|Download PDF of this full issue: v49n1.pdf (28 MB)|
Remembering Jeff Sharlet and Vietnam GI
By Marc Levy
Jeff Sharlet (1942–1969), a Vietnam veteran, was a leader of the GI resistance movement during the Vietnam War and the founding editor of Vietnam GI, considered the most influential early anti-war paper, distributed to tens of thousands of GIs, many in Vietnam.
In 1961, Sharlet enlisted in the Army and requested training at the Army Security Agency (ASA), a communications intelligence outfit. However at the Army Language School, he was bumped into the Vietnamese language course, and in 1963 Sharlet was sent to the Philippines as a Vietnamese translator/interpreter monitoring Vietnam People's Army radio traffic.
Through an FOIA request, I obtained two pages from Sharlet's Official Military Personnel File. One page is partially redacted. It's likely that much in his record is classified.
In Vietnam, Sharlet was part of a secret team which monitored signals related to the US-backed South Vietnamese Army coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. These intercepts and other sensitive intel were analyzed by the NSA. During this time, Sharlet began to doubt the US mission in Vietnam.
Sharlet later provided communications support for commando ops in North Vietnam and was assigned to a Marine intel unit for LLRP patrols. By the time his tour ended, Sharlet had seen enough political corruption and ARVN incompetence, often compounded by US military advisors, to become thoroughly disillusioned with US involvement in what he considered a Vietnamese civil war.
In 1964, Sharlet returned to Indiana University to study Political Science. In 1965, as the war escalated, Sharlet joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and helped organize demonstrations against campus visits from Richard Nixon, General Maxwell Taylor, General Lewis Blaine Hershey, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, among others.
At IU, Sharlet sought a broad outlet for the anti-war sentiment held by many GIs in Vietnam. In 1967, he joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and sacrificed his graduate studies to launch the first GI-run anti-war paper addressed to the active military. He named it Vietnam GI.
The broadside quickly became a success among servicemen stateside, and in Vietnam, soldiers and sympathetic unit mail clerks helped circulate the free paper surreptitiously. Overseas demand for Vietnam GI soared to 30,000 copies by fall 1968. Letters-to-the-editor indicated that single copies passed through many hands. In August, a separate "stateside" edition was launched.
While working on Vietnam GI, to support it, Sharlet traveled the country, seeking donations from wealthy individuals sympathetic to his cause.
The success of Vietnam GI and the growing GI anti-war movement led to national TV coverage for Sharlet; the paper was featured in Esquire, The New York Times, AP and NEA newswire services, and on NBC Nightly News.
In early 1969, a medical problem first experienced in Vietnam resurfaced, and Sharlet underwent surgery for kidney cancer. He died on June 16, 1969, at age 27.
A number of scholars of the Vietnam anti-war movement have written about Jeff Sharlet and Vietnam GI, including Andrew E. Hunt, The Turning: A History of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (1999); David Cortright, Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War (reissued 2005); Bob Ostertag, People's Movements/People's Press (2006); and a new middle school text, The American Journey: Modern Times (2009).
Most recently, in 2012, the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award, the first literary prize for military veterans, was inaugurated at the University of Iowa.
The most dramatic tribute has been the award-winning documentary, Sir! No Sir! (2005), on the Vietnam GI anti-war movement. The film has been screened nationwide and was shown on the Sundance Channel, where it was co-dedicated to Sharlet, as the director David Zeiger put it, "for starting it all."
Sources for this article: Wikipedia,
http://jeffsharlet-and-vietnamgi.com.yolasite.com/, Vietnam GI (June 1970) Wisconsin Historical Society, and the
Monthly Review: Vietnam and the Soldier's Revolt.
Marc Levy was an infantry medic with Delta 1-7 First Cavalry, Vietnam/Cambodia in 1970. His website is Medic in the Green Time.com. His books include How Stevie Nearly Lost the War and Other Postwar Stories; Dreams, Vietnam; and Other Dreams.