Jerry-graphicDuring the later years of the Vietnam war, a little-known but powerful rebellion developed within the ranks of the US forces. In this two-part episode, we talk about the GI resistance to the war with Jerry Lembcke, a Vietnam army veteran, now sociologist and author, and Bart, a navy veteran about their experiences.Part 1

Part 2

This article gives a good general overview of the GI resistance movement: https://libcom.org/history/1961-1973-gi-resistance-in-the-vietnam-war
This is our short video history of the movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzhM9eDoM80
This is our GI resistance merchandise in our online store: https://shop.workingclasshistory.com/collections/vietnam-gi-resistance

You can get Jerry Lembcke’s books here: www.amazon.com/Jerry-Lembcke/e/B…1533499864&sr=1-1

FOOTNOTES
– Vietnam: the collapse of the armed forces by Marine Colonel Robert D Heinl Jr: libcom.org/history/vietnam-collapse-armed-forces
– USS Constellation mutiny: more information about that in this article https://libcom.org/history/1961-1973-gi-resistance-in-the-vietnam-war
– USS Columbia Eagle mutiny: libcom.org/history/ss-columbia…y-1970-steven-johns
– The class war at home: check out our episode 8 (currently a patreon exclusive at time of publishing) for more about class struggle in the US at the time: patreon.com/workingclasshistory
– This is a workers’ whistleblowing guide: libcom.org/organise/workplace/…whistle-blowing.php
– This is a workers’ working to rule guide: libcom.org/organise/workplace/…es/work-to-rule.php
– This personal account of the movement has info about “search and avoid”: libcom.org/history/aint-marchi…ietnam-dave-blalock
– The Bravo Company mutiny: libcom.org/history/gi-revolts-…own-us-army-vietnam
– The Presidio mutiny: libcom.org/history/presidio-mu…-1968-randy-rowland

MORE INFORMATION
– This is a short history of the war by Howard Zinn: libcom.org/history/articles/vietnam-war
– GI resistance photo gallery: libcom.org/gallery/gi-resistance-vietnam-war
– Check out the excellent documentary, Sir, No Sir!: www.amazon.com/Sir-No-Suppressed…nam/dp/B000IB0DE4

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
– This episode was edited by Stephanie Hydal: www.stephaniehydal.com/portfolio/
Music and sound effects used are as follows:
– “Ain’t Going to Study War no more” by Leon Lishner and Friends – http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Leon_Lishner_and_Friends/Songs_For_The_Dawn_Of_Peace/26_-_Aint_Gonna_Study_War_No_More_Down_by_the_Riverside_USA licensed under a Attribution-ShareAlike License. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode
– Coming Home by Stefano Vita is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License – http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Stefano_Vita/Step_By_Step/06_-_Stefano_Vita_-_Coming_Home
– All I Survey by Robert Warrington (c) copyright 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Sampling Plus license – http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/RobertWarrington/39365 Creative Commons Non Commercial sampling Plus 1.0 – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/nc-sampling+/1.0/legalcode
– Sabotage by Dead Moon – licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Dead_Moon/Live_at_WFMU_on_Joe_Belocks_Show_on_9272001/Sabotage
– I look for Peace by Kathy Lowe – http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kathy_Lowe/Above_Water/I_Look_for_Peace
– When the ants go marching (Partial) by Howie Mitchell
http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Howie_Mitchell/~/16_AntsGoMarchingIn licensed under Creative Commons
– Black Magik Tyrannosaurus Dracula is licensed under a Attribution NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) 3.0
– Flare: jameswrowles – https://freesound.org/people/jameswrowles/sounds/248219/ – Creative Commons 3.0
– Humming and Strumming by Andy G. Cohen is licensed under a Attribution License – http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Andy_G_Cohen/Layers_1240/Andy_G_Cohen_-_09_-_Humming_and_Strumming
– Cultural birth,death ceremony(deff, dumb, n dope . . .) by greyguy (c) copyright 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license – http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/greyguy/28755 Ft: Clarence Simpson
– We will not be shipwrecked By Robert Farmer –http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Robert_Farmer/Solo_Guitar_Instrumentals/
licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.
– Small by Town Hall –http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Town_Hall/Roots__Bells/Town_Hall_-_Roots__Bells_-_05_Small, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. Based on a work at http://townhall.bandcamp.com/album/roots-bells
– Here you can get the excellent documentary, Sir, No Sir!: www.amazon.com/Sir-No-Suppressed…nam/dp/B000IB0DE4
– This is an article Jerry wrote on the “spitting” myth: www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/opinio…am-protester.html

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Transcript

Episode 10, part 1

John:

In the late 1960s, following years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, an unprecedented rebellion against military authorities and the war began in the ranks themselves. Service people began avoiding combat, refusing orders, campaigning against the war, mutinying and even killing their own officers in a movement which helped bring an end to the war. This is Working Class History.

[Intro music]

John:

In 1971, Marine Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr. wrote a report which said, ‘By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden and dispirited where not near mutinous.’ In this two-part episode, we’ll recover stories of the little known resistance to the Vietnam War from within the ranks. We’ll follow the journeys of Jerry Lembcke, a U.S. army veteran and now author, sociologist and professor and Bart, who served in the navy. To see how they ended up in Vietnam, we’ll start at the beginning with Jerry, 8,000 miles away in Iowa.

Jerry:

I grew up in a small town in northwest Iowa called Hinton which is near Sioux City. My parents were working-class people. I went to the small-town public high school there. I went to college at a small, Lutheran school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I graduated in 1966 as a math major and then I taught eighth and ninth grade math in Fort Dodge, Iowa, between 1966 and 1968. During those years, I was deferred from the draft first for college and then as a math teacher. I had an occupational deferment. I really had no views of the war and I was really not political at all. This was 1966 and the anti-war movement was just beginning to stir but in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I don’t think I had even known about the war, much less the anti-war movement. Teaching math in Fort Dodge, the war kind of went past me. I really had no political views or knowledge about the war. I knew the draft was hanging over my head but, frankly, I don’t think I connected that with the war. The draft was one thing. I’m sure I knew that there was conflict in a place called Vietnam but I’m not sure that I really linked up the two. In 1968, after the Tet Offensive and the U.S. military called up yet more people for the war, then those occupational deferments for people like me were cancelled and the draft finally got me and others of my age cohort. Of course, then soon after I got drafted, then I was woke [laughter]. I began to pay attention and I became pretty political pretty fast.

John:

Bart was a young man from Illinois and around the same age as Jerry’s students.

Bart:

On military perspectives, the peak of our troop levels was in 1968 and so if you go back then, I was probably a freshman in high school when I realised that the reasons that we were there were not for the reasons that the news media and President Johnson said we were there. The more that I learned, the more I realised that we were there for all the wrong reasons. It was a combination of American imperialism and also related to the anti-communist mindset. In summary, I knew the war was for the wrong moral and political reasons and I was against it many years before I was eligible for the draft. The draft exempted you if you were in college. I was in college but [laughter] I fooled around a little bit and I got into academic problems. I was then eligible for the draft.

John:

Due to his opposition to the war, Bart attempted to become a conscientious objector which would have exempted him from serving in a combat role.

Bart:

You would go before the local county. The way that they did that was they had the Draft Board set up and if you had felt that you were a conscientious objector, then you could fill out a form and then they reviewed your application. You went before a board in a face-to-face interview, I guess you could say, to present your case verbally and face-to-face. They would consider it and then they came back a couple of weeks later and said that I’d been denied but I had the right to appeal and so I appealed it. You only have the right to one appeal and so then on appeal, of course, I was turned down. I didn’t expect it to succeed. This is such a long time ago but I believe that what they said was it wasn’t for a valid religious reason. Basically, the way they determined it was you had to be a Quaker. If you were a Quaker, then they would give you consideration on religious grounds. I was raised a Presbyterian [laughter] and Presbyterians did not have any kind of stated position about being against war in general. Whereas, for those like the Quakers, they did. Basically, they said that I did not have a valid religious objection to the war. That was it. You got one appeal. The appeal was denied and so, at that point in time, I knew that since my draft number was number four out of 365, I was going to be drafted and so I joined the navy to keep from being put into the army and probably a grunt in the field.

John:

A few years before Bart enlisted, Jerry’s draft card got pulled.

Jerry:

I went to basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington, in the summer of 1968. After basic training there, I had options for the advanced training that we would have which was called the Military Occupational Specialities or M.O.S.. One day, there were openings for chaplains’ assistant school and I raised my hand [laughter], as did about a dozen other people who were of my same age group. A bunch of us then got selected to go to a chaplain’s assistant school which was at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, right at the end of the Verrazzano Bridge in Brooklyn. Chaplains, of course, don’t carry weapons. They’re not combatants under the Geneva rules for international warfare but chaplains’ assistants do carry weapons. They’re sometimes said to be the arms bearer for the chaplains. So it wasn’t a matter of being a conscientious objector or anything like that. It just sounded interesting. It sounded different.

John:

In Brooklyn, Jerry received additional training that went far beyond his chaplain assistant duties.

Jerry:

New York City was a very politicised environment at that time in the late summer or early fall of ’68. That’s when I began to get politicised and in a lot of ways, I began to get educated about the war and a lot of other things. In Brooklyn, coming off post, we would be met by anti-war activists handing out leaflets to us and, of course, trying to dissuade us from continuing in the military. We were directed to a church nearby if we wished to leave the military. We were told that we could be given sanctuary at that church. Going on away from Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, we spent an awful lot of time in Manhattan and the place was rife with anti-war activities. The very first anti-war demonstration that I ever witnessed was on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I’m standing back watching and wondering what these people are doing [laughter], what they’re protesting and why Fifth Avenue is blocked off. Coming to consciousness was thinking, ‘Those people know something that I don’t know. They know something I should know. I need to know what they know.’

John:

After finishing training, Jerry goes to Vietnam.

Jerry:

When I got to Vietnam, about New Year’s Day 1969, I then got assigned to a chaplain in the artillery unit. It was just so different and it was anything beyond my imagination. You have to keep in mind this is 1969 and Americans then, and certainly this guy who had grown up in a small town in Iowa, were even more unaware of the world than somebody would be today. Of course, we had television but we didn’t have so much of the global exposure that we have now and with my own educational background in a small-town high school and a conservative, Lutheran college, at that time, I just knew nothing about Vietnam and very little about Asia. Just to see the Vietnamese people, Vietnamese way of life, rice paddies and grass-roofed huts days after I got there, I was just in awe of what I was seeing. The other big impression, of course, was the enormity of the U.S. military presence itself. I had never been around military equipment, so to be around these big guns in the artillery… I had had nothing like that in basic training. There was only the firing range [laughter] and a bayonet exercise. I’d never seen these big guns, big trucks, tanks and armoured personnel carriers clanking around. Vietnam, at night, was a sound and light show; the flares going off; the guns going off; and an occasional helicopter coming in with the ‘wop, wop, wop’ of the rotor blades. Choppers didn’t fly too much at night. You could just walk around and it was kind of surreal.

John:

A bit later on down the line, in 1972, Bart begins his naval service.

Bart:

I got to my ship, the USS Milwaukee AOR-2. In order for you to talk to an officer, you had to put in a request and that request had to go up the chain of command. Talk about cheeky, I guess, I put in a request to the enlisted officer that was directly in command of me and my division. I said, ‘I would like to talk to the Captain.’ Of course, that was unusual and he said, ‘Why do you want to talk to the Captain?’ I said, ‘Because I want out of the navy.’ The petty officer, at that time, was dumbstruck. He couldn’t believe, I guess, that I had the nerve to do that but I did talk to him. My request was granted and I talked to the Captain of my ship and actually, he was a good man. He was a career navy man and you’d have to be to a captain of a ship. Anyway, his name was Shaughnessy and he sat down with me and he was real straightforward. He said, ‘You’re young. Maybe you’ll change your mind.’ I said, ‘Captain, I won’t change my mind. I’m against this war. I never wanted to be here. I only enlisted because I was going to be drafted. I’m telling you right now that I want a discharge and I want to be out of the navy because I’m against the Vietnam War.’ The aftermath of that was that I was probably labelled a malcontent.

John:

Bart quickly discovered he wasn’t the only malcontent onboard.

Bart:

There were other people that were against the war. It wasn’t just me on my ship. The ship that I was on was a ship that was an auxiliary underway replenishment supply ship. It supplied carriers and their escort ships with supplies and fuel at sea underway. When we did that, there was always an exchange of information somehow. Sometimes, I think it was verbal but other times, they were able to pass written kinds of information. I don’t know if you know this but some of those ships published their own anti-war material. The carriers seemed to do that more than the other ships, probably because a carrier is so big and you can put together a press and actually compose and print, like newsletters or something like that. In those situations, somehow we then had the opportunity to pass unofficial communications.

John:

Back in early 1969, Jerry is assisting a chaplain in an artillery unit.

Jerry:

The day-to-day role of the chaplain and I was to move around from firebase to firebase. These were very small gun placement sites around the central islands on mountain tops and hillsides. We would move around by helicopter, oftentimes, or by road in a jeep in which case, I was the driver. I was out and about more than the great majority of guys who were in Vietnam, who got siloed into these small camp areas and really never saw much of Vietnam or much of other military operations other than their own unit. I was in Vietnamese hospital, churches, schools, a leprosarium and orphanages, as well as in U.S. military hospitals. With the chaplain, I would occasionally get to sit in on briefings for the day. Gosh! It was like a fly on the wall experience.

John:

The more people Jerry met, the more he observed a growing discontent.

Jerry:

A lot of what I think is construed as anti-war within the military at that time was actually anti-military. I think a lot of the earliest resistance was resistance to military authority. Things matured then from there into the anti-war stuff, per se, with things like fragging, say, in Vietnam. Fragging was the practice of GIs and other lower-ranking military people attacking officers. The term ‘fragging’ comes from fragmentation grenades. The basic hand grenade, when it explodes, it fragments and it sends pieces of metal and shrapnel flying in all directions. A common form of attack against officers became throwing a hand grenade in the wrong direction [laughter] so that it landed with your own officers or maybe at night, planting a hand grenade on a walk path that would then be triggered by a tripwire. It would go off, killing or injuring officers. The term became used more broadly as any kind of serious physical forms of resistance.

John:

Fragging wasn’t just a couple of isolated incidents. The U.S. Army investigated 800 fragging incidents in Vietnam. If soldiers had difficulty fragging a particular officer, they would often do whip rounds to raise a bounty for anyone who killed them. One underground GI newspaper publicly offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who killed an unpopular lieutenant colonel, Weldon Honeycutt, who’d ordered an attack on Hill 937 which left 500 U.S. troops killed or injured. There were several attempts on him but he managed to survive until the end of his tour.

Jerry:

A lot of that was simply because of the dislike of officers and non-commissioned officers, like higher-ranking sergeants. That’s what I witnessed but even what I just witnessed was pretty low-level kind of stuff and what I would describe as counter-harassment of officers we viewed as harassing us. We began to do things like plant tripwires on walkways where we knew officers would be passing that night on their way to their hooches in order to scare them and to send a signal that that flare could have been a hand grenade and they could have tripped a hand grenade. One night, at my base camp, one of the officer’s jeeps went up in flames. I had nothing to do with that but I knew who did and I know why they did it. There was no officer in the jeep but that’s a pretty serious [laughter], you could say, shot across the bough and a pretty serious way of saying ‘back off or the next one could be more serious.’ By mid-1969, there was a lot of that that I knew about and that I saw and then a lot of the still more minor stuff, like the wearing of peace symbols and so forth. Some of that was just to get under the skin of officers.

John:

Back on ship, Bart was learning more about anti-war activities elsewhere in the fleet.

Bart:

There were other people that were against the war. It wasn’t just me on my ship. We used to call it ‘scuttlebutt’. Scuttlebutt is a term for gossip and the scuttlebutt would be, ‘Okay, there’s an anti-war contingent upon this ship.’ We passed information back and forth. When the Constellation came out of San Francisco back into the combat line, we supplied the Constellation at sea and the rumours were rampant, as far as what was going on on the Constellation. There were all kinds of rumours. Some of them were so fantastic that some of us didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe that there were those kinds of racial issues on the Constellation or that they had anti-war issues on the Constellation but it turned out to be true.

John:

On the USS Constellation, the first mass mutiny ever in the U.S. Navy broke out and organised by African American sailors in protest at endemic race discrimination. Black sailors also rebelled on the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier and two merchant seamen on the USS Colombia Eagle, carrying 10,000 tons of napalm, mutinied and took control of the ship, sailing it to Cambodia.

Bart:

It was widespread on other ships. I’ll give you an example. I wasn’t aware of this until later on. The Constellation had big racial issues but in addition to that, they had a commissioned officer who was anti-war and he actually got the crew together and he got over 1,000 signatures telling the Captain that they should have Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland’s ‘Fuck The Army’ review on the Constellation. You can imagine how that went over. That’s just one example but there were other ones. The biggest contingents were on the aircraft carriers. That, I’m sure of. Some people said it was ‘Save Our Ships’; some people said it was ‘Sabotage Our Ships’; some people said it was ‘Stop Our Ships’. The first thing that I was aware of was that there was an anti-war movement that was gaining strength in the navy after I got on the ship. There actually was sabotage on several of the aircraft carriers and I think some of the other ships as well. At one time, I think there were four aircraft carriers that were unable to go out to sea because either due to crew morale, or even quasi-mutiny situations, or they had been sabotaged and they were unable to go out to sea. At one time, I think there were four carriers. I found this out later on by talking to other veterans. We had a fellow on our ship. We never got the real story about it but basically, he threatened to blow up the ship. He had access to a munitions locker on the ship. He was never fully identified but the rumour was that he was anti-war and that was the reason for it. They called us to quarters about 2 A.M. at night and they had us all stand in a line and put out our hands. They ran an ultraviolet light over our hands and whoever had gotten into this munitions locker, then there was dye (like in a bank robbery that they would use now). It was something that would only show up under ultraviolet light exposure. I didn’t see who the guy was but I saw him being taken off the ship the next day in a straightjacket and we never heard from him again.

John:

Jerry describes what sort of methods soldiers used to resist.

Jerry:

There was a lot of, I guess what you call, work slowdown or working by rule. I know that’s a part of working-class culture. There’s a book called The Wars We Took to Vietnam and the author is Milton Bates. One of those wars is the class war, he says. Labour conflict and class conflict that played out on the shop floor back home transported to Vietnam and it played out in Vietnam as conflict between draftees and other low-ranking service people and the brass and the officers. A lot of it was resistance to military authority. The key word there being ‘authority’. Whether it was military authority [laughter] or just authority, I think that, after reading Milton Bates’ book on this, a lot of it was simply class conflict. Under U.S. military law, you don’t have to follow illegal orders. [Laughter]. In a place like Vietnam, there’s an awful lot of discretion and if you’re told to do something, there is a lot of room for interpretation, whether that is a legal order or not. You could always refuse that order and then wait for further adjudication and that, itself, then is a way of slowing things down. You don’t do what you’re told to do and then you wait for the propriety of that to be determined. It would impede or slow down the mission that was to be accomplished. With inspections, oftentimes, the higher officers in a unit would try to pass the inspection of their unit by getting their underlings to falsify records. That’s one thing that I witnessed. People working in the headquarters were asked to, basically, hide records that were not kept up-to-date. These guys came to me, the chaplain’s assistant, and they said, ‘We’re being asked to do this. What should we do?’ I happened to know that at the end of this inspection, before the inspecting general left our camp, he would have an open house or a time for anybody to raise grievances that they wanted to. These are very pro forma kinds of things. No private is going to walk up to a general and say, ‘Sir, I would like to report that Major So and So told me to do this and that’s illegal.’ When this happened, these guys came to me and I said, ‘Look, there is going to be this opportunity.’ By golly, toward the end of that day, when the general was in our unit, his other duties were over and he was about to leave to go back to his headquarters, I had guys line up to tell him what had gone down on the days just preceding this inspection. The officers of our unit were just steamed. They were just livid. They just stood by in a little cluster watching this line of guys. It was a short line. I don’t want to exaggerate but these guys were standing waiting for their turn to talk to the general and tell the general what they had been told to do. Literally, documents had been hidden behind sandbags. They were documents that our officers did not want the inspecting general to see. There’s one instance [laughter]. I not only had the right to do what I did but one of my duties of the day was to make sure everybody knew and said, ‘If you want to talk to the inspecting general, it will be at 3 o’clock this afternoon and it will be over here under this tree.’ That’s what I did. I told them that they had a right to do this. That’s a kind of working to rule that threw the wrench into the way the command was operating. Things like that occurred out in the field too, where people would refuse to do things that they knew they didn’t have to do or refused to exercise their own discretion on an operation and do something that they were not explicitly ordered that they would have to do. With regard to working to rule – gosh, anybody who’s been on any kind of military operation would know that if everybody only worked to rule [laughter], the operation would never get completed, just like a construction work job would never get completed if the workers only did what they were explicitly told to do. That class conflict then got politicised by the war itself. It was politicised as anti-war and as people like me began to learn more about the war. I don’t think I heard the words ‘colonisation’ or ‘imperialism’ until I got to Vietnam and I heard those words then from other GIs and people who knew more than I knew. The pieces then began to fall into place. I had two R&Rs from Vietnam and the first one was in Sydney, Australia. In Sydney, I think it was the first morning out of the hotel and I was met by a young woman who asked me if I wanted to go to a coffee house. I said, ‘Sure,’ but not knowing it would be an anti-war coffee house. That wasn’t on my mind but it was. There, I was given a handful of anti-war literature and given a peace symbol; a very large necklace peace medallion which I still have. It’s hanging on my wall. I wish I could show it to you right now [laughter]. I went back to Vietnam carrying the literature I’d been given and wearing that medallion which got me into a lot of trouble in Vietnam. The military authorities didn’t like that so much. By the middle of 1969, lots of guys were wearing anti-war paraphernalia and people were etching peace symbols onto their helmets and so on. It was becoming quite prominent by then in Vietnam, in 1969. Probably, that was kind of the beginning of that prominence of GI anti-war activity in Vietnam.

John:

From late 1969, the GI resistance movement continued to grow. Large numbers of troops joined a national moratorium, a day of protest in the U.S., on 15th October 1969, by refusing to go out on missions. Soldiers sent to search and destroy, instead chose to search and avoid enemy combatants. Some anti-war activities became more overt as GIs published underground newspapers and broadcast via pirate radio. One unit refused orders to advance while being filmed by TV news and in 1971, the men of Bravo company, who were acting covertly on the Cambodian border, refused an order to leave their base. They then signed a petition against the operation. They were pulled out and replaced by Delta company who then refused to go out as well which forced the army to pull them out, as well as a whole artiliary company alongside it. Despite all this, the war continued as did Bart’s deployment.

Bart:

I was on the ship in the Gulf of Tonkin on Yankee Station. We bombed North Vietnam on a constant basis from December 1972 till the peace accords were signed, I think, in the middle of January 1973. I mean the heaviest bombing of the war from a combination of the navy and the airforce with 24 hours a day saturation bombing. After the truce was signed and we got back to the U.S… I won’t call it AWOL because they used to call it ‘unauthorised absence’. They had a petty officer that knew about my situation. The only way I can say it is he would give me all these bullshit details and assignments where I would expose myself to nasty working conditions or unreasonable orders that were just meant to make me obey, no matter how unreasonable the order was. Finally, I said, ‘No, I’m not going to obey that order,’ and I went to captain’s mast as a result of it. Basically, I went to what was called captain’s mast three times; two times for the unauthorised absences and one time for that incident. Between those three incidents, I got knocked down from an E-3 to E-1. It took me several months of disobedience. After the truce was signed, there was a force-wide reduction, not just in the navy but in the army and all the armed forces. There was a huge reduction in force. Because of everything combined, the captain offered me a discharge and it was a general discharge under honourable conditions which is not an honourable discharge because they found out that that was not a legal discharge and they had no choice but to make it an honourable discharge. I guess what I’m trying to say in summary is that [laughter] I had to work to get that discharge but I made it very plain to the captain of my ship that I did not believe in the Vietnam War and I wanted out of the navy. I was discharged in November 1973.

John:

Like Bart, over 350,000 other service personnel went AWOL during the conflict from the kind of harassment and demotions that Bart experienced to court martials, jail sentences and even threats of execution. Soldiers were given long prison sentences for things like refusing to ship out, refusing to help induct trainees or even just for talking to marines against the war. One navy nurse was court-martialed for marching on a peace demonstration in her uniform and for dropping anti-war leaflets on navy bases from a plane. Military prisons everywhere were overcrowded and bursting with detainees. In the Presidio stockade in San Francisco, 27 soldiers launched a sitdown protest against the killing of an inmate by linking arms and singing, ‘We shall overcome’. They were court-martialed and threatened with the death penalty, eventually being jailed for up to 16 years each until a mass campaign got them released after just 18 months. The Long Binh Jail in Vietnam, designed for 400 prisoners, held 719 by mid-1968, 90% of whom were Black. On 29th August that year, Black and white prisoners revolted; beating their guards and killing one, destroying the prison and attacking the colonel who came to calm them down. That’s it for Part 1. In Part 2, we’ll be speaking more with Jerry about Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the legacy of the movement and why it’s so little known today. We’ve got links to more information and further reading in the show notes, including where to get Jerry’s books which include The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, CNN’s Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth, Hanoi Jane: War, Sex and Fantasies of Betrayal and PTSD: Diagnosis and Identity in Post-empire America related to Vietnam which he describes as:

Jerry:

I’ve written four books on what I call post-Vietnam war American culture. They’re studies of how the war continues to be processed through popular culture, folklore, myths, legends and Hollywood film, of course.

John:

Part 2 will be online for our Patreon supporters on 6th August, so you can support us and listen to it as well as other exclusive content at patreon.com/workingclasshistory. We’ve also got a Patreon exclusive episode at the moment on the class war at home and the strike wave which swept the U.S. during the war. Part 2 will be available for everyone else next week. We’ve also produced a range of merchandise commemorating the GI resistance which is in our online store. Check it out at workingclasshistory.com. Thanks for listening. Thanks for Stephanie Hydal for editing this episode and catch you next time.

Episode 11, Part 2

John:

This is the second part of a two-part episode on the US GI resistance movement during the Vietnam War, so if you haven’t heard the first part (our episode 10), I’d go back and listen to that first. Today, we continue our conversation with Jerry Lembcke, a Vietnam veteran turned author, sociologist and professor, about other aspects of the movement, his experiences in Vietnam Veterans Against the War and how it’s all remembered today. I’m John.

Stephanie:

I’m Stephanie.

John:

And this is Working Class History.

[Intro music]

John:

One thing that went along with the counterculture in the United States was a lot of drug taking. Was that something which spread to Vietnam?

Jerry:

Yeah, most of what I saw and saw a lot of was simply pot which now sounds so innocent [laughter] but then it was very illegal and it was very much a part of underground GI activity in Vietnam. It was definitely off the books, illegal and illicit. The drugs were bought on the market, bought illegally and had to be moved around illegally. I haven’t used the word ‘underground’ before but that’s a key word. Beyond the purview of the authorities, there was a kind of military life that went on in that way. When I say the counterculture within the military, the drug culture was part of that. It was illicit, underground and out of sight as much as it could be. It was a violation of rules. Smoking pot on guard duty went even beyond military culture and was a kind of subversion of military policy, of course, and the rules but it was a kind of subversion of military readiness. I did guard duty in a lot of different places, like firebases and so forth, and I never liked anybody smoking pot when I was on guard duty because I took it too seriously. So whenever I was on guard duty, the pot would be withheld most of the time but I knew it was there and I knew other guard posts would be smoking pot. That was definitely part of it. There’s a book called The Myth of the Addicted Army. It’s a book that debunks the idea of drug addiction among GIs in Vietnam. That’s not to say that there weren’t people who got addicted but it really became exaggerated as a view of what was going on in Vietnam. It kind of became part of the disparagement of Vietnam veterans after the war and certainly the disparagement of the image of anti-war GIs and anti-war veterans. During the year I was in Vietnam, I’m not sure that I even heard of or was aware of anything more than marijuana laced with maybe heroin or opiates of some kind. I had heard of that. I was aware of that and I knew of that but I can’t say that I really saw any kind of addiction or any kind of widespread use or buying and selling of anything other than pot.

John:

That’s really interesting.

Jerry:

To get to your point, I never thought of that at the time, and I still don’t, as necessarily being anti-war. It was more stateside counterculture that, by 1969, was finding its way into Vietnam. It was more like it moved from stateside to Vietnam. It might be commonly thought of that it moved from Vietnam to stateside after the war but there was that direction to it also.

John:

Cool. That’s really interesting. I hadn’t heard that perspective about it being exaggerated before as a way of almost disparaging of maybe combat reluctants or whatever the opposite of trigger happy is.

Jerry:

Oh, very much so. Very recently, I talked to another Vietnam veteran and he was in the field more than I was and he said that anytime he was ever on a patrol, nobody would smoke pot. It was for reasons about being straight enough to be able to defend yourself. I told him that that surprised me to hear him say that. There’s a variety of stories about this, for sure [laughter].

John:

Talking about this general resistance to authority, not necessarily a political anti-war but general rebellion, do you have any idea how widespread that was? Was it a small minority or was it quite a sizeable chunk?

Jerry:

I think by 1969 and when I left in 1970, it was widespread. There was no doubt that it was affecting… the term was ‘military readiness’. I have absolutely no doubt about that. Part of the Nixon drawdown that began in 1969, besides opposition to the war stateside, was simply the lack of preparedness of the military in Vietnam to carry out the war. Some of this is portrayed, of course, in the film Sir! No Sir! with the airforce guys refusing to collect the intelligence for air operations and guys refusing to board ships and aircraft carriers. There was a small number of refusals of pilots to fly by that time in the war. It was widespread by 1970.

John:

Obviously, the U.S. military force at the time was mostly male but what can you tell us about the role and contribution of women to the GI resistance movement?

Jerry:

Oh, it was huge. Many of the first, and most prominent, and most effective people in the anti-war movement back stateside were women. Gosh! The first delegation of American peace activists went to Hanoi, not to negotiate because they had no authority to do that, to meet with and to treat with the North Vietnamese and they were Women Strike for Peace. It was an all women’s group that went. There were the other early peace groups that went. The Quakers chartered a boat in Taiwan, I guess, and raised money and loaded the boat with military supplies to take to North Vietnam. They were men but there were women on that trip also. There was a group in 1967 that went and Tom Hayden was one of the people and Vivian Rothstein was one of them, along with Carol McEldowney. Vivian Rothstein was 21 years old when she went. I think they were in Hanoi for more than two weeks because they couldn’t get a flight out of Vietnam. Those people came back then to the United States as very, very effective organisers and spokeswomen for the anti-war movement. I’m trying to think of some of the other women’s organisations. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is one of the longstanding anti-war organisations going back to World War One. They were very active very early on. You get celebrity figures like Joan Baez as just a very effective voice. When I came back, my first best friend was a woman who had gone to a Quaker boarding school in Iowa and was the campus anti-war singer at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. When I went back to graduate school, I met her in the fall of 1970 and I married her actually [laughter]. It was women like her who really reached out to Vietnam veterans and invited us into the anti-war movement. They were hugely important.

John:

I think Stephanie just wanted to ask a quick question. Stephanie?

Jerry:

Sure.

Stephanie:

It sounds like women’s contribution is erased from public memory.

Jerry:

Even worse than erased, I think, is vilified. The intersection there is with the historical fact that the war was lost and so Americans went looking for reasons why the war was lost which turned inward to look for scapegoats for the loss of the war. Culturally, the scapegoat became the feminisation of American culture. We, the Americans, lost the war because we had turned soft. We lost the war because we had become too encumbered by welfare. Our men had become feminised by the women’s movement. There was this whole paranoia and vilifying of the ‘feminism’ within the culture. People like Joan Baez and Jane Fonda became like lightning rods for the anti anti-war movement. The loss got put at the feet of home front betrayal and that we lost the war because of what happened at home. Women were the main targets of that. Part of the general backlash against the women’s movement and against the feminist movement was because of that. You might know the book Backlash. I’m trying to think of the author’s name. The book probably came out 15 years ago. The author of that book referenced my book The Spitting Image as a way of making her point that the origins of the backlash against the women’s movement really lie in the loss of the war. My book was important in that way because, according to the myth of spat upon Vietnam veterans, a lot of the spitters were women or young girls. Supposedly, they’re the ones who spat on Vietnam veterans which is a reprise of the German stab in the back legend of World War One. Supposedly, German soldiers came home from having lost World War One and they were greeted by women who lashed out at them and, indeed, stories of German women spitting on German veterans went around as part of the stab in the back legend. It actually became very much part of the movement to remilitarise and Nazify German culture that then led up to World War Two.

John:

I think it’s a really interesting historical parallel.

Jerry:

It certain is.

John:

Obviously, the real reason World War One ended was that there was a mass mutiny in the Russian army and a revolution and then there was a mass mutiny and a revolution in Germany by the soldiers and workers themselves.

Jerry:

Absolutely. It’s very much a parallel. The gist, or the bottom line, of almost all of these books that I’ve written, is that because of Vietnam, America is living in a lost-war culture and a post-empire culture that is as revanchist and reactionary as was Germany after World War One. All of that played out in Germany within a 20 year period and here it’s just been on a slow burn and playing out now 45 years since the end of the war. My contention is that we are still in that lost-war culture formed by the loss of the war in Vietnam. If anything, the Trump movement with its hyper-masculinity and its ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan, that’s the revanchist part of it; that there was something lost some time in the past and we have to get back to that. We have to recover that. Of course, that is the idyllic, mythical America of the 1950s and where were women in the 1950s? They were not in the streets [laughter]. So putting women back in their place is all part of that revanchism of the Trump administration. Yeah, you’re exactly right. It’s very parallel and that’s very much what my last four books have been about.

John:

I guess in terms of the right-wingers blaming a loss on not being aggressive enough, at least from my understanding, is massively flawed from a strategic perspective. It seems like the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces’ policies of mass burning of villages and mass torture and killings of innocent civilians and peasants actually turned the majority of the countryside in South Vietnam against it and put them on the side of the Viet Cong.

Jerry:

Oh, yes. Where I thought you were going to go with that is that lots of women fought on the side of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

John:

Of course, that too actually.

Jerry:

American soldiers encountered enemy women fighters maybe for the first time in American history. They would capture Vietnamese in the South and… ‘My god, it’s a girl!’ [Laughter]. That was a real shock to Americans. Even worse, from the American point of view, pilots shot down over the North would be captured by North Vietnamese women and marched to Hanoi by women soldiers. U.S. soldiers captured in the South and moved North along the Ho Chi Minh trail saw lots and lots of Vietnamese women working militarily on the Ho Chi Minh trail and defending the trail with anti-aircraft guns and defending the trail in lots of ways. I did get to this, by the way, in my book Hanoi Jane and I think that this is a kind of subtext. There’s a kind of latent narrative here in the anti-women sentiment in this betrayal narrative that comes out of that experience in Vietnam. Other than what I’ve written in my book, I don’t know that anybody else has touched on that. It certainly needs to be better developed than what I did in that book.

John:

One thing that I meant to ask, but we then got onto another topic, was around when you mentioned GI underground press which you said you were aware of around the U.S. military bases. Did that reach Vietnam itself?

Jerry:

No, not when I was there. I think maybe about the time I left, it probably was reaching there but I did not see any underground press. I was aware of something called Pirate Radio and, again, this is portrayed in Sir! No Sir! Some GIs, in the camo communication units, patched together some kind of clandestine radio operations. I think there was more than one. I did hear of that but I don’t think I ever heard any of those broadcasts myself. At least, I don’t remember or if I did, maybe I didn’t know what I was hearing. We did hear, what we called, Radio Saigon as portrayed in the film Good Morning Vietnam, the Robin Williams’ film. I love that film, by the way. We did hear those broadcasts that sometimes had their own anti-war flavour to them and thus, sometimes would be censored and kicked off the air but that was it. The first anti-war newspapers didn’t appear, even stateside, until some time in 1968, if I’m not mistaken. It would have taken a while for that stuff to find its way abroad. Maybe then, even in Saigon, it would have been around or in other big, large military installations along the coast but that’s not where I was. I was more inland in smaller places which were more confined and more controlled. A lot of times when I hear stories about GI resistance, I think, ‘How would that have ever happened where I was?’ because we were really under the thumb of military authority. Things really had to be underground when you were out in the boonies. I don’t know how newspapers would even have got out there very easily. As I did, I brought back stuff from Sydney [laughter] on R&R. That would be one source.

John:

That’s really interesting. Maybe aside from the interview, in terms of what you said about the type of base and even the geographical location… as well as doing this podcast, we’re doing some stuff like mapping social movements geographically and through time. I think it would be really interesting to try and map out some of these concrete incidences and data to see whereabouts stuff happened? Do you see what I mean? I think that would be an interesting bit of research to do at some point.

Jerry:

It sure would be. I hope somebody is listening [laughter]. An enterprising graduate student who’s looking for their PhD.

John:

Yeah, exactly.

Jerry:

This is one that’s waiting to be done.

John:

Fingers crossed. You came back to the United States in 1969.

Jerry:

Early in 1970.

John:

Back in the U.S., how was the GI resistance represented and portrayed? Do you know how much popular support it had?

Jerry:

I came back ready to join the anti-war movement. I came back looking for the anti-war movement [laughter] and contrary to the stories today that anti-war activists met returning GIs at the airport, harassed them and spat on them, I was disappointed when I landed at McChord airforce base, was processed through Fort Lewis in Washington and then went to SEATAC airport and there were no anti-war people at SEATAC [laughter]. I was looking for the anti-war movement and I found it shortly in the Denver area and joined up to the VVAW by the spring of 1970. I was quite active by then in the VVAW. By that time, the VVAW had quite a presence. The first of the ‘Winter Soldier’ hearings asked for testimony about atrocities in Vietnam and asked a lot of the same kinds of questions that you’re asking. There were calls for GIs to offer their testimonies. Those got a certain amount of news coverage. Veteran veterans had become, by that time, pretty regular participants in anti-war activities, like marches and speaking at rallies. They would march in their own contingent in anti-war marches. The American people were very well aware, by that time, that people were coming home from Vietnam opposed to the war and were joining the anti-war movement in large numbers. Again, that was one of those events. The turning point was the fall of ’69 which was a real coming out for the VVAW. It had been in formation since 1967 but it kind of stepped out and outed itself publicly in 1969. From then on, the GI press had really taken off. There were lots of coffee houses near military bases and it was very much a movement.

John:

Being part of a movement like that and being part of a community of resistance, how did that feel on a personal and emotional level? Are there any particular instances of it that stay with you?

Jerry:

Oh, absolutely. A lot of veterans report coming home and being well received by friends and family but with not much interest in where they had been the last year and really not finding a community with whom they could debrief and commiserate about it. That’s what the anti-war movement was for lots of us. The anti-war movement was the community that we came back to and the community that we found or that found us. They were people who wanted to hear our stories and wanted us to hear about what the anti-war movement had been doing on their behalf. Your word of ‘community’ is the key word in a lot of ways. Part of what then happens, I think, to a lot of Vietnam veterans is that as the war begins to wind down and end, so too did the anti-war movement. People who had found a community or a home, so to speak, within the anti-war movement began to lose that as the anti-war movement dissipated. They were then kind of left hanging and thinking, ‘Well, what now?’ Because still, friends and family were probably even less interested by 1973-75 than they had been before. That was a different set of emotions that began to play out.

John:

I guess that must have been quite sad, basically.

Jerry:

Being involved in the anti-war movement was really invigorating. To meet these people, who had been doing all these things, all these years, to oppose the war was really inspiring for me. It made me want to be like them. They became aspirational for me. For me personally, that was a real turning point. It really had me rethinking my life up to the time I got drafted and rethinking my own educational experience, which was the educational experience of the vast majority of Americans my age had arrived at [laughter]. The Vietnam War years were just totally bereft of any consciousness or any awareness of what this country was about or what it had been about.

John:

I guess that’s a good point to move on to legacy.

Jerry:

Sure.

John:

Nowadays, as you say, the film Sir! No Sir! and some other recent articles online have helped raise the profile of the GI resistance a little bit but it’s still, generally, pretty unknown in wider society. Why do you think this is?

Jerry:

I think the legacy of the GI resistance and GI resisters got pathologised. Our political engagement got rewritten as a kind of catharsis or an acting out of our war drama. That’s the subtitle of my book on PTSD called PTSD: Diagnosis or Identity in Post-empire America. I think I said, at the outset, the political and cultural properties of PTSD, the diagnostic category, was to discredit the political authenticity of the veteran resistance. It was a way of depoliticising what we were doing and what we were saying. It was a way of saying, ‘Yes, they came home upset about the war,’ or ‘They came home feeling guilty about what they had done in the war,’ or ‘They came home traumatised about the very atrocities that they had committed in the war, so they’re experiencing that post-traumatic stress. Yes, we should be sympathetic with these guys and see that they get the treatment that they deserve but… [laughter].’ The political meaning of it then is eclipsed, or erased, or disappeared. What comes out of that period then is the image of trauma stricken veterans and the image of our political activity as having been cathartic or a kind of acting out of their anger, their hurt and their trauma. That’s the image that goes forward. Sometimes in my classes related to this, I would ask students if they had ever heard of Vietnam Veterans Against the War or the Vietnam War resistance movement. Almost no students would raise their hand in the ’90s. I’d say, ‘Has anybody heard of Vietnam veterans with PTSD?’ Almost all hands would go up. The image that people have of Vietnam veterans, largely now, is that of the home with hurts, damaged goods image of Vietnam veterans. No image and no legacy of people politicised and empowered by their wartime experience. From 1970-75, that was the image that American had of Vietnam veterans. We came home to kick ass on the Nixon administration [laughter]. I mean if there was going to be any spitting when I came home, it was going to be me [laughter] on some politician or some officer that I’d had in Vietnam and I recognised him in civilian clothes. [Laughter] That was my state of mind. Nobody is going to spit on me and, of course, nobody did spit on me. That storyline wasn’t even there. Nobody was even claiming, in the early ’70s, that anybody was spitting on Vietnam veterans. I know because I went back and looked. It’s not even there. That narrative is not even there. That gets constructed after the war. By the way, on trauma, you see the initial trauma that Vietnam veterans supposedly experienced was the trauma of coming home. That’s where all of this PTSD stuff started. It wasn’t war trauma, per se. It was the trauma of coming home. It was the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their homecoming. That was the first iteration of the war trauma narrative. Of course, it was the enemy at home that rejected Vietnam veterans and traumatised Vietnam veterans. In the first instance, PTSD is about the homecoming story and then, of course, it gets expanded out from there but that was the starting point. We were traumatised because we were badly treated. We were rejected and, maybe the big player is that we lost the war because of betrayal on the home front. You lose a war and that, in itself, is a lot of trauma. Those German soldiers who came home from World War One, having lost a war, found it hard to deal with.

John:

Jerry has written in detail about the myth of spat on war veterans which we’ll link to in the show notes. In actual fact, the anti-war movement reached out to veterans to join them and many anti-war protests were led by contingents from Vietnam Veterans Against the War, often in uniform. In, perhaps, their most famous act of protest, nearly 1,000 veterans headed to the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in April 1971 to return their combat medals to the government. The vets had planned to give the medals back in body bags but authorities, in fear of the vets, erected a fence around the Capitol Building. So instead, the veterans threw their medals over the fence, giving a few choice words as they did so.

Vietnam Veteran John Moreau:

My name is John Moreau and heres’s a bunch of bullshit! [Sound of medals falling]. More bullshit! [Sound of medals falling].

Vietnam Veteran Peter Branagan:

My name is Peter Branagan and I got a Purple Heart here and I hope I get another one fighting these motherfuckers [cheers and applause].

Vietnam Veteran Robert Jones:

Robert Jones, New York and Berkeley. Returning all Vietnam medals and all the service medals given me by the power structure that has genocidal policies against non-white peoples of the world [cheers and applause]. More power to the people!

John:

When the U.S. was forced to pull out of Vietnam, a convenient narrative had to be devised to explain what happened.

Jerry:

They would say why did we lose the war? Who was the enemy? It wasn’t the Vietnamese because they could have never beaten us. It was our own kind. It was loss on the home front. It was betrayal behind the lines. It was the stab in the back. There was a gender to that [laughter]. That was easily gendered because who was it who was really leading the anti-war movement? A lot of them were women or, if not women, male longhairs, hippies and men who weren’t really men. They were part of the anti-war movement and weren’t men enough to suit up and go off to fight the war. They were men who stayed home to work in hospitals or nursing homes rather than load artillery pieces. You see, it all fits. All the pieces fit.

John:

Today, 50 years on, why do you think the GI resistance and how we remember it is important?

Jerry:

I think the key to the anti-war movement today is somehow to get to the people who are going off to fight these wars. The key lies within that demographic of recruits to these wars; the people who are off fighting these wars. We’ve got to counter-recruit. We’ve got counter-propagandise. The war in Vietnam ended when the U.S. was no longer able to prosecute the war. The war ended when the Vietnamese stopped the U.S. war machine and they stopped the U.S. war machine with the help of the anti-war movement at home and with the help of a generation of men who refused to fight the war any longer. All of those pieces are important and all of those pieces are still important today. By the time I came home from Vietnam, or shortly thereafter, I came to think that there was a righteous side to that war and we just weren’t on it. It was right for the Vietnamese to win that war, not just to stop the war but to win the war. Their cause was a righteous cause. Today, that’s trickier. I don’t know that there is a righteous cause in these wars and so it behooves us to fight against these wars today from the inside, from our own side, from the American side and fight inside the American military.

Stephanie:

Do you think that there is a call to action for media producers/makers specifically?

Jerry:

Huge. Huge. I would like to see media ferret out more of the current resistance within the military than what they’re doing. I say that only on a hunch that there must be more going on. Iraq Veterans Against the War has been very courageous and very resourceful but it hasn’t gotten the support from the outside that it really needs. A lot of that can come, I think, from the media not just giving more prominence to Iraq Veterans Against the War but to dig a little more deeply, as I think you’re maybe suggesting, into what is actually going on within the military and find the cracks within the military that can be spread a little bit broader than they are. There is also something that we had then that we don’t seem to have now which is resistance from religious organisations. We’re not getting the support for resistance from the churches, as is portrayed in the film Sir! No Sir! I wonder why churches are not offering themselves as sanctuaries today for people who don’t want to go. A lot of the military units today are guard units and reserve units that are being activated as whole units from rather small cities and towns across the country. Why aren’t the religious organisations in these towns targeting these hometown military organisations and the people within them, winning them over en masse to more of an anti-war position? It seems to me to be a strategy that’s waiting to be pursued.

John:

How did participation in the GI resistance shape and change your life on a personal level?

Jerry:

The two words that I like to use a lot are ’empowerment’ and ‘politicising’. For your question, I think it’s empowerment in the VVAW. I met some of the best public speakers and some of the most effective activists. A lot of that was people with a lot of self-confidence and a lot of chutzpah, courage, innovative thinking, not intimated and had audacious [laughter] personalities. They became role models for me. There has to be an academic component of this and at some point, it was just about wanting to know more about the war and how the United States got into it and thus, how I got into it. What was it that I got swept up in and that dragged me into this war? For about three or four years after I was home from Vietnam, I was just like a sponge. I read, and I read, and I read. Even though I had already been to college (I was a math major), I really began to educate myself and that was very empowering. Of course, it was very politicising also and to use a word that you gave me, it was very much a community and I was around other people like that which I’d never been around before and never known before. I’d never known people who were Quakers. I met people who had gone to jail rather than going to the war. That was all part of it.

John:

What is something that you wish people would either know or remember about that whole Vietnam era and what happened?

Jerry:

The thing that keeps coming up in conversation is the generational thing. There’s no answer to this which is why I think the question continually needs to be asked. What was it about that ’60s generation that turned out the people that it did? Mostly, when I think about that, I think about people in the anti-war movement but as a subset of that, the military people like myself, who joined the anti-war movement. I’ve just been doing some reading recently about these young people who went to Hanoi as part of these peace delegations. I mentioned some of them earlier. Tom Hayden was 26 years old when he went to Phnom Penh in Cambodia by himself and negotiated the first release of U.S. POWs from the Viet Cong. I would not even just wanted to have been a tourist [laughter] in Cambodia.

John:

Tom Hayden was a well-known anti-war activist, right?

Jerry:

Not so much then. I think this was maybe as early as 1966. In any case, he was 26 years old [laughter]. Those countries were not pleasant places to travel in for just basic health and security reasons in the 1960s. Do you know what I mean? You didn’t run into a lot of English speaking people in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in the mid-1960s. It took you, probably, a week of flying just to get from New York to Phnom Penh with many, many stops along the way and all kinds of problems with visas and passports. [Laughter] Where did these people come from? I mean I know Tom Hayden’s background very well and so I know basic answers to that. You know the basic answers to that but it still then leaves unanswered the question what was it? What was it that empowered and politicised a whole generation of people? I know there are not easy answers to that and, as I said, the question keeps getting asked of me what I think of that. All I think is that it’s just such a really good question and it’s one of those things that, probably, you can’t expect that history to repeat itself. There will be another generation that makes those kinds of changes. We can’t see that anymore on the horizon than somebody could have seen that generation of the ’60s. You certainly wouldn’t have seen that from the ’50s, not at all [laughter]. If anything, the opposite. A real study of history.

John:

Yeah, and I think cause for optimism in dark times.

Jerry:

Sure. That’s a good way to put it.

John:

That point about the ’50s is a very good idea because I guess that was famously a time of…

Jerry:

Darkness.

John:

…general compliance, social peace and obedience.

Jerry:

Absolutely.

John:

At least amongst, say, the white working class in the U.S. because also, in the ’50s, you did have the start of the civil rights movement among African Americans, which really started to change things. Maybe I can ask a final question?

Jerry:

Sure.

John:

What do you think that we can do to refocus how we collectively think about Vietnam and the GI resistance? How do you think we can make that shift in how we remember it?

Jerry:

I think this image of the GI resistance as a kind of pathology needs to be rewritten again. I think the GI resistance movement needs to be recovered. I think the film Sir! No Sir! was and is really important. I think it had its moment within the Iraq Veterans Against the War and emulating some of that resistance within the war. I think more things like that but all done with a kind of presentist orientation and always with an eye on what we need to know from the past that will be useful in our present.

John:

Thank you for tuning in. We hope you enjoyed listening to Jerry and Bart as much as we did. Thanks also to our Patreon supporters who make this podcast possible. You too can support us on Patreon where you’ll get early access to episodes and other benefits. For example, episode 8 of our podcast is about the strike wave which took place in the U.S. during the Vietnam War and at the moment, that is available exclusively for our Patreon supporters. You can check all that out at patreon.com/workingclasshistory. As always, links to further reading and more info in the show notes, including a link to a short video history we made of the GI resistance movement for our YouTube channel. We’ve also produced a range of merchandise commemorating the GI resistance which is in our online store. Check it out at workingclasshistory.com. One aspect of the movement we haven’t been able to cover as much as we wanted was the really crucial role played by African American servicemen and other service personnel of colour. So if any of our listeners were involved in the movement and would be happy to speak with us, please get in touch. Also if anyone is interested in helping us map resistance movements, as we discussed a bit earlier on, please drop us a line as well. You can get us at info@workingclasshistory.com

[Outro music]

John:

This episode was edited by Stephanie Hydal. Thanks again and catch you next time.

Transcribed by

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