group’s founder, also a Union minister, says the choice is clear: Jesus did his best to stop violence, after all. i Thomas squints into the blinding sunlight.

Thanks for the inspiration, Louisa Thomas.  I hope you don’t mind how I reframed the moment you found, and wrote about in  Conscience:Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War.

Dissentire via souldine: notes toward a new introduction

I know this blog has been unusually silent, even for me. And that I should be writing about/covering Airman Winner, who right now is in federal prison in Augusta, GA facing Espionage Act charges just like Chelsea Manning before her. Or at least about Chelsea herself, now settling in at her Maryland home after her commutation. But things are moving faster than they have been, and I’m devoting most of my writing energy to the final drafts as we move more concretely toward a Veterans Day 2018 publication.

So instead I’m offering  musings toward an introduction – starting with breaking down the book’s title.

I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” It’s the title of one of the signature songs of the 1960s anti-war movement, narrating the history of the United States through the voice of an iconic dissenting soldier. I find myself wishing I could defer to Ochs’ elegant summations: “The young land started growing, the young blood started flowing” for the War of 1812, or “the final mission to the Japanese sky…I saw the cities burning” for World War Two.

For all this powerful poetry, Ochs knew there was much more inside that iconic dissenter’s story. He knew from his own dad, who’d come home broken and abusive after World War II; he knew from the Vietnam veterans who jammed his concerts. He had no idea, of course, of the wars to come, or that his own music would be sung by that iconic soldier in the 21st century.

The term soldier (from souldine, the payment packets given medieval French troops), is often summarized as “A person engaged in military service.” This book identifies as soldiers not only Army personnel but those sworn into the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard; some of that experience may have been brief, but formative in some way that impacted the person’s actions thereafter. Though I include officers here, there’s a class distinction here, as hinted at in the currently official term, “servicemember”: people hired by those in authority to enforce their foreign-policy priorities.

“Soldiers Who Dissent.” What does it mean for such persons to dissent (from Latin dissentire, to think differently)? To express one’s “strong disagreement or dissatisfaction with a decision or opinion supported by those in authority? To do so goes against what we think of as military discipline, and might even be illegal if they’re currently serving.Such dissent usually comes at a price, even for veterans speaking out at tranquil distance from their own service. Nonetheless, such servicemembers’ actions have shaped our history and continue to inhabit that history as it lives and grows. The following pages offer a idiosyncratic guidebook to some of these figures, and how their dissent nudged that arc of  history toward something resembling peace and justice.

Next, of course, that shapeshifter of a final phrase — the one that was “From George Washington to John Murtha,” then “The Boston Massacre to Bradley Manning,” then “to Bowe Bergdahl” for a microsecond. Now, and probably forever, it’s ‘From the French and Indian War to the Forever War.” Stay tuned, honest!

memorial day, Tomas Young and what we owe

I’ve =been rightly scolded for treating Memorial Day a bit too much like Veterans Day. My two commentaries this week are about Tomas Young, shot by a sniper in 2004, who took 10 years to die and  before then, emerged as an opponent of the Iraq war. (If you haven’t seen Body of War, you might want to make it your Memorial Day viewing.)

Tomorrow’s NewsworksWHYY piece will focus on the new book Tomas Young’s War — whose author, Mark Wilkerson, came to Philadelphia.The book chronicles Young’s final years, after an embolism stole the activist’s voice and ultimately his life. (Anoxic brain injury, for those in the know.) I read it in a day, cried  a lot.

Then, with Mark’s help,  I interviewed Young’s mother for my old shop Women’s Voices for Change, and reflected on those who, like her, have lost people to war. She works at Target, where her coworkers have spent the week chirping “Happy Memorial Day!”

More later, and I’ll add live links as they post. As a civilian, I’m not in a position to scold anyone for what they do this weekend. For me, it’s time to give respect to the dead, even as we question why.

 

when gender-dissent got serious

 barfieldportraitMy book has a quiet backbeat of gender-dissent, separate from but not irrelevant to its years of conscientious objectors, mutinies and warrior writers. From the beginning, we had women dressing as men to fight, from the Revolution to the Civil War; we had women codebreakers and nurses during World War I and II, and an increasing number of women explicitly recruited starting in 1960, including later acclaimed peace veteran Ellen Barfield (above).

Still, when women started to claim their own right to be there, it made some  noise no one expected — especially in the 1990s, after the Tailhook scandal exposed what so many women had been enduring all along. I’ve realized that much of this important work is too tangential to be described in-depth in Ain’t Marching … so below is some of what I learned, in case it’s of use.

After Tailhook, feminist scholars and others committed to women’s full participation in the military, began looking more deeply at the misogyny underneath the new, gender-integrated All-Volunteer Force was still in full bloom in numerous ways. Navy Ships and airplanes were still painted with naked ladies, and chants still called weak recruits “pussy.” Carol Burke, a former civilian professor at Annapolis, reported hearing multiple strains of the one below, to the tune of “Candy-Man”:

Who can take a bicycle

Then take off the seat

Set his girlfriend on it

Ride her down a bumpy street. . .

[Chorus]

Who can take some jumper cables

Clamp them to her tits

Jump-start your car

And electrocute the bitch

[Chorus]

Who can take an icepick

Ram it through her ear

Ride her like a Harley

As you fuck her fromr: the rear…./span>

While that chant was an extreme example, the devaluing of women was still a staple of much military culture and training, even as they were recruited in increasing numbers (by 1996, women would constitute 13 percent of personnel, from 5 percent of Marines to 16 percent of the Air Force). Some was signaled indirectly, in what is sometimes termed “gender harassment” of women with whom they were ordered to work: “sabotage, foot-dragging, feigning ignorance, constant scrutiny, gossip and rumors, and indirect threats. This harassment targets women but is not sexual: often it cannot be traced to its source,” ii exemplifying the term “hostile environment” even as it was being documented and defined in the legal language of sexual harassment.

The resentments triggering such an environment were paired with a basic-training system rather famously designed to overcome any World-War-II attacks of conscience, increasingly linking sexuality to violence. “Recruits were brutalized, frustrated, and cajoled to the point of high tension,” ex-Marine Wayne Eisenhart recounted years later. “Only on occasions of violent outbursts did the drill instructor cease his endless litany of You dirty faggot and Can’t you hack it, little girls.” iii Another Vietnam veteran told psychologist Mark Baker: “Carrying a gun was like a permanent hard-on. It was a pure sexual trip every time you got to pull the trigger.” Below are some of the sources I consulted looking into this: feel free to join the conversation.iv

i Carol Burke, Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture (Beacon Press, 2004).

ii Laura Miller, “Not Just Weapons of the Weak: Gender Harassment as a Form of Protest for Army Men.” Social Psychology Quarterly, March 1997, p. 33.

iii Helen Michalowski, “The Army Will Make a ‘Man’ Out of You.” In Pam McAllister, ed., Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence (New Society Press, 1982).

iv David Grossman, On Killing, op. cit.