The GI Revolt That Ended the Vietnam War

Sir, No Sir: The GI Revolt

Directed by David Zeiger (2005)

Film Review

Sir, No Sir examines the GI revolt that effectively ended the Vietnam War. While it’s common to hear about fragging* incidents which occurred in Vietnam, I was totally unaware of the vast GI anti-war movement built by three years of sustained organizing in barracks, on bases, battlefields and ships and at armed forces academies like West Point.

This documentary traces the origin of this GI resistance movement to the 1967 court martial of a dermatologist who refused to train Green Berets how to treat common skin conditions of Vietnamese civilians. Captain Howard Levy took this stand due to his personal conviction that the US torture and murder of Vietnamese civilians was immoral. Levy, who was court-martialed and sentenced to three years in prison, inspired hundreds of other GIs once they realized the US government was at war with the entire civilian population of Vietnam.

Levy’s court martial was followed by many others, as active duty GIs began organizing anti-war meetings and participating in civilian anti-war protests while in uniform. Black GIs could be court-martialed for doing a soul handshake.

Word of the GI anti-war movement spread mainly through underground GI newspapers that sprang up on many bases. However GI coffee houses and Jane Fonda’s FTA (Fuck the Army) shows were also major organizing tools.

Civilian peace activists opened GI coffee houses near bases, where off duty GIs could listen to subversive rock music and get counseling, legal advice and accurate information about Vietnam and the anti-war movement. Although the FTA shows were also held off base, GIs attended in droves.

Refusing to Deploy Against US Civilians

In 1968, Fort Hood GIs newly returned from Vietnam were ordered to police the anti-war protests at the Chicago. Democratic Convention. After a group of black GIs met about refusing to deploy, they were beaten up by MPs and court martialed. The white “subversives” at Ft Hood (including one of my friends from high school) were treated more leniently. They were confined to base instead of being sent to Chicago.

In 1969 a thousand active duty GIs participated in an anti-war march at Fort Hood on Armed Forces Day. A year later 4,000 participated.

1971 Winter Soldier Conference

The Winter Soldier Conference the Vietnam Veterans Against the War organized in 1971 was the real turning point for the GI resistance movement. The purpose of the conference was to establish that the 1968 My Lai massacre wasn’t an isolated incident – that superior officers were ordering the deliberate targeting of civilians. Testimony at the Detroit conference also focused media attention on the government’s genocidal policies towards the Vietnamese. Specific examples included widespread use of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange and the deliberate reconfiguration of Napalm** to make it stick better.

Nixon Forced to “Vietnamize” the War

By 1971, so many GIs were refusing orders, fragging and killing officers and deserting that the Pentagon warned Nixon the military was on the verge of collapse. In response, the latter ordered the “Vietnamization” of the war. This would translate into a massive increase in aerial bombardment, as US troops withdrew, and the gradual transfer of combat duties to the South Vietnamese Army.


*Fragging is the murder or deliberate injury of members of the military, particularly commanders of a fighting unit. The term originates from the fragmentation grenades commonly used in these incidents.
**Napalm is a mixture of a gelling agent and petroleum or a similar fuel for use in an incendiary device. It was initially used against buildings and later primarily as an anti-personnel weapon, as it sticks to skin and causes severe burns when on fire.

22 thoughts on “The GI Revolt That Ended the Vietnam War

  1. Hi Doc – My two brothers and I all served, our middle brother in the war zone. Our youngest, now gone had been drafted. When he got deployment orders he simply came home. He was picked up by the MPs, given non-judicial punishment and again received deployment orders. He came home again.

    The Army had so many AWOLs / “deserters” they simply couldn’t bother picking them all up. They never came for him.

    Regards.

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  2. My research in JFK assassination has demonstrated a direct Correlation between millitary intelligence, ramping up war VN,Phonex program(terrorizing villagers by kidnaping and killing local leaders)Operation Northwoods) and murder of JFK (creating a false flag to deal with Cuba and VN.
    Just your basic Psych War

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  3. Great documentary. Mandatory viewing.

    I did see some years ago a documentary on the “1971 Winter Soldier Conference.” I believe I have it on DVD. It is probably available on YouTube. The latter, for its disclosure of just how common war crimes like My Lai had really been, is also mandatory viewing for anyone who believes in the fairy tale that any kind of military intervention could ever be conducted humanely: war is always total; no one in the war zone is spared. The depravity of murder cannot but infect most everyone, especially those on the front line.

    Of course, ‘our’ problem is that ‘we,’ the ordinary citizens, do not fight ‘our’ wars, but those of our rulers. It is a hard lesson that some in every generation end up learning, but as yet in too few numbers. Martial valor and self-sacrifice is ceremoniously recalled. But the historically persistent and dull because repetitive betrayal of the cause from on high tends to lapse into forgetfulness. The opposite needs to happen if our collective historical memory is to serve us better as the object lesson that it ought to be.

    Hopefully, the time will come when even the innocent vulnerability of youth will be culturally inoculated as a matter of course against the kinds of machinations with which our ruling warmongers still get away .

    Media productions such as these contribute immensely to that end. It only comes back to us as individuals to introduce these things to friends and acquaintances as often as we can.

    Many thanks for yet another great item to add to my library of references (as disturbing and deeply saddening as it all is).

    –N

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    • In my view, one of the main values of the Internet is to raise questions about the sanitized view of history we are taught in school. It also gives Americans a small window on the way the west of the world views them. Here in New Zealand, there is strong public skepticism of US military intervention in the Middle East. In 2003, strong public sentiment kept NZ troops out of Iraq. Recently the NZ prime minister has come under heavy criticism for sending 53 NZ special forces to Iraq because he was forced to do so without parliamentary authorization. He didn’t dare put it to a vote in Parliament because he would have lost.

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      • This is interesting, Stuart, what you say about the NZ parliament!

        Norman Pilon says: “Hopefully, the time will come when even the innocent vulnerability of youth will be culturally inoculated as a matter of course against the kinds of machinations with which our ruling warmongers still get away.”

        Well, the time did come for German youth after WW 2, At that time modern history was not allowed to be taught in German schools. Maybe nobody knew how to properly sanitize history. We only knew, that Germans had started the war and that Germans had been out to conquer other countries and make them subservient, and this had been wrong! As Germans we saw how much suffering the war had caused, and we never ever wanted a repeat of all this. It seems a lot has changed again. After all, the end of WW 2 goes back some 70 years!

        I remember after the war German children were not supposed to be given any war toys that could raise a desire for fighting! Actually, at the time nobody would have dared to market a toy gun. It was not the done thing.

        A few years later when the Federal Republic of Germany was allowed to have an army again, it was supposed to be only for defensive purposes. Well, to my mind any army should be only for defensive purposes. Who actually benefits from attacking another country?

        In an ideal world the UN would have the power to intervene in countries where serious human rights violations do occur. Was there a communist threat in Vietnam? Who was actually threatened? How can any government justify all these human rights violations in a war like the Vietnam war? I admire the soldiers who stood up for justice and just could not continue slaughtering innocent women and children. I felt very sad watching this tape about the resistance to the Vietnam war.

        Aren’t the pilots, who are made to send drones to kill innocent people, in a similar situation? So it goes on and on.

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    • Sadly, Aunty, German children were left out in not being taught the role of banks, oil companies and arms manufacturers in instigating wars. Ordinary people never want to go to war. They’re bullied and brainwashed into supporting wars that only benefit the ruling elite.

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  4. Yes, indeed those were some dark times and I am not aware of any documentary that has done a comprehensive portrayal of the strong divisiveness and dangers that existed for those who opposed and/or “dodged” the Vietnam war, even as political assassinations such as PhD. M.L.K. Jr. are covered in agonizing depth after he made the shift, reluctantly and under great social pressure from the community. Perhaps my emotional involvement is still too high to award proper credit to the efforts made in producing Vietnam documentaries…

    I often consider the possibility that this generation may have to face a similar ordeal in the USA with a mass media blackout or as the late Gil Scott Heron sang: Winter in America “The revolution will not be televised.”
    Has it been a 40 year winter waiting for a healing storm or a cleansing fire?
    When will a new Spring dawn in America?

    “Winter In America”

    From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims
    And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains
    Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
    Looking for the rain
    Looking for the rain

    Just like the cities staggered on the coastline
    Living in a nation that just can’t stand much more
    Like the forest buried beneath the highway
    Never had a chance to grow
    Never had a chance to grow

    And now it’s winter
    Winter in America
    Yes and all of the healers have been killed
    Or sent away, yeah
    But the people know, the people know
    It’s winter
    Winter in America
    And ain’t nobody fighting
    ‘Cause nobody knows what to save
    Save your soul, Lord knows
    From Winter in America

    The Constitution
    A noble piece of paper
    With free society
    Struggled but it died in vain
    And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
    Hoping for some rain
    Looks like it’s hoping
    Hoping for some rain

    And I see the robins
    Perched in barren treetops
    Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor
    But just like the peace sign that vanished in our dreams
    Never had a chance to grow
    Never had a chance to grow

    And now it’s winter
    It’s winter in America
    And all of the healers have been killed
    Or been betrayed
    Yeah, but the people know, people know
    It’s winter, Lord knows
    It’s winter in America
    And ain’t nobody fighting
    Cause nobody knows what to save
    Save your souls
    From Winter in America

    And now it’s winter
    Winter in America
    And all of the healers done been killed or sent away
    Yeah, and the people know, people know
    It’s winter
    Winter in America
    And ain’t nobody fighting
    Cause nobody knows what to save
    And ain’t nobody fighting
    Cause nobody knows, nobody knows
    And ain’t nobody fighting
    Cause nobody knows what to save

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  5. Very moving song, Ron. I just listened to it on YouTube. I agree that the US is in an extremely dark place right now. A lot of young people and women are increasingly boycotting TV and the mass media in favor of more reliable information sources and face to face contact.

    The corporate media is still pretty much geared to the thinking of white middle aged males, which makes it extremely hard to assess the size of the demographic transformation that’s occurring.

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  6. Great article and a good read. Az a 16 year old I told my parentz that they needed to put some money away 4 my 18 birthday because I waz not going to go to Vietnam and dight 4 a country that did not give a fuck about me. I waz going to go to Mexico and life. lucky 4 me the draft waz ended 3 yearz later.. Panther Love

    Like

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