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Page 41
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<< 40. Ken Burns' "Vietnam": A Legacy for War as a "Noble Cause"42. Renunciation >>

Soldiers in Revolt

By Alan Stolzer (reviewer)

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Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War
by David Cortright

(Haymarket Books, 2005)

Who could serve their oath to the Constitution better than those who may very well turn their backs on planned or actual Imperial war/occupation and face, instead, domestic responsibilities provided by one of the two least favored candidates in history, all too indicative of mass displeasure?

Nat Turner has been in the news recently; a long-awaited film released to conflicting review. No, I haven't seen it (yet) but will before long.

This book isn't about Turner, although he scared the hell out of a significant amount of people (still does), but it is about people, many years later, who did what he did - revolted.

The parallel point(s) are that those who rebel do what they must at a given time during political and social development.

It is done, uncompromisingly, since it must, without retreat, without endless thought process, but with terrible, everlasting conviction and consequence (Turner cannot nor need not supply italics here or anywhere else).

Vietnam, for instance, still tears at the tender membrane of US conscience. No matter how long ago, its revealed horrors keep many awake to this day with more than a toothache.

War vet David Cortright, author of this diary of dissent, documents atrocity, grief, and resistance through dedicated and incisive reporting without invitation of sympathy or artificial remorse usually available in the soup kitchen of hypocrisy.

Who rebelled (in arms), when, how and why are depicted clearly as well as keeping an eye to history many would choose not to consult. The essence of people becoming subjects of rebellion, previously undreamed of, reminds us what history can do to or for us all.

What good is it some might ask?

After all, it was another time and generation indicating the question of timelessness could be inconvenient to address.

It isn't.

What it is, is struggle produced under the harshest circumstances that could, at history's beck and call, be just around the corner, reasons provided by uncaring leadership, carrying out distorted will that only points subordinates to hell.

Consider the following: Who would think aircraft carriers could be scuttled by angry, young sailors, many from tidy, American homes, unused to disobedience but now ready to rebel heedless of cost. Knowledge of Vietnam's corrupt mission and their part in it created opposition to its poison.

Enlightenment and epiphany became answer to slaughter proscribed by Imperial design in refusal to carry out twisted mandate but confront it instead. Freedom, after all, chooses different roads from time to time.

Learn about "fragging" - the killing of officers and non-commissioned officers who ignored symbolic warning being disarmed fragmentation grenades placed on their bunks by enraged troops dramatically transformed by unthinking command that endangered them unnecessarily.

Or troops in mutiny, non-caring of threatened punishment but providing threats of their own toward those who compromised them.

Other tactics included units who had communicated with the Vietnamese, sending word they wouldn't engage but rested beyond battle perimeter and smoked marijuana instead.

Interestingly, it wasn't draftees who displayed such anger and intent but enlisted troops who thought they were headed for patriotic duty in Vietnam only to have their souls pawned by those needy of career boost and perverse sense of duty.

Cortright covers the numerous anti-war, anti-command newsletters, newspapers and other publications that erupted throughout conflict created by combatants themselves fed up with political aims of the US in Indochina.

The spirit of rebellion is faithfully recorded by title, place and time. This, after all, was no fluke, no historical burp but determined rank and file resistance at its most fierce and dedicated having wildfire effect.

The effect on the military was sobering to say the least. Measures were taken by command to suppress discontent by increasing discipline or muzzling printed and spoken resistance. Soon some units were disarmed in order to prevent more outbreaks.

However, none were ever completely stamped out.

The Pentagon noted it well, alarmed insofar as "By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous." This from a well-circulated memorandum by Col. Robert Heinl, ahead in his field it would seem.

A constant issue, central to Cortright's review were black troops, being most affected and, though alliances were formed with whites, remained victims of racism throughout hostilities. The Army, especially, was in danger of being torn apart. A war within a war was fought with few ready for the consequences.

Make no mistake - these rebellions were critical part of a larger theater of change involving much of the world during the period, its place in this or any other era assured no matter how time and brainwashed memory may act to muffle it.

Cortright is meticulous as he records troop-worker alliances, fair housing efforts for the military, successful and failed attempts at unity within ranks, more troop dissent during World War II and Korea and changes in military attitude as per pre-Vietnam War thinking are all well recorded.

Detail, however, can be friend or foe as the book tends to monotone lacking personal insight or interviews. Individual memories are absent not having integrated the stream of the book with human change of pace. Though thousands were forced into crime by those who would make them criminals the fuller human aspect is missing. Dryness results.

Nevertheless, the book's motion is contagious, unfrozen in time. This serves as lesson now brought more clearly to the stage by current events.

Who could serve us better in times to come when more belligerent class lines form as perhaps never before?

Who could serve their oath to the Constitution better than those who may very well turn their backs on planned or actual Imperial war/occupation and face, instead, domestic responsibilities provided by one of the two least favored candidates in history, all too indicative of mass displeasure?

A potential alliance between our troops and us is truly something to think about if not to act upon. Not so distant memories echo from the horrors of Vietnam that "Soldiers in Revolt" reminds us of so well.

Who knows? The Second Amendment may yet come in handy.

Nat Turner doesn't rest so easily.

Alan Stolzer was in the US Navy: 10/61-6/63. After service, he spent 4 years working Western Europe/Mexico learning there were alternatives to Capitalism. He is a full-time playwright and has written quite a few plays written concerning the military.

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