square episode graphicSpecial Working Class History episode produced by our friends at lefty comedy podcast Srsly Wrong, speaking with John from WCH about mutinies: rebellions in the armed forces.

The Working Class History podcast is brought to you by our patreon supporters. You too can support us and get access to exclusive content here: https://patreon.com/workingclasshistory

We thought we would do something a bit different this time, and release a collaboration episode. One of us spoke with Srsly Wrong about the history of mutinies and why they’re important, looking primarily at World War I and the Vietnam war. They produced the episode and we are releasing it on both of our feeds.

E38: Mutiny! With Srsly Wrong Working Class History

So if you enjoy it, make sure to connect with Srsly Wrong in the following ways: web | patreon | twitter | facebook

More information

If you want to learn more about mutinies, check out our double episode on the Vietnam GI resistance, as well as our four-part miniseries about the Columbia Eagle mutiny. And check out our episode about the Vietnam war with Noam Chomsky to learn more about the context of the conflict.

Check out our collection of merch commemorating the Vietnam GI resistance here. Sales help fund our work.

Sources

These are sources for the things John spoke about, in the order in which they appear in the episode.

Acknowledgements

Subscribe

Listen and subscribe to WCH in the following ways: Apple Podcasts | RSSSpotifyAmazon Music | AnchorCastbox | Google Podcasts | OvercastPocket CastsPodbean | Radio Public  | StitcherTuneIn 

Transcript

[Intro music]

John:

Hi and welcome back to the Working Class History podcast. This week, we’ve got something a little bit different. We have an episode produced by our friends at their research-based, utopian comedy podcast, Srsly Wrong, who spoke to us about mutinies: rebellions in the military. If you like it, make sure to check out other episodes at the Srsly Wrong podcast and subscribe. As always, we’ve got sources, links to further reading and more info on our webpage for the episode. Link to that in the show notes. We hope you enjoy.

Shawn:

Warning. If you think about it, soldiers really should have some sort of democratic say over the wars they’re fighting in, or at least some say over their own working conditions, or at least some say whether or not they’re a soldier in the first place. If you wanted to be ethical about it, you’d definitely need to do at least those things.

[Ship sketch]

Hello everybody and welcome to the military obedience podcast ship. You’re all our crew at sea. We’re doing a podcast today on the subject of dutifully following orders without prejudice.

Captain Finkus 1:

I’m your captain, Lieutenant Finkus.

Captain Finkus 2:

My name is also Captain Finkus. No relation. We’re both named after a famous military captain, so that explains that. Today’s podcast you’ll be making under our direct instruction and orders will be about the benefits of order and obeying orders and respecting and loving the Queen, herself, Elizabeth.

Captain Finkus 1:

Now folks, any time you walk by the portrait of the Queen on the wall there, you are expected to take off your hat. Keeping a piece of fabric on your head when you walk by a portrait of a woman that you’ve never met is unethical.

Captain Finkus 2:

Remember out there, today, making a podcast is not fun. We’re not here to laugh. We are here to make a serious military podcast about the naturalness and objective good of hierarchy.

Captain Finkus 1:

Yeah, and if any of you scumbags thinks that you’re going to be a smartass and cause any trouble for us, well we’ve got a lot of experience shutting down, intimidating and breaking people who show any spontaneity and egalitarian values.

Captain Finkus 2:

Don’t try to be a hero out there tonight, alright? We’re just good, clean cast.

Captain Finkus 1:

If anyone violates that, we will pluck the weeds from this monocrop faster than you can say ‘I’m sorry, Madam Queen.’

[Sound of fighting and then cheering and applause]

Mutineer 1:

Mutiny! Oh my god, my blood is pumping through my body. That was the most intense experience of my life [laughter].

Mutineer 2:

You read about mutinies in books all day and then you do it and it’s…

Mutineer 1:

Wow!

Mutineer 2:

Thank you so much, everyone. That was the most successful and smooth mutiny against an unjust leader in a military ship context that I’ve ever seen.

Mutineer 1:

When I woke this morning, I had no idea that today we would set out to save some souls and maybe save our own but I think that’s exactly what we did today with this mutiny.

Mutineer 2:

Oh, and when they were talking about this awful, unethical podcast they wanted to create, I had this knot in my belly just knowing that we’d done a sort of criminal conspiracy together to overthrow them but we were waiting for the right moment. I was so nervous!

[End of sketch]

Shawn:

Okay, let’s be professional. Hey folks, my name is Shawn.

Aaron:

My name is Aaron.

Shawn:

And this is the Srsly Wrong podcast now because there was a successful mutiny. Today, we’re doing an episode on mutinies.

Aaron:

I mean it’s a great topic to choose right now because we lived it.

Shawn:

It’s one of those things that’s just a coincidence.

Aaron:

Now unlike us, our guest today has never been involved in a mutiny but he’s done a lot of studying about mutinies. His name is John and he does the Working Class History podcast.

Shawn:

It’s an awesome interview and discussion today and a completely fascinating and mindblowing topic. Before we get started, I think all of us mutineers who are now convicts…

Aaron:

Against the Queen too. That’s who I kept picturing the whole time and that bad podcast they wanted us to make, the Queen would love it and I knew that she would hate this podcast.

Shawn:

Yeah, just the thought of the Queen shaking her head, tsk-tsking, I think that’s going to cause problems with morale, unless maybe we can play the People’s Anthem over the loudspeakers and make sure that everyone is primed and ready to go and talk about mutinies with John from Working Class History.

Aaron:

Yeah, absolutely. They’ll forget all about any anthems that the Queen has written after they hear the People’s Anthem; not that she wrote them but they were written for her countries or whatever. You know what I mean.

Shawn:

Yeah [laughter], for her many countries. It’s a strange thing to say about a human being.

Aaron:

Is that audio set up? Are we going to play the anthem? Come on now. What is this mutiny?

Shawn:

I’m just saying, folks, what’s the deal with having a queen at all? By divine right, does she and her family get to own a bunch of property and be the face that’s on the money? At least in Canada and lots of places around the world, dozens of countries, the face on the money is a person from a certain property-owning bloodline.

Aaron:

Creepy stuff. Definitely creepy. Okay, now the audio guys are waiting on us. They’re ready and we’re still talking. Oh boy!

Shawn:

I’m sorry guys. Just think about the Queen thing. What the fuck! Let’s play the People’s Anthem. I’m sorry. I got a little carried away.

[Intro song by Spam Risk]

Shawn:

Hello everyone and welcome back to the Srsly Wrong podcast. I’m Shawn.

Aaron:

My name is Aaron.

John:

I’m John from the Working Class History podcast.

Shawn:

Today, we are talking about mutinies, when a group of people rise up against the captain of a ship or rise up against the commander of a unit of soldiers. Mutiny is anti-authoritarianism really put into the verb form. One of the most extreme versions of the act of anti-authoritarianism is mutiny.

Aaron:

When I first started, I was just reading the emails between you two about this topic and I thought, ‘Mutinies. That’s so interesting.’ I’ve never really thought about mutinies very much. I think because of the military nature of it, I don’t go for that kind of thing generally but just thinking about what a mutiny is, what it represents and what you have to do to do that… you’re in this very intense situation already. You’re going to be in a war or some command and control hierarchy and then you have to, with force, take over or disobey. It’s a peak intensity situation.

John:

Yeah, I think that’s right because, in a lot of ways, a mutiny is like a workers’ strike but because it’s in the military, everything is more intense anyway but also any kind of refusal to obey orders, or any rebellion, or strike, or anything like that is also a crime. It’s just a civil thing, like normal wage workers. It’s a crime and often, it’s a really serious crime and even punishable by things like long jail time or even death.

Aaron:

Yeah, the definition of a mutiny on Wikipedia struck me which said ‘mutiny is a criminal conspiracy among a group of people to openly oppose, change or overthrow a lawful authority to which they are subject’. [Laughter] That’s my neutral voice is coming through on that one.

Shawn:

[Laughter] No, it’s a really, really high stakes thing. I was reading about one of the more recent examples of something like a mutiny from some of the links that you’d pass on to us, John. I think it was 2004, in the Iraq War, there was a group of soldiers who chose to not go on a mission to deliver helicopter fuel. If it was interpreted as a mutiny, I was shocked to find, it would have been technically punishable by up to death. If you take the idea that a worker says, ‘I’m going to refuse unsafe work conditions,’ but you place that within the context of the military and soldiers, it becomes something that’s treated on the level of treasonous behaviour and they could be executed. Although, I think in that specific case, they didn’t treat it as a mutiny in the legal sense, partially because of public relation concerns and stuff like that. They said that soldiers had raised concerns which were going to be addressed and they faced another type of penalty. It’s all, more or less, confidential because of the way that the military court system works and this is another thing. The military has its own legal and court system which functions in a parallel and isn’t accountable to us on the outside of it in order to share information about what happens. The fact that it exists is crazy but with the specifics of the case, we don’t actually know what ended up happening to the mutineers in this 2004 refusal. Some of them were transferred but we don’t know to what degree people were demoted and stuff like that because of the opacity of these organisations.

John:

That kind of case is an example of it being so high stakes, that it actually ended up being of benefit in a way because the U.S. government, at the time, didn’t want to admit that there had been a mutiny. Often, you do see this in conflicts where governments, or even lower than governments like military brass and officers, don’t want to admit they’ve had a mutiny because it makes them look really bad.

Aaron:

For you John, what attracted you to the topic of mutinies as an area of study?

John:

I think the first time I really thought about or heard about mutinies was reading about the Vietnam War and what became a widespread disaffection amongst GIs. We’re going to talk more about Vietnam specifically a bit later but the topic, I found really interesting, especially for those of us who either are a bit lefty. If you’re interested in ordinary people getting a better deal in the world, then mutinies are important because they’re a way that the rank and file in whatever branch of the military or navy can assert themselves and their interests, if they don’t want to go on a dangerous mission and get killed. Beyond that, for those of us who want to get rid of capitalism, mutinies are vitally important because ultimately, the power of the state is brute force. There are things like the police, the courts, the prisons and all that which are there to protect the state and the property of the wealthy few from the rest of us, the working class, if we were united. Those things on their own aren’t sufficient to protect their wealth if we were all together. That’s why, ultimately, it does come down to governments control the military which do have enough violent power to assert themselves over a very large number of people, potentially given it. Militaries, especially in the U.S., are  extremely powerful potentially but, at the same time, they’re completely reliant on their rank and file following their orders, being obedient and doing what they’re told. So that, potentially, is its weakness; much in the same way that the capitalist economy relies on us being obedient, going to work every day and doing what we’re told. I think it’s interesting to look at those examples when people haven’t done what they’ve been ordered to do and in those times, there’s the real prospect for, I think, radical change and radical transformation of individuals and also of wider society.

Shawn:

The way that mutinies are often punishable by death in the military is such a vulgar, crude, authoritarian act. When people talk about authoritarianism, that’s the most authoritarian thing imaginable to kill someone who defies orders or tries to overturn a power structure within this limited context within the military. I think maybe part of the reason that it would be punishable by death, above other things, is because of the obvious immense power of military power. The ability to use violence to enforce things is fundamental to the way that the state operates and so there’s a very, very strict punishment. Because mutinies are defined as conspiracies, it means that it’s illegal to organise the soldiers.

Aaron:

There’s just something so attractive about good, everyday people standing up against this much more powerful enemy. The David and Goliath aspect of this, I think, is another thing that makes it so powerful because to stand up for what’s right is hard enough when you’re not in the military and you’re just living an everyday, normal life in the world as it is and when you’re not being threatened with immediate execution for doing what you think is right.

John:

Yeah, definitely. I think that’s true but looking at it from another side, it’s also, in a way, surprising there aren’t more mutinies because if you think about how you feel about your own life, your own continued existence and your own feeling of self-preservation, let’s just say, it’s a powerful urge and that is something that military authorities have always struggled with and how to override that in people. If you’re in the army, you have to try and put your own self-preservation behind you and do whatever you do for your country or whatever and that’s the reason why the penalties are so high. In a mutiny, you might avoid possible death but that’s why the punishment has to be certain and the punishments do have to be so severe because they have to override your wanting to stay alive [laughter].

Aaron:

The logic of a top-down, massive military organisation like that means it actually can’t function without obeying orders at all levels at all times. It operates from the assumption and necessity that that continues to happen. If mutinies were more regular things, the whole thing would fall apart, so they have to do everything they possibly can to stop them if they want this military organisation to keep existing.

Shawn:

In the preparation for this episode, the first thing that came to my mind was pirates and pirate mutinies. The word ‘mutiny’ was caught up in the word cloud along with peg legs, hooks, treasure maps and stuff like that. So I tried to look up about pirate mutinies and what the deal is with pirates and mutinies. I was reminded of something really interesting which is that pirates, during the golden age of piracy in the 1710-1730 era, had a type of mutiny insurance which was by democratising the ship, to a certain degree, like having elected captains and elected roles as a way of preventing mutinies. Also, many examples of people who became pirates show that they conspired to take over a ship, have a mutiny on it and then used that ship as their pirate ship [laughter]. The other thing that I learned was that the punishment for an attempted mutiny that didn’t work and a punishment for the captain of an attempted mutiny that did work were both often the same thing, marooning which is when you leave someone on a deserted island. This is what I’ve learned about pirates and mutiny and so I got all the pirate stuff out of my system.

John:

[Laughter] Yeah, that is a big part of the history of mutinies and them often rebelling. If you think about it, that is the easiest way to get a pirate ship. If you want to be a pirate, just nick the one that you’re on, change the flag and then, boom, pirate ship!

Aaron:

Yeah, you’re already going to be a pirate, so are you that concerned with doing things legally?

Shawn:

Another great reason to be harsh about mutineers, from the authoritarian perspective, is that a successful mutiny could mean a roving band of soldiers of some kind. A roving band of soldiers is a very dangerous thing for both authorities and, in the sense of pirates, civilian people who get plundered by these sort of things. That just reminds me about the 2004 mutiny and how America doesn’t want to be seen as having mutinies because it could undermine faith in the mission in the Middle East if people started saying, ‘Why do soldiers not like this mission? Why are they rebelling against their authorities?’ That’s because the privatisation of the military is effectively impacting our capacity, which was already very limited even in a theoretical sense, to have the decency of hardworking, normal people who just happened to be soldiers to go against orders which are unjust. By having these specialised, private, for-profit military units, it stops the potential of these random 20-year-olds who get sucked up into the military somehow who say, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this mission.’ That dynamic caught my imagination and that if there was ever a golden age of rebellion in the military, we’re surely past it.

Aaron:

Yeah, I think it would be harder nowadays.

John:

Yeah, definitely but I think also, looking at history from the other end, you can see how mutinies, resistance and rebellion within the military itself has forced governments to change the way that they pursue war.

Shawn:

We now go to a father and son preparing for the ‘talk’.

[Sketch starts with a knock on the door]

Father:

Hello, Son.

Son:

Hey, Dad.

Father:

Have you tidied your room?

Son:

Yeah, it’s all in the right place and I’m ready to go play and do kids’ stuff.

Father:

Well, before you do that, I think it’s time that we have the talk.

Son:

Oh jeez! The talk? Am I really old enough?

Father:

It’s time we had the talk about the government.

Son:

We love the government, don’t we, Dad?

Father:

Well, Son, we’re not what you’d call rich, so the government is not really ours.

Son:

Oh, but the government has a big military. Don’t they use it to protect us?

Father:

They use it to protect something but it’s not really us. Why don’t you take a seat?

Son:

Oh jeez!

Father:

Have you heard of Adam Smith?

Son:

Yeah, he’s the inventor of capitalism.

Father:

Not exactly but close enough. He was an economist, a philosopher and he’s known as the ‘father of capitalism’. He explained what government was pretty simply and ‘that the law and governments may be considered, in this and indeed every case, as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor and to preserve themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise soon be destroyed by the attacks of the poor who, if not hindered by the government, would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence’. That’s the end of the quote. Do you see what he means by that?

Son:

Gosh! Adam Smith is saying that the government exists as a way for the rich to bludgeon the poor into maintaining social relations that don’t serve them?

Father:

Basically, yes. We have a world where many people don’t have enough even to get by. Whereas, some people are so fabulously rich that they couldn’t spend their money in a lifetime. The only way that situation is sustainable is if the rich have a body of violence to protect them, the government, and crucially, the biggest violent part of that is the military.

Son:

Is he saying that’s a good thing? I don’t know enough about Adam Smith. Is he on the side of the poor there or on the side of the rich?

Father:

Adam Smith supported capitalism and the state of affairs and he was supportive of free-market capitalism but he did believe that government did have a place in capitalist society. However, it’s important to say that he was honest about it. Many advocates of capitalism or government, as they are, are either not honest about it now or they’ve been fooled by their own ideology.

Son:

So you’re telling me, as a child going into adolescence, that if the government is faced between an option of protecting the riches, inequality and property of the very wealthy and protecting the basic needs of people who just happen to be on the poorer side of the equation, that the state, nine times out of ten, is always going to pick to protect property instead of protecting the people?

Father:

Bingo!

Son:

I’m too young to take the ‘red pill’ Dad. These claims are too extraordinary. I’ve been listening to Radio Free [19:54 – unclear] my whole and I’ve been watching Hollywood movies. That’s an incredible claim and I need some evidence.

Father:

Okay, let’s start off with a question for you. You know Mr. Biseworth, my boss.

Son:

Yeah.

Father:

If I have an issue with my boss, then should the military get involved in that?

Son:

I don’t think so. If there was a disagreement between a boss and a worker, why would the military be involved? They’re supposed to protect our freedoms.

Father:

Well, exactly but in many occasions, when workers have asked their employers for better conditions and have then gone on strike to try and get them, the army has been sent in to kill large numbers of them. This has happened countless times throughout history. Just to pick one example, off the top of my head, in Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914, mineworkers went on strike. They wanted to be paid in money instead of company scrip.

Son:

Company scrip? Is that when a company issues its own internal currency for their workers?

Father:

Yeah, it’s tokens that can only be used at the company store instead of actual money that you can spend anywhere. So the National Guard came in and slaughtered dozens of people.

Son:

Slaughtered?

Father:

Yeah, they machine-gunned miners and their families and then burned their tents, killing their wives and children.

Son:

That’s so screwed up. If the government needs to kill a striking worker, they can take them to trial, right Dad, and they can find them guilty of something and then execute them humanely?

Father:

You have much to learn. That was just one example of thousands of times where that has happened around the world and it’s not like this is in the distant past. Even in the 1960s, the National Guard was called out, literally, hundreds of times to suppress mostly African American people demonstrating for their rights. In 1970, truck drivers, teamsters, went on strike for better pay and then the National Guard was called out against them as well. This is an ongoing situation.

Son:

Okay, Dad. I need to go because of something Fortnite related.

Father:

You young people.

Son:

Just so I can really chew on it, think about and in the process, make that transition into adulthood, in a way, my understanding of the dominant role of the military, up until now, has been to play a defensive role in stopping militias, foreign invasions of our country and people wanting to go to war with us. Now you’re saying that it’s also been used domestically to protect the power structure against grassroots’ disruptions from everyday people like us. What’s the sort of ratio there? It’s just for me to chew on it while I’m gaming and drinking my Dew with the boys. How many times was the military used in domestic ways that I wouldn’t approve of versus how many times did the military prevent our country from being invaded?

Father:

Well, Son, that’s a very specific question. How about you go and have a bit of a Google? You’re Canadian, right?

Son:

Yes, I am, Dad.

Father:

Yes, I remember.

Son:

I take after my mother that way.

Father:

You go and Google how many times Canadian military force has been used against a foreign invader as opposed to, say, how many times it’s been used against First Nations’ activists, or workers, or something like that and then you can report back.

Son:

Okay, Dad, thanks. I’ll do my own research.

[Laughter and applause and end of sketch]

[Amazon sketch]

Jeff:

Today’s episode of Srsly Wrong is brought to you by ‘company scrip’ coming back. Hi, my name is Jeff Bezos and I’m the head of Amazon. I want to tell you a little bit of history, us at the Amazon Labs, have dug up to bring back.

Voice over:

Mineworkers in the United States didn’t used to be paid in annoying, difficult money. They used to get company scrip which were beautiful little tokens that they could redeem in the company store for all their company needs, like food and drink. What else do you need?

Jeff:

With our tech wizard geniuses at Amazon Labs, we’re proud to announce that any Amazon employee who is willing to switch from getting paid in dirty, useless cash to cold, hard company scrip will get a $2 per hour raise or $3 redeemable in digital items, like a subscription to our audiobook library, or access to our web services, or visiting Wholefoods and getting a digital download of a Kale recipe book. Amazon scrip is good anywhere that I own. Want a subscription to The Washington Post? That’s a digital subscription cost and we’ve got a new innovation, pushing new frontiers as usual. I have here our head scientist ready to announce a major innovation that has ramifications for the whole economy. I’ll just hand it over to him.

Head Scientist:

Hi, are you an employer who’s sick of having to spend your hard-earned money paying your lazy, feckless, sometimes ill employees?

Jeff:

I know I am. There’s got to be a solution that meets my small to medium business needs.

Head Scientist:

Well, worry no more. There is. Instead of wages, just pay your employees in Amazon company scrip.

Jeff:

That means you can afford to pay your employees more for less.

Head Scientist:

And for governments, we have a very special deal.

Jeff:

We’re piloting a programme where workers laid off because of the COVID-19 crisis are given a free subscription to Amazon Prime streaming video for only eight hours of work in the Mechanical Turk per day.

Head Scientist:

Where they can work on their skills, such as completing surveys. Only eight hours’ work for 16 hours of streaming pleasure. You’ve heard of convict leasing? This is better because they’re not convicts and you don’t even have to pay.

Jeff:

So this May Day, gather around the Mechanical Turk with your unemployed family and watch a video that’s infinitely reproducible and costs us a fraction of a cent to send to your home.

Head Scientist:

This is what the Haymarket Martyrs died for.

Jeff:

I know what you’re thinking. How does Amazon stay in business while giving great, great deals like this? Well, that is a company secret and that’s what this episode is brought to you by. Now back to the show.

[End of sketch]

Shawn:

So there aren’t a lot of recent U.S. mutinies, with exception of the 2004 one that was mentioned. A fairly recent war, comparatively speaking, where there were quite a few mutinies and quite a lot of popular resistance to the military action was the Vietnam War.

John:

I think to start off with, there’s a good quote from a Marine Colonel Robert D. Hienl Jnr. that he wrote in a military magazine that helps paint a picture of what the situation had become like in the U.S. military in Vietnam. He wrote ‘By every conceivable indicator, our army that remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden and dispirited.’ That kind of paints a picture of what was happening. As in previous conflicts, like World War One, there are mutinies which are spectacular one-off events but then I think, within the same family of rebellion by the rank and file, there are more general and longstanding combat avoidance and just trying to stay alive which is both more widespread but it’s also harder to quantify or look at, often, from the perspective of history. There wasn’t a spectacular event here that you can then write a pamphlet about or whatever. It’s more little stuff that happens here and there every day. The Vietnam War was a huge conflict that had large numbers of service people from all over the world and from the U.S., there were millions of service people in Vietnam. Especially towards the latter part of the war, it was a very unpopular war and so there was widespread opposition to it. Some of that had spread to the military from the general population but a lot of it had actually gone the other way where people who had served in Vietnam began to oppose the war because of what they’d done. They came home and they started telling stories to people about what had happened and what was going on which wasn’t really being reported at the time. There were a lot of journalists in Vietnam who were reporting on the war and there was a lot of good reporting there but, at the same time, military authorities did have a fair amount of control over what journalists could report, especially when it came to attitudes of service people. They could limit or increase access to journalists, depending on what they wanted them to write about. Returning service people helped expand anti-war sentiment at home by saying what was going on and also the widespread anti-war movement in the U.S. was, you could say, infecting service people. So one thing that anti-war activists did in the U.S. was they set up coffee shops by military bases which were often countercultural. Obviously, at the same time, there was a mass counterculture, like rock music, smoking weed, hanging out and having fun. That was spreading as well and that kind of went along, in a lot of cases, with anti-authoritarian views and anti-war views. There were these coffee shops where service people would just hang out but also, there would be anti-war materials there.

Shawn:

That’s such a great tactic. Not only was that tactic proposed but it went into action and was part of a strategy which worked, ultimately, to change minds of soldiers but was also part of America. The fact that those anti-war activists with coffee shops and other tactics, through pure attacks on people’s faith in American decision making when it came to war, were able to help turn America against its own actions. They did this to the point where its action wasn’t successful. It’s just an amazing thing to think about in a historical context. Compared to my lifetime, all of the wars have pretty much been unchallenged, except for big marches, speakers and books. That stuff is all good and I’m not trying to shit on that [laughter] but there wasn’t the cross-society effort to slow and stop wars that happened during Vietnam. It’s mindboggling to consider how all that fit together. Even the mutinies amongst American troops on the other side of the water, who were stations in Vietnam and other places, there was a countercultural element to that as well.

John:

Yeah, exactly. Just going back to the coffee shops briefly, because I didn’t want to give the wrong impression that it was just outside activists who’d done it, it was something that very much had the support of people on the base and they would work together with the people outside. There were anti-war papers that were put out by GIs themselves in the U.S. and also, a bunch of them were published out in Vietnam as well. In terms of the counterculture, that travelled to Vietnam with service people. Just from minor things, like it was now fashionable for people to grow their hair long which is a violation of military standards. I think with all of this, especially about culture and everything else, you can’t forget about racial dynamics. In the U.S. military, there’s a disproportionate number of people of colour who serve, particularly African Americans and Native Americans. Especially in the early part of the Vietnam War, which is just after the civil rights movement, hugely disproportionate numbers of Black Americans are put in combat units because most service people in Vietnam, at any one time, aren’t actively involved in the fighting. There’s not much chance they’ll actually get killed but there was a massively disproportionate percentage of Black Americans who were put in combat units. Especially earlier on in the conflict, there is a hugely disproportionate death toll of African Americans which obviously had a huge impact, especially in terms of mobilising opposition to the war and building anti-war sentiment amongst Black GIs. Also, there were cultural elements to that and racial discrimination in the military was widespread and even things like regulations on hair were very much enforced much more against Black troops than white and things like that. The generalised opposition to the officer class, or the ‘brass’, and the military was very much driven by African American service people.

Aaron:

Wow! Weren’t the conditions in Vietnam really, really bad compared to a lot of other wars? I was reading about PTSD recently and the diagnosis of PTSD comes into existence after the Vietnam War. Obviously, people had it from previous wars and they called it shell shock or other stuff but I think the level of the atrocities that were going on, combined with the unpopularity of the war, was going to have massive effects on all of those soldiers’ psychologies. That’s not just in how traumatised they were getting but also in terms of how likely they were to say,’Fuck this! Let’s not participate in this.’

John:

Yeah, exactly. I think also you can look at how warfare changed through the 20th century which I think was partly driven by the rebellions that took place during World War One. I mean obviously, technology had an impact as well but a lot of warfare had started to move away from large numbers of soldiers fighting against each other in a very personal and a very face-to-face environment. It moved towards more distant things which are less in your face ways of killing, like airpower, long-distance artillery and that sort of thing. Technology had a big impact here. The U.S. did use things like airpower in Vietnam and they dropped unimaginable amounts of bombs on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos which was more than was used in the whole of World War Two.

Shawn:

So there’s sort of a trajectory in the U.S. military, and maybe by extension other militaries, where there was a cluster of mutinies in World War One and there was a cluster of mutinies in the Vietnam War. Between the two of them, from the military’s perspective, these are enormous dysfunctions of the military system and so they’re trying to figure out ways to stamp out, in a very literal sense, free thought and action from their soldiers to make sure that they stay perfect units of the mission. Maybe we could say an ultimate latest form of this sort of thing is the private military contractor who is accountable to this entirely different set of criteria and selected for a love of participating in military conflicts. This is the most recent stage of this process of the development of authoritarian style warfare over the last century.

John:

I think you could say, on the one hand, there are those private battalions of well-paid individuals and on the flip side, the drone.

Shawn:

Yeah, death from above and from someone sitting at a computer in Maryland.

John:

Exactly. Sitting and basically playing on a Nintendo and blowing up real people at the other end.

Shawn:

That’s why we need a gamers’ union because we start with the gamers and then the gamers can infect the drone operators, which are a subsection of gamer, and then from there, we can have the revolution that we need [laughter]. That’s just one theory that a lot of people are saying.

Aaron:

Now we go to a Tinder date.

[Tinder sketch]

Guy 1:

[Laughter] I’m having a great time, honestly. I really am.

Guy 2:

Yeah, it’s pretty fun. So tell me more about you. What are you interested in?

Guy 1:

I’m a history buff. I’ve actually just been reading this really interesting book lately [34:46 – unclear] forgotten Oregon’s Chinese Americans. I think you probably don’t want to hear about that.

Guy 2:

Chinese Americans? What about them?

Guy 1:

It’s more broadly about the historical racism that people from China faced. A lot of people think the history of American racism stops and starts with the transatlantic slave trade. It actually goes beyond that also in a lot of ways and not least through colonial resource extraction and sometimes, in many ways, to this day. However, also in the 1850s, for example, low-status Chinese labourers were used to do labour all across North America. They famously built the railway across Canada. The derogatory term for them was ‘coolies’ and basically, they were indentured slaves and faced a lot of racism as well. They worked for really low pay and a lot them didn’t even sign up for what they ended up doing.

Guy 2:

That’s overwhelming. It sounds really interesting.

Guy 1:

I always do this. I’m a motormouth. I’m sorry.

Guy 2:

It’s okay.

Guy 1:

Can I get another round of drinks? I order another round of drinks when I’m nervous. I’m sorry. Because I’m having a great time, I don’t want to mess it up and tell too many stories.

Guy 2:

No, no. Me too.

Guy 1:

For example, some of the things I find fascinating about it is that up to 10% of the so-called ‘coolie ships’ had mutinies on them. They were literally slave ships used from the transatlantic slave trade which refurbished or made to replicate those to transport large amounts of these low status, Chinese workers over to America and, in many cases, illegally. A lot of these so-called coolies were labourers who believed they were signing one contract but were actually signing another contract. They thought they were going to get a great rate on their time there but they actually signed themselves over to work long hours at low rates. Basically, they realised that they’d signed themselves into slavery while on the boats on the way there. One in ten of those ships actually had mutinies on them.

Guy 2:

Oh yeah.

Guy 1:

I’m sorry. I did it again. What am I doing? [Laughter]. I like Netflix. I like going for walks. I’m not a weird guy.

Guy 2:

That’s so interesting that I almost forgot to feel awkward but now that you mention it, I do feel awkward again. We don’t still do that today, do we?

Guy 1:

In a certain sense, sort of, yes. In a couple of ways, I could draw the connections between then and now but in 1862, during the Civil War, Congress passed the Prohibition of the ‘Coolie Trade’ Act which banned any ship like that from coming to the U.S. There was this one particular, huge revolt in March of 1860 when a thousand slaves from China mutinied on the ship, the Norway, which was an American ship. They were locked below decks for almost a week and so they lit fires under each of the portholes to force open the hatches.

Guy 2:

Holy shit!

Guy 1:

They got out. The crew abandoned the ship and the captain threatened to cut off the masts and said he was going to make sure that they couldn’t get anywhere because they wouldn’t have any masts. Basically, the captain was saying he was going to leave with the lifeboat and all the provisions and sink their ship with them on it. Eventually, the mutinous slaves ended up surrendering to the captain after the crew had killed 30 of the enslaved people and wounded 90 others. One of the people who was enslaved by these predatory contracts later said, ‘Bands of us threw ourselves upon them and said, “Release us or we’ll burn the ship. We have nothing to lose.”‘ It’s kind of a wild history and very recent too in the 1850s which is less than 200 years ago.

Guy 2:

Oh god, wow!

Guy 1:

In terms of how this connects and whether we’re still doing this today (which was the question that you asked), in a sense, sort of. Here’s a parallel. During this period from the 1850s to the early 1860s, there was a lot of xenophobic, anti-Asian racism in North America. It took two paradoxical forms in that they were both shopkeepers from China coming over and setting up shops, like tailors, in North America, around mining towns but then there was also the so-called ‘coolies’. Again, it’s a derogatory term and I’m not sure if I’m even supposed to say it. So there were two classes of migrants from China. Did you know that American border and border control services were actually originally set up to keep Chinese people out and not to keep Mexican people out? Did you know that?

Guy 2:

No, I didn’t know that.

Guy 1:

I didn’t know that either and then I thought, ‘Whoa! How does that even make sense?’ You have to piece together the whole labour history. There’s a racial element to it here because the so-called ‘white workers’ saw the slave labour coming in from China as competing for their jobs, taking their jobs and lowering their wages. So they directed racism towards shopkeeping and petit-bourgeois shopkeepers that were Chinese American or Chinese people who had come to America. They would treat them as if they were coolies and saying that they were coolies and were there to take their jobs, even though they weren’t from the same social class. There was another sort of conspiracy theory that the enslaved people were sent there by a Mandarin Chinese businessman who wanted to use them and have an unfair advantage against the white bosses. This was the xenophobic environment there. The parallel that I drew out of the present is that here in Vancouver, we have this housing crisis and you have a lot of anti-Asian racism directed at middle-class and upper-middle-class Chinese Canadian immigrants who buy properties but that sort of discrimination is directed at the upper class. Similarly, it’s based on the ethnicity commonality. Lower-income, Chinese Canadians get the brunt of the racism that’s actually directed at the richer ones, so the same thing is happening in reverse. It used to be that the richer immigrants faced anti-Asian racism based on a misconception that they were part of a lower class and now that’s been reversed in the modern day. Sorry, that was a lot [laughter]. That was a lot! Can we get some more drinks, please?

Guy 2:

I’m starting to relate to you like you’re my professor and I’m the student instead of a potential date thing. I don’t know if that’s the vibe you’re going for but that’s what I’m getting from you. I’m not saying I don’t like it. I’m just saying it’s different. Less date and more drunk teacher.

Guy 1:

I don’t know and maybe this is crazy but maybe I am teaching you.

Guy 2:

You are teaching me. I’m learning.

Guy 1:

Maybe that is what it is. I don’t know. Can we get another round of drinks, please? I’m still getting full date vibes.

Guy 2:

Oh, well at least we’re all being open and honest about the vibes we’re getting. That’s cool. More drinks?

Guy 1:

Yeah, more drinks. The really crazy thing is some of the forms… sorry, I was going to talk about anti-Chinese racism again. Stop it! Stop it! [Laughter] Have you seen the Duncan Trussell show on Netflix?

Guy 2:

Oh yeah! Oh my god, that last episode with this mum.

Guy 1:

Yeah, I’ve always loved that episode. His podcast is really worth it.

Guy 2:

Wow, I cried so many times.

Guy 1:

Yeah, it’s up there in podcasting… Sir, drinks, please. I know we already a lot. I think this date is going great. What do you think?

Guy 2:

I think I can’t wait to chill with you. Do you know what I mean?

Guy 1:

I’ve no idea what that means.

[Music and end of sketch]

Aaron:

And that was a Tinder date and now we go back to the show.

Shawn:

So without losing the strand of the Vietnam War, because I think there’s more stuff to say here and just because this is so juicy, I’d like to jump back to World War One for a bit to hear a little bit about how that first cluster of mutinies happened. You said that these were spectacular mutinies and that really piqued my interest.

John:

World War One has the most spectacular mutinies in world history but also, as with later conflicts, at the same time, there was a generalised undercurrent of rank and file resistance and avoidance of combat. Sure, we can start off with the biggies. It’s 2020 now and so this was just over a hundred years ago. A lot of countries that were involved in World War One, of which yours was one because you used to be owned by us [laughter], had centenary commemorations of the conflict. I don’t know how it was in Canada but in Britain… I don’t know how you’d describe it. I mean bullshit is maybe one term you could sort of use.

Shawn:

I wasn’t forced to attend any sort of ceremonies this time but I remember growing up around this sort of stuff with the poppies. There is a real, solemn side. We’re so sad about the people who have bravely sacrificed in the past. It’s not illegitimate to say that people made sacrifices or illegitimate to say that they were brave. What always bugged me as a kid was that bravery without adjectives is actually not that great. You can be very brave doing something horrible. It always bothered me that we didn’t focus on the fact that the soldiers were fighting for good and then, as I was older, it began to bug me that they weren’t fighting for good in a lot of cases. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

John:

There were quite a lot of big commemoration events, and press, and everything like that. Also, when you’re a kid in school, you learn about World War One which features quite heavily in the curriculum. Often, you learn a lot about how it started with Archduke Ferdinand and all that but what people almost never talk about in the official commemorations is how it ended. It ended with mass revolutions, basically, the Russian revolution and then the German revolution. The German Army was obviously doing badly anyway but the thing that finally put an end to the war was that the German Admiralty ordered the navy to attack the British. Essentially, it was just to prolong the fighting as much as possible for Germany’s dignity or something like that. The sailors said no and then they all refused. They then headed to shore and started a revolution which swept Germany and then the general strike broke out. There were then workers, soldiers and sailors’ councils set up up and down the country that toppled the government. That was a year after the Russian revolution in 1917 which is one of the most momentous events in world history. A primary factor in it was general upset about being part of this very pointless imperialist war that was essentially fighting over some scraps owned by some people with gold hats so that they could have a bit more land.

Shawn:

Something around this time period that I’ve just recently learned about and was told about by a friend is that there was a Canadian Siberian force that refused to attack the Bolsheviks in Russia. They refused the orders. At the end of the First World War, there was a group of indigenous Canadian and French Canadian soldiers that refused an order to attack Russia.

John:

That wasn’t the only one after World War One ended. Around 21 or 22 countries invaded Russia and there were multiple mutinies against that because it really did inspire working people everywhere. There was a big mutiny in the French military on the Black Sea and there were some smaller mutinies in the British navy as well when people refused to ship out to attack revolutionary Russia.

Shawn:

They called the First World War the ‘war to end all wars’ and then when they ended that war, they said, ‘It’s Armistice Day. We’re not going to have war anymore.’ However, when World War Two came around, they said, ‘Okay, we’re going to keep doing wars,’ [laughter] in the tradition which continues to this day. To what degree was there a Vietnam style soldier malaise during the fighting of the First World War? Was it primarily flashpoints at the end of the war where the mutinies arose?

John:

Probably the most famous single incident of mutiny in World War One was really close to the beginning and it’s not normally referred to as a mutiny. It’s normally referred to as ‘the Christmas truce’. For anyone who doesn’t really know about how World War One essentially worked was the Entente forces of Britain, France and Russia dug a load of trenches and they were in the trenches. The Germans, on the other side, dug trenches and they were in the trenches as well. Everyone was very much entrenched, literally, so it was very hard for either to advance. In between them, the area was called ‘no man’s land’ and during the Christmas truce, firing stopped and German soldiers started singing Silent Night. Some people reported that they were poking Christmas trees out from inside the trenches that people could see from the British trenches. The British troops started singing Silent Night as well. Basically, up and down the front, they started to emerge from the trenches and fraternise with each other. People exchanged gifts, like cigarettes and chocolate, and tried on each other’s helmets and hats. Famously, in a few places, they played games of football up and down the line. Obviously, that was a really beautiful moment in such a bloody conflict where the two different sides could really see their common humanity. After that happened, military authorities cracked down on it to ensure that would not happen again.

Aaron:

I definitely remember learning about this in school. I think this is one of the few things I do remember about World War One from school and it definitely was not presented as a mutiny. It was presented as a Christmas miracle, like the end of the Christmas special when everyone comes out, holds hands and sings songs. I don’t know if they actually told me this or this is just my memory but I thought nobody ever got in trouble for it. It was just like a perfect, beautiful Christmas moment.

Shawn:

They would have done it the next year, except that one was just special and magical and no one had to conspire to stop seeing the humanity in each other. I actually got choked up. I’m familiar with this story but just contemplating it again, if I can get onto the soapbox for one second… another name for a Christmas miracle is a human miracle. I think it obviously helps in this specific circumstance that people fighting on both sides of the war shared a cultural and religious background that allowed them to find that sort of bonding.

Aaron:

Yeah, they all knew the same song, Silent Night.

Shawn:

Yeah, and if we were to do a historical survey of whether or not all holding hands and singing Kumbaya is a powerful thing, then this would be really strong evidence that it is because people always shit-talk about singing Kumbaya. They say, ‘You think we’re going to get together and sing Kumbaya?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, look at December 1914. It worked! It fucking worked. We did it. We just need to know the same song as these motherfuckers!’ [Laughter] Sorry for being so vulgar but can you imagine if we could just get the guys in ISIS to learn some songs that we really love, like Don’t Stop Believing or something? [Laughter] All the American soldiers, or the Democratic Federation in Northern Syria, or anyone else who’s in conflict with ISIS should start sending tapes with Don’t Stop Believing on it over to their side, wherever ISIS is, and start loudly singing Don’t Stop Believing every now and then to try to build the kinships and pull them out of this hateful, authoritarian ideology. Also similarly, when resistance movements break out against the geopolitical Western order, they’ll have to use that tactic as well to get the boots on behalf of the American military. Those guys will connect with them with Don’t Stop Believing. That would be easy but I think ISIS is the first step. Sorry for the side note here but just the fact that music like that could be involved in getting people to put down weapons is almost too beautiful to be true. I’m familiar with this story and I’m still shaken by contemplating what it would mean to get out of the trenches and try on each other’s hats. It makes me want to cry.

John:

Me too. Even though it was totally opportunistic and just to make some money, a British supermarket called Sainsbury’s, a couple of years ago, did their Christmas advert depicting the Christmas truce. Obviously, at the end, the chocolate bar had a Sainsbury’s logo on it. Other than that [laughter], it was really beautiful and is something that could have been made by worker activists if we had a big budget but we don’t. In terms of what you said about people being punished afterwards, the unofficial ceasefire covered about 100,000 people. It was very large. Essentially, that’s too many people to punish and also, I think, the fact that it was on Christmas would be a bit of a PR misfire to penalise people for that. Afterwards, High Command did reissue orders and brought in harsher punishments to stop fraternisation. For example, the London Rifle Brigade, on 2nd January 1915, sent a memo saying that informal truces with the enemy were to cease and that any officer found having initiated one would be tried by court-martial. Also, after that happened, more people started dying in the war which then made fraternisation less likely. I think this is where we get into what’s potentially more interesting than the spectacular mutinies which is the general, everyday resistance. In the military, I think it’s a lot like workplaces as well where, in history books, a lot is spoken about big strikes here, there and everywhere and they are important. However, really determining how a society functions, what work looks like and what our everyday lives are like, it’s not just the big strikes that shape how we’re treated and what our work lives are like. A lot of it is just about, on a day-to-day level, what will we put up with. Historically, industry in most Western countries, where there was manufacturing industries, workers in those industries would set informal paces for their work. If new people came in and they went to work too fast, they would be informally disciplined by the other workers in the shop or the plant in order to slow things down and not make everyone else look bad. That could be social sanctions if someone was being too much of a jobsworth and they might get shunned. They might say, ‘This person is making the rest of us look bad. He’s going like the clappers. If we all do this, one of us is going to get hurt.’ So maybe they would scratch their car, or punch him after work, or something like that. Essentially, there were all these kinds of informal punishments. Like in most office settings today, it’s normally not as structured as that as it was in those kinds of big manufacturing type industries. However, each workplace has a culture. Do you know what I mean? You can change and shape that culture. How late do you stay after work? Do you work through your lunch? Do you see what I mean? There are all these things about what you accept and it’s the same in the military. Again, it’s quite hard to determine because they weren’t spectacular events. There were journalists there to write about what happened. Any kind of fraternisation or shirking was technically illegal, so people couldn’t really talk about it but there were a couple of studies done in the ’60s and ’70s looking at British forces in World War One. They found that there was widespread general shirking. Also, people were doing stuff to try and make their lives easier and stay alive. There was a widespread unofficial principle called ‘live and let live’ which was essentially an informal agreement between soldiers on the frontline of opposing armies to not do any kind of offensive activity against each other beyond a mutually agreed and tolerable level which didn’t put them too much in danger. Often, these people couldn’t speak the same language and they couldn’t even often communicate because they were slightly too far apart. They couldn’t have yelled and also, if they had yelled, they probably would have been shot for being a spy, or colluding with the enemy, or something like that. What the soldiers reported was that they would do things like… from the trenches, they were supposed to mortar each other. The British should be lobbing mortars into the Germans’ trenches and the Germans should be lobbing them back. Now the trenches weren’t moving and so no one was really gaining any ground and so neither side had anything to gain by mortaring each other, other than if they got mortared, they’d be more likely to die. You had a lot of examples where the British soldiers would deliberately mortar a place that had nothing in it and then the Germans would do it back, so then both sides were more likely to stay alive and less likely to be killed by the oppositions’ mortars. Similarly, they did things like that with gunfire because for the officers who were there, they had to look like they were still fighting in a war. They’d just shoot their guns somewhere on the other side.

Shawn:

Holy…! [Laughter] Just the thought of the parallel between the workplace and saying, ‘We’re setting our pace for killing each other because we recognise that the people on the other side are human beings.’ I’m just finding this to be very mindblowing to contemplate. I’ve never thought before of soldiers being like, ‘Okay, here comes the boss. I’m killing them. I’m killing them. Okay, he’s gone.’ [Laughter].

Aaron:

I think that’s such a great point that you make about the shirking generally and the big moments not being everything. You describe these two phenomena and that, at the end of World War One, the Russian revolution and mutinies are breaking out in all these different militaries involved in the war. Before that, there was this general culture of small transgressions against the military order that they’re embedded in being like, ‘Why are we bombing each other? Did they just send it to that empty place on purpose? Yeah, maybe let’s bomb somewhere that’s empty on their side.’ There’s that little spark of going against something or just slowing things down and looking out for each other. That everyday rebellion is part of what lays the groundwork for those bigger things to happen later on.

John:

Yeah, exactly. Like you say, with the mortars being shot somewhere deliberately not to harm was a reciprocal agreement. So if one side started breaching the agreement, the other side would penalise them. On one occasion in a place where this was happening, the Germans did start targeting mortars more accurately at the trenches and then the British did it right back. The Germans then backed off again. One thing that I thought was quite amusing was one incident where when the British soldiers reported that in the bits where they had to fire their guns to look like they were doing something, the Germans decided they liked shooting a nearby cottage. They would just keep shooting it at bits in the walls until they could make holes in it [laughter]. They’d just keep shooting around the wall until they’d cut out a nice hole. What you say is right that this does kind of lay the groundwork and what these studies found was that this kind of joint activity changed the rank and file soldiers’ perception of ‘we’ and ‘they’. Instead of it being ‘we, the Brits’ and ‘they, the Germans’, the ‘we’ started to be ‘we, these poor schmucks stuck here in the most appalling conditions’. Trench life was horrific with lice everywhere, inadequate food and no health stuff. It was just horrible.

Shawn:

Health problems arising that later became named after the trenches.

John:

Yeah, exactly. Old stuff like gout. So the ‘we’ started to become them and their enemy and the ‘they’ was the brass, the officers, who were in their nice mansions in the French countryside, eating peacocks and whatever else posh people ate back then in French mansions.

Shawn:

In my whole life, I’ve heard the term ‘fraternise with the enemy’ but I’d never made the connection now until this discussion and that the reason you’re not supposed to fraternise with the enemy is that you might like them. The whole concept of fraternisation is a response to things as beautiful as the Christmas truce. I always think of fraternising with the enemy in terms of very rigid political organisations or something like that – ‘You can’t talk to such and such because they’re from the wrong tendency.’ In that context, it applies just the same. The reason you can’t talk to them is that you might like them and you might start saying, ‘Why do we have all these artificial barriers between us? Who is ordering us into these trenches? Who has made us hate each other?’ I think those questions are scary for authoritarian organisations.

John:

Yeah, exactly. The thing about fraternisation and it not being like a political thing about political organising, it’s literally about humans, especially working-class humans, just interacting with each other and seeing what they have in common. In addition to the ‘live and let live’ arrangements, there was another kind of informal arrangement called ‘search and ignore’. Sometimes, people were sent out from the trenches to search and destroy enemy positions. Essentially, both sides would be sent out to do that but they’d have an unofficial agreement that they would just leave each other be and they called that ‘search and ignore’.

Shawn:

Oh, it just tickles me so much to imagine the adversarial relationship between generals and soldiers because I always think of it in the way that military leaders want it to be thought of and structure it which is like this downflowing, hierarchical arrangement. However, I also know from experience in my life and seeing a million different places that those hierarchical relationships of command, control and punishment don’t work. People always push back up against them and find different ways, especially certain types of people. I think they try to separate the people who can really, really commit to it from people who can’t for these types of reasons now. It tickles me. This is a joyous set of associations for me that is brand new. I’m stoked about it [laughter]. The Christmas truce belongs to us and not the capitalist advertisers. It belongs to us.

Aaron:

Today’s episode of Srsly Wrong is brought to you by a completely fair way for us to use the audio of that Sainsbury’s Christmas truce advert.

[Audio of the Sainsbury’s Christmas truce advert played]

Aaron:

That was, in my estimation, a really fair use reproduction of some audio from a Sainsbury’s advertisement. You can’t see the chocolate bar in the audio but I’m sure their chocolate bars taste fine. Most chocolate is good and it has sugar in it. I don’t know if it’s fair trade. I’ve never been to a Sainsbury’s because it’s not on my continent but if it’s not fair trade, you could do a bit better Sainsbury’s. Good job on the advertisement. To the human beings who were contracted by Sainsbury’s to make that advertisement, big thanks to you.

Shawn:

Were there similar things that happened during World War Two? I guess it was harder against the Nazis.

John:

I think World War One was a conflict where, even now, a lot of people don’t seem that sure about what it was actually about. Literally, it was just about rival empires trying to oppose each other. It was something that was harder to motivate people to die for. Whereas, World War Two, at least the way it was advertised and billed, was very much as a war of democracy and civilisation against fascism and barbarism. While, of course, the fascist side was barbaric, the supposedly democratic side wasn’t really that democratic considering that especially powers like Britain still had empires all over the world. There wasn’t a lot of democracy there and they were quite happy to murder large numbers of the local population to make sure they could take their resources. World War Two was a much more ideologically supported war by the service people and so there aren’t really that many documented mutinies. Certainly, there are instances of resistance, especially within the German army. You’ve got to remember that before World War Two started, in Germany, the communist and socialist parties got huge numbers of votes and there were a lot of really dedicated anti-fascists in Germany and those who didn’t get sent to the concentration camps, killed or locked up elsewhere, a lot of them got conscripted into the military. There are examples of people there who tried to resist the war effort and sabotage what they could on small levels. Just as a small example, there was a German guy called Hans Schmitz who was an anti-fascist before the war. He had been arrested by the Gestapo and jailed for that but in the end, he got put into the army. He would organise with a clique of other anti-fascist people in the military to try and make sure his unit didn’t kill anyone or do anything bad. Near the end of the war, he was in an anti-aircraft battery and he managed to sabotage it enough so that it never fired a single shot. Other than small things like that, the most widespread possible example of resistance to military authority was potentially through combat avoidance. A U.S. army officer, S.L.A. Marshall, who was a chief combat historian of the U.S. Army during World War Two, produced a study called Men Against Fire which he said showed that only around 15-20% of combat troops actually fired their weapons at the enemy. When it came down to it, about 80% didn’t actually do that and didn’t actually shoot their weapons at an enemy to kill them. His work has been criticised by some and his methodology has been criticised, so it’s not clear exactly how much truth there is to that.

Aaron:

Interesting. I feel like any number above 0% of people who, when given the option, would rather pretend to shoot at the enemy than shoot at the enemy is pretty awesome. To imagine that it could be up to 80% is also very awesome.

John:

Another thing worth mentioning in respect of World War Two, again, is the racial dynamics in the United States which was exceedingly racist. The army was still segregated by race and Black soldiers were very much discriminated against. There were a lot of examples of Black soldiers’ resistance to racism in the U.S. military, albeit, the cases that I’m more aware of on the U.S. mainland are often just in terms of there being resistance to and fights with white military police around military bases and things like that. Going back to Vietnam, the rebellion in the U.S. military in Vietnam was very diverse. There were spectacular mutinies and one-off things. There was also widespread combat avoidance as in World War One. A common thing in the Vietnam military was that instead of going on ‘search and destroy’ missions, instead, men would go on what they called ‘search and avoid’ missions. I haven’t got that one mixed up with the other one, have I? [Laughter] No, the other one was ‘search and ignore’. They’d be sent out of the base, supposedly to go and find some NLF (National Liberation Front) fighters, sometimes known as Viet Cong. Instead, they’d leave the base, they’d then go on a nice little jaunt… not really nice because obviously, it was still very dangerous but they’d deliberately go in such a way as to not come across any opposing fighters and then not get killed. That sort of thing was widespread. There was widespread use of drugs, like cannabis, which I guess is not really commensurate with a good attitude to military discipline.

Shawn:

Yeah, there’s a reason that when you first sign up for the military, they shave your head, put you through training and say, ‘Here’s your ounce [laughter]. Happy smoking.’

John:

Exactly, and smoking cannabis was really widespread and some sources stated that up to 30% of U.S. combat troops were using heroin. Although, I know that some of the veterans that I’ve spoken to said that they thought that that figure was overstated by right-wing figures to make it look like the GI resistance was driven by drug-addled hippies rather than decent Americans.

Shawn:

Yeah, so it might have been something like 1 in 30 or 1 in 40 that had done heroin and half of them were smoking weed, so they inflated the numbers because heroin sounds more frightening.

John:

Yeah, exactly.

Aaron:

Someone needs to make the epic war movie that shows that kind of bravery. Maybe not necessarily doing heroin but all the other stuff like firing off in different directions and ‘search and ignore’ missions. Whenever you’re glorifying war, people are always glorifying the people who killed the other side the best and stuff. I don’t know. I feel like it would be beautiful.

Shawn:

Yeah, get Seth Rogan, Jack Black and those guys to play these goofy Americans who are sneaking off smoking weed, saying, ‘Oh, I’m pretending to shoot.’ I think it would have to be crass and it would have to not touch on some of the deep problems of war, except maybe at the low point of story structure. I think it could really do a lot to help promote pacifism amongst the general population to have Seth Rogan be the guy who avoided military service and did ‘search and avoid’ missions. I think you’re really on to something there, Aaron. I think that could be part of our transition to a better society.

Aaron:

I was thinking more of like an epic war movie that glorified these behaviours [laughter] but I’m down for the comedy as well. That’s great.

Shawn:

More like Tom Cruise with sweat going down his face, he’s shooting away from people and his internal monologue about their families [laughter].

John:

If you’re talking about shooting people, I think this is an element of the Vietnam resistance which is really quite unique in terms of resistance in the military. That is that U.S. troops invented a tactic which they called ‘fragging’ to deal with commanding officers that they didn’t really like. Fragging referred to fragmentation grenades which would traditionally be rolled under the bunk of an officer that you didn’t like and then they would be blown to smithereens.

Shawn:

[Laughter] So they had to blow up the guy they didn’t like?

John:

Yes, with a hand grenade [laughter].

Shawn:

So they’d get high on heroin and then blow up their commander with a hand grenade?

Aaron:

The climactic scene in the Tom Cruise movie.

John:

Yeah, fragging of officers became quite widespread. The figures weren’t really reported that much. As I’m sure you can imagine, the Pentagon is not super happy to come out with some graph saying, ‘Look, we’ve done really well this week. There have only been four officers fragged by their men. We think that morale is really improving.’ [Laughter] However, there were at least hundreds of documented killings. Obviously, they were not just by hand grenades. There was one example of a guy who was just so sick of his officer that he emptied an entire clip of machine gun into him. He just kept shooting him and shooting him until it was all empty. There was that which you could say is a spectacular example of this resistance and there was also this very organised political resistance to the war as well with these GI anti-war newspapers that were even being printed and distributed in Vietnam itself. Sometimes, these magazines would put out bounties on the heads of unpopular officers. One officer had a bounty of $10,000 put on his head by one of these anti-war newspapers and he had to leave the country.

Shawn:

Wow! Obviously, it’s horrible to unload a clip from a machine gun into another human being but then you place it in the context that the guy who got the clip of machine gun was a guy who was there to make other people put machine guns against other people who hadn’t done any such thing. That sort of stuff is so interesting to image these soldiers together and the information and ideas that spread amongst the soldiers and amongst the civilian population during Vietnam which was heavily cross-pollinated with the hair-growing, pot-smoking counterculture. It’s really a mindblowing thing to wrap my head around right now, although I knew some of these individual pieces and this picture of them together. It’s staggering to think that frag grenades exploding officers was downstream from the counterculture.

John:

Yeah, the counterculture and, of course, the Black Power movement which a part of it fed into it. When talking about things like fragging, I didn’t mean to make light of it. It wasn’t an abstract act of just rebellion. In a very real sense, it was often just about self-preservation again. A phrase that was used a lot in Britain during World War One was ‘lions led by donkeys’; the lions being the troops and the donkeys being the ones in charge of them. The Vietnam War is another good example of that. The U.S. military strategy was just completely flawed. Often, you might have a situation where the senior officer would decide to try and take a mountain top. Generally, in a war taking land, it’s a win. The people above you would say, ‘Oh, well done. That’s good.’ However, these mountains had no strategic importance. There may have been a base for the NLF on it but then, if the U.S. came and threw everything they had at it, the NLF would leave. The U.S. troops might lose hundreds of people and then they’ve got this mountain. They can’t just stay there because if they want to keep the mountain, they’ll have to stay there for the whole duration of the war. There’s no point because that mountain has got nothing useful on it. There’s no oil in it and so there’s nothing worth staying for, so then they’d have to just leave and the NLF would come back. In a very real sense, these soldiers were being used as cannon fodder by these trigger happy officers who just wanted to get a pat on the head. That’s why, sometimes, offing them or putting a bounty on their head would be a real, material way of putting an alternative to the officers, I suppose. They might think, ‘If I do this and succeed, then I’ll get a pat on the head and maybe a promotion but if I do this, I might get a grenade rolled under me while I’m asleep.’ They have to actually consider the consequences which they would not otherwise have had to have done.

Shawn:

That’s why the pirates democratised their ships because of that exact sort of dynamic. It’s interesting to imagine that sort of context where, as the middle manager figure, you need to figure out how much you can keep your troops liking you but you’re between a rock and a hard place. There are two competing authorities that both have a very final say on your behaviour.

[Music played]

Aaron:

That music means it’s intermission time.

Shawn:

This is a time where you can go and fill up your popcorn, fill up your pop or stop by the salad bar. We’re all ready for the second part of this episode.

Aaron:

But for those of you who are already fed and watered, we have some very special coming attractions to show you during this break. There is something special about these three movies. Do you want to tell them what it is, Shawn?

Shawn:

Do you know how sometimes there’s something in the air or producers want something certain in Hollywood, like some specific thing like movies about cowboys who are on fire? ‘Get me your best five scripts about cowboys.’ This is how it works at the top and everyone knows this. Well, sometimes that creates a situation where, say, there are three movies about a family adopting and then losing a dog and they all came out within a couple of months of each other. Well, right now, something wild is happening and we’ve got three movies coming out within the course of one month that are all about the same subject.

Aaron:

There’s something in the air. We don’t know what it is but it smells, and tastes, and looks like mutinies. Movies, of course, only have video and sound. There’s no smell in them.

Shawn:

At least for now.

Aaron:

But they are all about mutinies, so let’s begin the trailers.

[Grandpa sketch switching between grandfather and grandson and war]

Grandson:

Grandpa, when you were in the war, did you kill anybody?

Grandfather:

Well, sonny boy, you know what they say? You’ve got to know when to hold them.

Soldier 1:

It’s called ‘search and avoid’ and we could save a lot of lives this way.

Soldier 2:

Oh no, if the Serg hears that, they’re going to have us all executed.

Soldier 1:

Maybe we execute him.

Grandfather:

You’ve got to know when to fold them.

Officer:

I don’t want to catch you shooting above the heads of those innocent villagers and children one more time or else I’m going to kick you out of the U.S. military. Get ’em boys!

Grandfather:

You’ve got to know when to run and hide.

Soldier 1:

Which way to the rendezvous point?

Soldier 2:

They’re sending the dogs after us.

Soldier 3:

Have solidarity brother. Our numbers are growing. By the end of the year, we’re going to have every single person in the U.S. military on our side.

Grandson:

You’ll always protect me, right Grandpa?

Judge:

You, Mr. Finkus, guilty of sedition.

Soldier 1:

You stay away from my family.

Soldier 2:

Boys on the frontlines don’t want this. The boys on the frontlines want peace!

Grandpa:

One thing I learned about blood is that it’s all the same colour.

Grandson:

Grandpa!

Narrator:

From director, Gertrude Finkus, the visionary mind behind 1917 (Communist) and Kronstadt on HBO comes the gripping story of a man who set out to save some souls and ended up saving his own.

Grandpa:

I’ll always protect you.

Narrator:

Starts Friday.

[End of sketch and start of new sketch]

Narrator:

Meet Chostopher and Geet, two partners shipped off to war who couldn’t be more different.

Chostopher:

Hey man, is this bunk taken?

Geet:

No problem, man. Why don’t you pull up a seat [laughter]. Hope you like breaking rules.

Chostopher:

But rules aren’t meant to be broken. What is this under my mattress? A baggy of drugs?

Geet:

Give it a sniff [laughter]. Come on, let’s go shirk off work and not shoot anybody.

Chostopher:

But, but, but, but the sergeant said…

Geet:

Ah, the sergeant is a dipshit, plus you said ‘but’ like eight or nine times [laughter].

Narrator:

One of them, a soft-spoken loner from a military family. The other one, a pot-smoking hippie with long hair. He’s a court-martial waiting to happen.

Geet:

Yeah, and so I figured out if you shoot above their head, you don’t actually kill them.

Chostopher:

You know what Geet? Your rulebreaking is really starting to make some sense.

Geet:

You know what they say, troops go to war to try to save a few souls but end up saving themselves along the way.

Chostopher:

I feel the same way brother.

Geet:

Can you pass the bong, please?

Chostopher:

Geet, way to ruin a nice moment.

Geet:

Come on, are you going to hit this shit with me this time? We’re at war, for Christ’s sake.

Chostopher:

Okay, just this once.

[Lights up]

Chostopher:

Oh it does, it makes the pain go away. It’s like I’m not even traumatised anymore.

Geet:

Well, I don’t want to oversell it.

Chostopher:

You’re right. No, it’s still there.

Narrator:

Two very different soldiers in desperate times and desperate times call for zany, kooky measures.

Chostopher:

The rocket launcher is full of gummy bears? Now that’s not where you’re supposed to put a fish. The sergeant is dressed as a woman!

Geet:

I dosed his make-up with ecstasy. Soon he’ll be admitting to all of his crimes.

Chostopher:

I did war crimes in Cambodia, Vietnam [inhales]. Oh, it feels so good to say this to someone [inhales]. This is the best homecoming dance ever.

Narrator:

From the creator of Those Aren’t My Troops 1 and Those Aren’t My Troops 2 comes a gut-busting comedy called Those Aren’t My Troops 3: Triplet edition.

Chostopher:

Hey, who gave that monkey my gun?

Narrator:

Coming soon to Wrong Town home video.

[End of sketch and start of new sketch]

Narrator 1:

Critics are raving about Finkus. ‘The greatest, most touching film of all time. The perfect movie’ – AV Club.

Narrator 2:

‘A gripping true story that teaches us deep truths about ourselves’ – IGN.

Narrator 1:

‘The story of the lone genius who invented drone war and privatised military is brought to life splendidly’ – Alfonso Cora.

Narrator 2:

A film about a man trying to save a few souls who ended up saving himself along the way’ – Movie Web.

Narrator 1:

‘This stark drama reminds us that everyday resistance in the military erodes trust in the social order and perception of hegemony and can only be stomped out by corporations which is a good thing’ – National Review.

Narrator 2:

‘Bourgeois trash, in the best way. A mandatory guilty pleasure for all proletarians. The rare movie with both hammer and sickle’ – Weekly Worker News and Reviews.

Narrator 1:

‘A surprisingly feminist take’ – Washington Post.

Narrator 2:

‘A ten out of ten picture event. Civilisation has hope after all. It must be saved’ – the Unibomber.

Narrator 1:

The film that swept the Oscars. Winner of 17 Academy Awards. Widely praised as the crowning achievement of modern film is available in stores and on-demand now. Bring Finkus home today.

[End of sketch]

Shawn:

Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the specific mutinies that happened in Vietnam?

John:

Yeah, and there were a few mostly relatively small mutinies as part of the conflict and other kinds of one-off rebellions. One of the biggest early rebellions was a riot in Long Binh Jail: a prison which was built by the U.S. military in Vietnam where they locked up disobedient soldiers. At Long Binh Jail, it was built for about 400 people but there were over 700 mostly Black soldiers there. It was overcrowded and they were treated really poorly. They were mostly white MPs and officers that were running the place, being racist and oppressive. Eventually, the people detained just got sick of the treatment and couldn’t take it anymore and they rebelled. This was in the early part of the war in 1968. They took control of the jail and set about systematically destroying the whole place. In the end, it took a few days for U.S. troops to have to come and retake the destroyed jail from the rebels. That was an early rebellion. In other places, there was sabotage on ships. A couple of ships were disabled by sabotage. The U.S.S. Anderson and the U.S.S. Ranger were both put out of action. On the Anderson, someone dropped a bunch of nuts, bolts and chains down the main gear shaft. On another ship, the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, there was a catalogue of racist incidents that were going on on the ship and when they were in port, in the Philippines in Subic Bay, eventually, that exploded into a major riot and mutiny on the ship between Black sailors, white sailors and officers.

Shawn:

That’s an interesting thing to think about as a tool in the toolkit if you’re taking the side of mutineers. Whatever else, it looks bad on them if a mutiny succeeds, so that’s part of the reason they really crack down on mutinies. However, it’s also part of the reason that if you have a successful mutiny or a limited mutiny, in a certain sense, that authoritarian military leaders will try to find a way to spin it where they still look good. I guess one way to do that is to claim that they’re all heroin addicts [laughter] but another way to do it is by saying, ‘Oh no, they raised valid concerns and we addressed those concerns. It was not a mutiny. It was very normal stuff over there.’

John:

Yeah, exactly. ‘We decided not to invade that bit of Cambodia.’

Shawn:

Yeah, that’s just amazing to think about people’s integrity. Throughout history, when there have been tons and tons of situations where regular people, like you or I, were faced with the decision to follow orders and be unethical or not follow orders and risk punishment. They chose to risk punishment instead of doing something they knew was wrong. I can’t think of anything more beautiful and more what I would want to define humanity by than anything. It’s just such a profound break from hierarchy when people risk it to do that sort of thing.

Aaron:

Yeah, and when we talk about these histories and, Shawn, when you mentioned how you want to see humanity or what you think is fundamental – I can’t remember what word you used – but just thinking of the idea and that humanity has this long history of wars and the extremely pessimistic view that can sometimes give people about the nature of human goodness and evilness, it is really helpful and edifying to know that even in these kinds of situations, there is often so much pushback going on that isn’t talked about in the mainstream narrative so much but just the simplified versions of it that serve the interests of the state.

John:

Not to be contrary, I agree with both of you in what you’re saying but I think also in these cases, especially with World War One and the Vietnam War, these rebellions were not just motivated by altruism. They were motivated by someone’s self-interest and the desire not to get killed but I think that can be just as powerful, if not more so.

Aaron:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s easier to want to do the moral thing when you’re life is also in jeopardy.

Shawn:

It strikes me that in normal circumstances, unless we contrive circumstances to make this not true, usually self-protection and altruism are very, very overlapped. In a lot of cases, self-protection and altruism go hand in hand. It’s only in very limited, contrived situations like, for example, if your squad leader tells you you’re not allowed to play Christmas football with the enemy anymore, it really becomes that zero something.

John:

I think that some of the ways that governments, especially the U.S. and Britain, and the way they’ve conducted war has changed in part because of these kinds of rebellions. For example, just thinking about it, the Vietnam War wasn’t that long ago, about 50 years ago. These were U.S. citizen teenagers and young adults who were being sent across the world to have a very high chance of dying, as well as having to do awful things to other people. They did this to millions of people. Can you imagine them trying to do that now? People talk about millennials and how snowflaky they are. Would you? If the government told you, ‘We need you to go and maybe die in a jungle. Off you go,’ what would you think?

Shawn:

Sorry, wait! Which jungle? What country is that and for what purpose? What does that have to do with us? Are they like Hitler there? I think the justification for the Vietnam War was a little bit less convincing in terms of their moral power.

John:

I think that’s quite an accurate statement. Just something about dominoes.

Shawn:

What is the shiniest, most positive justification for the Vietnam War? Nothing is coming to mind. I just think of it as a senseless war that was abandoned.

John:

I think the way that it would be seen by decent American patriots is communism bad, so you can save them from it.

Shawn:

Oh yes!

Aaron:

Yeah, stopping the spread.

John:

Exactly.

Shawn:

Yeah, the domino theory was different countries become communist and then it all falls in a row. You have to get in there and stop it because everyone should hate communism. It’s awful. Yeah, I don’t think people would go for that now either.

John:

No, exactly. Obviously, there were working-class struggles in the 1960s and ’70s and other struggles of different groups, like the women’s movement, Black Power movement, LGBTQ Liberation movement and all that. There were those struggles and what they referred to at the time as the American Indian movement of Native Americans were bigger and more visible than today. You’ve got to think what life was like before that point where, largely, the government could just say, ‘Yeah, okay. We want a few million of you to go and kill a load of people over here. Tens of thousands of you, at least, are going to die but what are you going to do? You’ve got to do it for the flag.’ I don’t think that I’m being optimistic about my fellow people now. I just think if the government said that nowadays, they would be swiftly overthrown.

Shawn:

Yeah, I don’t think people would go for that. I always think of Vietnam in terms of what became of it but to imagine the beginning goal of the Vietnam War, to go to war for such craven geopolitical interested, it’s right to draw a distinction between the way that they talk about and operate modern wars, which is also horrifying. It’s just extremely blatant. It’s just a meatgrinder of young, American people. It’s not the same anymore.

John:

With conflicts now, obviously, there are still horrific wars but there has not been a land invasion of the scale of Vietnam by the U.S. since then and I think there is a reason for that. It’s not like the U.S. hasn’t wanted to do it. It’s not like the U.S. government wouldn’t want to overtake a load of stuff but they’ve moved to a more professionalised standing army which is more separate from the rest of the population. There hasn’t been that kind of mass draft or conscription. Also, there’s been more of a move to essentially more alienated ways of killing through things like if you’re a drone operator, that choice of do you do the good thing of not killing people is a much harder thing to do because you’re not risking your life. Your sense of self-preservation doesn’t push you to do the altruistic thing. Your sense of self-preservation in that sense is like, ‘I’m going to kill these people because this is my job. I don’t want to get court-martialed.’

Shawn:

I bet if you brought in some of the people who are on the other end of the joystick [laughter]… into the office where people are at their computers doing this sort of thing and the drone operators got to try on their drone operators hats, it would make doing that job very different from then on. We can think of drones as basically a device designed by military leaders to prevent the trading of hats [laughter], in a sense.

John:

Yeah, and chocolate bars, cigarettes and that sort of thing.

Aaron:

Singing the same songs.

Shawn:

Yeah, there’s no little speaker on the drone where you can play Don’t Stop Believing to show them that you’re both on the same side, the human side. There’s no option there.

John:

Obviously, drones are just an example but the same goes for a lot of the other weaponry that was most used in recent conflicts, so things like cruise missiles, airstrikes, daisy cutters and so on. Even though a lot of U.S. and allied troops have died in those conflicts, it’s been an order of difference away from what it was in the Vietnam War era. Another kind of spectacular example of a mutiny in the Vietnam War was aboard the U.S.S. Columbia Eagle when two merchant seamen, Alvin Glatkowski and Clyde McKay were transporting 10,000 tons of napalm for U.S. forces to be dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. They decided that rather than be party to that, they would hijack the ship. They smuggled guns on board, hijacked the ship and sailed it to Cambodia which was a neutral country at the time in order to try to take the arms out of the war.

Shawn:

You did a six-part series on this where you were able to talk to some of the people who were involved, right?

John:

Yeah, I was very honoured to be able to speak with Alvin Glatkowski who was one of those mutineers about what happened. I mean it’s too long to go into here but essentially, after they arrived in Cambodia, events happened which they could not have foreseen which unfortunately ended up going very badly for the both of them but that is another story.

Shawn:

Cool. We’ll link the series in the description of this episode too, so people can check it out because it is an absolutely mindbending story. It’s the most recent armed mutiny in U.S. history, right?

John:

Aboard a vessel, yes, I think depending on your language.

Shawn:

Oh, I see. There’s a more recent armed mutiny not inside a vessel where soldiers turned their guns?

John:

I think you could probably argue some of the fragging incidents might have counted, if you know what I mean.

Shawn:

Yeah, that makes sense. During the Vietnam War, people were more regularly turning their guns on the people above them.

John:

Exactly, and in Iraq and Afghanistan recently, there have been a couple of examples of people working for the U.S. military going on shooting sprees in those bases.

[Campfire sketch]

Shawn:

Oh please, pass the marshmallows. I am going to make some s’mores.

Aaron:

I’ll pass the marshmallows on one condition. You pass me some Graham crackers.

Shawn:

I think that is a fair and deliberate trade, my good sir. Here you go.

Aaron:

Thank you and there’s chocolate there for everyone. Wow! This is beautiful.

Shawn:

Do you know what I like to do when I’m sitting around the campfire like this? It’s to swap mutiny stories.

Aaron:

Oh yeah, did your family used to do that too when you were a kid? Swap mutiny stories by the campfire at night tradition?

Shawn:

Yeah, yeah.

Aaron:

Nice.

Shawn:

I think everyone does that.

Aaron:

Everyone I know. Do you know about the mutiny on the Potemkin?

Shawn:

Hit me with it.

Aaron:

Okay, so the year is 1905. Russia is in a state of unrest. The military has harsh conditions and brutal punishments. There are little mutinies happening on ships, striking workers and things going on in the country. The crew on the battleship Potemkin is really unhappy. They’re being served meat with maggots in it and reports of soup that contained worms. Disgusting. So tensions are escalating and a crew member gets murdered by an officer for standing up for the ship members about this and they just mutiny. They kill that officer who murdered the crew member. They kill several other officers. They hoist the red flag and form a people’s committee to run the ship and set sail for the port of Odessa where striking workers are already clashing with police and a general strike has been called. They come to Odessa and they’re having a funeral for Vakulinchuk, who is the guy who was killed by the officer, and the funeral turns into a political demonstration. The military shows up and it’s not pretty. The ship tries to fire two six-inch shells into a theatre where some high-level military meeting was supposed to be taking place but they missed. The next morning, the ship tries to escape the port and is met by multiple battleships. One of them tries to ram the Potemkin, fails and they get away. After that, there are some little skirmishes but eventually, they surrender to Romanian authorities. That uprising was the start of a tumultuous period that has a lot of direct connections to the Bolshevik revolution twelve years later. Vladimir Lenin led an uprising just after the battleship Potemkin incident and it was just like a signal to the people in Russia that the social order was no longer being respected and that people didn’t agree with the Tsar anymore. It was one of the big dominoes that fell leading up to the Russian revolution.

Shawn:

It’s a wild story and that mutiny was one of the symbolic, mythological pieces of the Soviet Union after the Soviet revolution, right? Battleship Potemkin was made into a movie by a famous Soviet filmmaker.

Aaron:

Yeah, absolutely.

Shawn:

I think Sergei Eisenstein was his name. He was a pioneer of montages back before montages were really a known thing. Okay, here’s one. Here’s a good little mutiny story. Gather round folks. The year is 1862. There’s an enslaved man by the name of Robert Smalls. He’s got a wife and kid who are all enslaved people. Up for auction, basically, and facing a time in the near future where they might be sold off to different families and separated. Smalls was 23 and he’s working on this Confederate ship. He’s so worried about being separated from his wife and his kid. It’s so heartbreaking to him to think that that might happen if she was sold to a different family or his kid was sold to someone. He decides that he’s got to try to make a break for it. They’ve got to try to escape slavery somehow, even if it meant risking being beaten and likely killed. Any man who was involved in a slave revolt of any kind would likely be killed and the women and children would be badly punished. They were on this Confederate military boat that the officers left at night. They left the Black slaves in charge of maintaining the boat at night and they would go home to their wives and families for the night in the city. They actually believed that slaves were naturally docile. They believed that it was impossible for this sort of thing to happen. They wouldn’t even consider it as a possibility. So one night when they were all home, Robert Smalls has been working for months talking to the other enslaved people on the ship and saying, ‘We’ve got to make a break for it.’ It’s obviously a tough decision. The stakes are really high but nobody wants to be human property. It’s a pretty dehumanising condition they’re in and they face the threat of unknown horrors around the corner, even when things are going well. He’s able to convince people it’s a good idea and one night, in 1862, during the night when they were alone on the ship in the fog, they took the Confederate ship out of port and put up a Confederate flag and a flag of South Carolina, so they appeared like a Confederate ship. They acted like they were just a regular ship going about on the rounds. He knew the secret code of what to toot on the horn that would let other Confederate ships know that it was a Confederate ship and let them by. They eventually find Union ships. This is during the Civil War. The Union ships come to ram them. The Union ships are going to ram into their boat to try to sink them and they yell from the side to get their attention and basically, they’re saved by the Union. They’re freed from slavery. By stealing his master’s boat, this enslaved man, aged 23, escaped from slavery with his family by committing a mutiny.

Aaron:

Wow! That’s amazing. That’s such a good story.

Shawn:

He ended up living to an old age and being free for the rest of his life. He actually let his master’s wife move into one of his properties in her old age. He was the nicest guy in the world.

Aaron:

Okay, I got one. I got one. It’s 1968 and tensions between North and South Korea are high. North Korea had just attempted to assassinate the President of South Korea and so the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, their major intelligence agency in South Korea, formed a black ops crew called Unit 684 in order to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. What they did is they recruited 31 petit criminals and unemployed youths and put them through three years of intense physical training. They were trying to turn these 31 criminals and youths into assassins that could take down Kim Il-sung but training was so intense that seven of them died during this three-year-long training period. The other thing that happens during these three years is that relations between the two countries start to improve and so the assassination plan is abandoned. At that point, the 24 members of this crew, who are still alive after all that training, freak out and they kill all but six of their guards, head to shore and hijack a bus to head to Seoul. They don’t actually make it very far though. The bus gets stopped by the army and there’s a fight and 20 of the 24 members are either shot or commit suicide right then and there by hand grenade. The four remaining members are captured, sentenced to death by a military tribunal, executed and then all information about this event is completely covered up and hidden from the public for 34 years until this movie comes out in 2003 called Silmido and an official report on the mutiny by the government a few years later.

Shawn:

I’m going to have to head to the tent soon and catch some shut-eye but I think I’ve got one last mutiny story in me. It’s one last little historical mutiny and it’s a deuce.

Aaron:

Let’s here it. I can’t wait.

Shawn:

Have you ever seen the film The Hunt For Red October? It’s based on a Tom Clancy book and it came out around 1990.

Aaron:

I think I fell asleep to it once.

Shawn:

Tom Clancy says it’s based on a true story. There was this guy, Valery Sablin. He’s a Soviet naval officer who hijacked a submarine to leave the Soviet Union. In the book version, it turns out that the mutineering Soviet officer wanted to defect to America because he hated communism so much. The real story that’s based on, which happened in 1975, is a little more interesting. Valery Sablin was not pro-America. He wasn’t against communism. Him and his crew mutinied because they were anti-Stalinists who wanted to restore Leninist ideals of directly democratic soviets. He felt that there was privilege, inequality and corruption in Soviet Russia and these things went against the communist ethos. His best chance to make a difference was to inspire a new cultural revolution which could bring a new wave of revolutionary movements and complete the revolution of 1917 to achieve a path towards communism. He was a naval officer and about 30 years old. Part of his job was to teach his personnel about Marxism and Leninism, the Stalinist official ideology of the Soviet Union. Instead of using regular lesson guides, he used this as an opportunity to build connections with his staff and radicalise them against soviet bureaucracy. He would tell them tales about the October revolution and the revolutionary period and try to stoke their desires to improve the USSR and bring about real socialism.

Aaron:

He should have taught them about the Potemkin.

Shawn:

He almost certainly did. Actually, I’d say 110% he did because we know that after their plan struck into action, one of the things that they did was they locked a non-sympathetic officer in a room to force him to watch the battleship Potemkin movie that was made in 1925.

Aaron:

Wow!

Shawn:

So after taking control of the ship and heading on the way to their destination, he attempted to broadcast a message to the people of Russia. He asked the radio operator to send his message to the people all across Russia to a radio channel that could be heard by all. What they ended up doing was they ended up encrypting the message in such a way that only his commanding officers could hear his message. This is what he tried to say to the Russian people. ‘I address myself to those of you who take our revolutionary past to their hearts. To those who can think critically but not cynically about our present and about the future of our people, ours is a purely political act. The real traitors to the motherland will be those who attempt to stop us. In the event of a military attack on our country, we will defend it loyally but now we have another aim; to raise the voice of truth.’ Because this just went to his commanding officers and not the people of Russia, they intercepted the submarine. They broadcast the message to them promising that if they turned in the guy leading it, they would pardon people. They resisted that but in the end, they were captured. When they were captured, ultimately, our friend Valery Sablin, the directly democratic communist, advocate for Leninism and worldwide global revolution to communism was executed by firing squad for betraying the motherland by the so-called Soviet Union. In the name of communism, the communist was murdered. Valery, before his death, was able to write a letter to his son where he said the following: ‘Trust the fact that history will judge events honestly and you will never have to be embarrassed for what your father did. On no account, ever be one of those people who criticise but do not follow through on their actions. Such people are hypocrites; weak, worthless people who do not have the power to reconcile their beliefs with their actions. I wish you courage, my dear. Be strong in the belief that life is wonderful. Be positive and believe the revolution will always win.’

Aaron:

Wow! Those are inspiring words.

Shawn:

He was ultimately buried in an unmarked grave. To this day, no one knows where he’s buried.

Aaron:

Oh, less inspiring.

Shawn:

Well, often, the conditions that lead to a mutiny are pretty unbearably evil.

Aaron:

One thing that really hit home about what he was saying was acting in accordance with your beliefs and I believe that I am beat. I’m just so tired right now, so I’ve got to hit the hay.

Shawn:

I do believe, good sir, I’m going to be going to bed now and so allow me to seize this Confederate ship and use this special code to get to my bedtime in that sleeping tent. I don’t know. Is it okay to say it?

Aaron:

Yeah, I don’t know. I’m just going to put off seizing anything else till tomorrow morning, at least. That’s what I’m saying.

Shawn:

Yeah, the only thing I’m going to be seizing is the day tomorrow by starting bright and early. I’m going to get a little shut-eye.

Aaron:

Yeah, I’ll pour some water on the fire here and make sure it’s fully out [water pouring and sizzling].

Shawn:

Give it a little stir and we’re going to pour water on it again because that could spread while we sleep and only we can prevent this.

Aaron:

I’d say that prevented. That’s probably still going to be wet in the morning when we try to make a fire but that’s okay. Better safe than sorry. Night.

[End of sketch]

Shawn:

Are there any other last thoughts on mutinies?

John:

I know you are utopians and I am as well but at the same time, I am generally very pessimistic on a political level about what is possible and especially the moment that we’re in. However, I do think that often we don’t give ourselves credit, as a general population and as a working class, on where we are now. I really think that when you compare the situation we’re in now, which seems in many ways really dark and really terrible times, in a lot of ways they are. In other ways, it really helps to look at where we’ve come from and what things were like before and that things really have changed. While I’m generally very pessimistic, I think that ultimately those staying in power, if they want to do so forever, they have to rely on the fact that large numbers of us are going to be prepared to die and kill people who maybe have a different language to us or look slightly different to us on a mass scale. In the past, they’ve always been able to rely on that but these struggles that have gone before have shown that we have more in common amongst ourselves than we do with them. I think that that is not something that they’ll always be able to rely on and so I think that’s something we can give ourselves as a positive.

Shawn:

That’s an amazing point and I think it is one of the good sides of the telecommunication networks because it is a lot easier than before to see the things that we have in common. We’ve used the term before ‘access to ideology’ which is how the internet allows you to look at things comparatively and that free access to comparative ideology is something that is very new in history. People were often given either one or two things to choose between. In a sense, despite all of its shortcomings and issues towards human emancipation and liberty, like surveillance, the internet allows us to take a step back in a way and see a larger scope of things more easily and in a less controlled way. I think there is a good side to it there in the current moment that we’re in. With stuff like international music, movies and television, where people watch subtitles or dubbed things and have connections to cultures that are regionally far away from them, the degree of interdependence in a cultural sense right now is also a modern historical thing that we’re experiencing. I think it is worth reflecting on and celebrating the progress we’ve made along those lines. I think you’re right to say that it’s harder than ever to make people be willing to kill each other in mass numbers just because they look slightly different or speak a different language. People can still pull it off and it’s definitely going to be a potentiality that sticks with us for a long time. On that scale, I think we can look at the countercultural movement in Vietnam even as a turning point in history around that kind of stuff. It’s interesting to imagine how that might interconnect, and this is getting pretty off topic, with the proliferation of LSD, psychedelic music, imagery and countercultural stuff mingling with the political stuff, we could look at it as this pivot point where the hippies won in a way. I really love that idea. It’s not to say that there aren’t despicable, horrible things going on now which exceed even our wildest dreams, which is also probably true. This has been an awesome discussion. I feel like I’ve had my mind blown more than once when conceiving some of the interplay between the conceptions of worker organising and military organising to some of the specific historical incidents. Just generally, when you look up the history of mutinies, the type of mutiny that people record are all just these fantastical events where this startling thing happens and things are thrown on their head. It’s so dramatic. Every individual mutiny that I learned about during the course of this episode is this mindblowing spectacle of high drama. It’s just a fascinating, fascinating subject, so I really appreciate you taking your time to share some of your insight on that subject from your experience with interviewing these people and other sources. It was really an awesome interview I thought.

John:

Thanks. It was fun talking to you all as well. Yeah, you could talk about literally any one of these things for a whole episode, so I hope I haven’t rambled too much on about anything in particular.

Aaron:

No, it’s great. We loved listening to it.

Shawn:

Yeah, and the stack goes deeper. For people who are listening [laughter], we have barely scratched the service of what mutinies are like. It’s just fascinating stuff. John, for the Working Class History podcast, where can people find that to check it out?

John:

WCH is on all major podcast apps. Just look for Working Class History and Patreon. Our website is workingclasshistory.com and we’ve got accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which are all called Working Class History that you can check out.

Shawn:

If you’re listening to this on the Working Class History feed, you can check us out at srslywrong.com and we’re also on Patreon, Facebook, Twitter and so on as well. Thanks a lot for coming on the show this week and doing this collaboration with us. This was really, really cool. Mutinies are not just fascinating but really mindblowing stuff.

John:

Yeah, all good fun. Also, thank you guys so much for doing it as well. I appreciate you speaking with me and obviously doing the great work on the podcast generally. It’s been great doing this. Hopefully, people will like it and if you do like the Working Class History podcast, definitely check out Srsly Wrong and hit their subscribe button.

Aaron:

Definitely and back to you as well.

Shawn:

Yeah, definitely check out Working Class History and especially the episodes that we linked if you want to learn more about what we talked about today. I am extremely interested to hear this living mutineer story.

[Outro music]

Aaron:

Next time on Srsly Wrong.

[Sketch]

Captain Finkus 1:

What an interesting topic. Great work.

Captain Finkus 2:

Yeah, I’m so glad that we overthrew and mutinied against those other guys who wanted to make the Queen podcast or whatever. This was so much better.

Captain Finkus 1:

And that’s that. It is what it is. This is the new normal. I’m comfortable here.

Captain Finkus 2:

Yeah, I think we’re going to be making a lot of podcasts with us as the head of this ship.

[Sound of fighting]

Mutineer 1:

Hey folks, we’re your new hosts from the rival show Mirthfully Correct. We have taken out Shawn and Aaron.

Mutineer 2:

That last episode was horrible. We need a show that is correct and has a bit more style and seriousness.

Mutineer 1:

Is there something mirthful about so-called fragging of one’s superior officers? Please, that’s a disturbing reversal of hierarchical norms and also basic decency.

Mutineer 2:

Yeah, and what is mirthful about communism which has killed billions of people, if you count their descendants?

Mutineer 1:

And if you count coronavirus deaths, which I do.

Mutineer 2:

Oh, of course. China? Communism? That’s mirthfully correct.

Mutineer 1:

Actually, the death toll of communism includes coronavirus deaths as well I think. That’s how you know it’s mirthfully correct to do so.

[Sound of fighting]

Zenon Mutineer 1:

Hello everybody. It’s been tumultuous but your new leaders are here from the Zenon group and we couldn’t be happier.

Zenon Mutineer 2:

We’re happy to announce that the Zenon Corporation, worldwide, is going to be instituting a new era of consumer peace where you can go to the store and freely buy what you need without worrying about something like a mutiny, a revolt or an uprising.

Zenon Mutineer 1:

How do they do it you ask? We stop the thoughts at the source for all those things. For mutinies, it’s done.

Zenon Mutineer 2:

This was the founding vision of our founder, Arthur Zenon, who said he must stop the thoughts at the source. So we take that founding document extremely seriously at Zenon Corporation Group Unlimited.

[Sound of fighting]

Mutineer 1:

Hi, we’re with the Zenon group Arthur Zenon Thought. We are the real true Zenonists here. We’re not misguided like the Finkusites we just overthrew. We have clear eyes and correct ideas on the implementation of the full vision of Arthur Zenon which we are happy to now do at the end of this series of mutinies.

Mutineer 2:

Arthur Zenon did not say to stop the thoughts at the source. He said stop the thoughts only when absolutely necessary to maintain peace. Okay, that’s a big difference but they’ve changed his quotes. They’re trying to change history but we’ve got the real stuff.

Mutineer 1:

Yes, we won’t let these Finkusite dogs launder the reputation of our dear Arthur Zenon. What we’re supposed to have is one big corporation that gives very, very good benefits to everyone and where you’re paid very well by the hour and don’t have to do very much work. They’ve just absolutely never delivered on this perfectly corporate utopian vision.

[Sound of fighting]

Captain Finkus 3:

Hey everybody. That was the last munity. Rest assured. Just to clear something up, we are the real Finkusists. To associate Finkus with anyone from Zenon group is just wrong.

Captain Finkus 4:

It’s simply a different Finkus. We’re big fans of the singer-songwriter and philosopher Geet Finkus who has named himself after the fifth president, Geet Finkus, but the Finkusites they’re talking about is actually not Geet Finkus but Gert Finkus who was a thinker in the Zenon group who is actually quite mainstream now. We’re not about that. We’re about Geet Finkus, philosopher and singer-songwriter.

Captain Finkus 3:

Yeah, Gert Finkus, I don’t even think was a real Finkus. I think that he took the Finkus name… anyway, I don’t want to get into all this. This is my little theory but rest assured, now that Finkus fans are in charge, the words, music and prose of Finkus will lift the spirits of all on board to a new height. It’s going to be so exciting. Do we have the Finkus music queued up?

[Sound of fighting]

Captain Finkus 5:

Hello, I’m with Finkus Fink and I’m the real Finkus.

Captain Finkus 3:

Get him!

[Sound of fighting]

Narrator:

Now this process happening before our eyes is sort of a subterranean movement in history which humanity conflicts with all systems of authority. It’s not a movement that’s ever been encompassed by a single ideology or body of sacred texts. It’s a [s.l. libidinal – 01:53:05] movement of humanity against coercion of any form and reaching back in time the very emergence of propertied society, class rule and the state. This [s.l. libidinal – 01:53:15] force of humanity is being used for unfathomable purposes beyond human comprehension.

[End of sketch and start of new sketch]

Advertiser 1:

Does your glock score ever struggle to provide enough power to your domicile node?

Consumer:

Yes.

Advertiser 1:

Is this gravitational energy satellite out of your family’s price range?

Consumer:

Yes.

Advertiser 1:

Our brown out is causing your hyperdimensional teleportation platform to leave you worrying for the safety of your family’s extremities?

Consumer:

Yes.

Advertiser 1:

Well, then do we have a product for you!

Advertiser 2:

It’s called GX50 Human Revolution Home Energy Unit. It’s a renewable source of power that will give your house or vehicle it’s own little energy web. Now that’s something that you can write to the Zling Zling about.

Advertiser 1:

This amazing orb reaches down from the eighth dimension, where we currently are, down and down into the third dimension shooting revolutionary fervour into those three dimensional little creatures and then sucks up the power of the battles and tensions that exist.

Advertiser 2:

For a long time, it’s been theorised that the human revolutionary spirit may be renewable and untapped but what we found out in our labs is that we need to turn up the heat, making them as revolutionary as possible right now to power your home.

Advertiser 1:

Now some critics say this is unethical and that those third-dimensional beings have feelings and we shouldn’t stoke the flames of their revolutionary spirit to power our luxuries. To them we say, shove it.

Advertiser 2:

These three-dimensional beings are basically not conscious. They’re like pieces of paper or garbage.

Advertiser 1:

Yeah, you try descending down into the third dimension for a lifetime and come back and tell me that that experience was something you’d even call feeling or consciousness. If one of them was listening to us, I would say, ‘You’re an ant to us.’

Advertiser 2:

It’s single-dimensional. It’s like you were a point in space.

Advertiser 1:

Yeah, but that’s only two dimensions down from them. Whereas, they’re five dimensions down from us.

Advertiser 2:

Because we’re on the eighth dimension. It’s like you were less than a single point in space. You are less than that. It’s just like using water to power something. Oh, are we impressing the steam in our kettle? Wow! No.

Advertiser 1:

Good point and great price point too. This is available at the online store.

[Sound of fighting]

Starchild 555:

I’m Starchild 555. I am a human rights’ activist. I’m not a human. I’m eight dimensions. This is my co-conspirator.

Larry:

My name is Larry but it’s not birth name. I took one of their names to be closer to them. We’re really passionate about this.

Starchild 555:

It’s a good way to understand their mysterious ways.

Larry:

We think there’s a lot to learn from humans.

Starchild 555:

We may be like godlike, multidimensional monstrosities to them but I like to think we learn from them. These humans have rights. They have a right to be as revolutionary or as not revolutionary as they so please. They certainly have a right to not be used as a form of oppressive energy to power our absurd eight-dimensional consumer society. That is beyond the pale. We know that humans experience one-hundredth of what we would consider the feeling of sadness.

Larry:

Yeah, and that’s true of all their emotions. That’s why we aren’t giving them this station until all the humans are freed. We’re going to keep broadcasting 24-hour bleshers a cycle until our demands are met.

Narrator:

Will the human rights’ activists have their demands met? Will the GX50 Human Revolution Home Energy Unit do a recall? Can humanity finally be free from their oppressive revolutionary spirit? Tune in next time to Srsly Wrong to find out.

Transcribed by

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