U.S. rulers’ worries over the Pentagon’s ability to field a reliable military harkens back to the mass GI rebellion during the Vietnam War. Writing in the June 1971 Armed Forces Journal, Col. Robert Heinl, a Marine historian, described it as “The Collapse of the Armed Forces.” And it was a massive collapse:
• Heinl reported that sedition “infests the Armed Services….There appear to be some 144 underground newspapers…at U.S. military bases in this country and overseas.”
• “Fragging” — the hurling of fragmentation grenades at officers — was common. GI’s raised bounties of up to $1,000 for leaders they wanted to rub out. Requests were published in the GIs’ underground papers. GI Says publicly offered a $10,000 bounty on the lieutenant colonel who led the costly assault on Hamburger Hill in 1969. In 1970 alone, the Pentagon reported 209 fraggings.
• In October, when the USS Kitty Hawk was ordered to return to the Philippines’ Subic Bay, black sailors led a major rebellion, including hand-to-hand battle with Marines sent to break up a meeting on board. The ship was forced to retire to San Francisco for a “6-month re-fitting job” and was removed from the war altogether.
• By November 1972, five giant aircraft carriers were tied up in San Diego, forced out of combat in the Gulf of Tonkin by crews involved in anti-war activities. When the USS Ranger was ordered into action in June 1972, 20 acts of sabotage culminated in the destruction of the main reduction gear, delaying its sailing for more than four months. When the ship made it back to the Gulf of Tonkin, sailors disabled it once again by deliberately setting it on fire, the sixth major disaster in the Seventh Fleet in a five-week period.
• Sailors on the USS Coral Sea organized a “Stop Our Ship” (SOS) movement, forcing its return to San Francisco. SOS then spread to the USS Enterprise through its underground paper.
• By the end of 1971, resistance was intensifying to the point that U.S. commanders ran short of reliable ground troops to send into battle. When President Richard Nixon resorted to massive air power, launching a 12-day, all-out bombardment of much of North Vietnam, individual pilots refused to participate. The super-secret 6990th Air Force Security Service unit staged a work stoppage bordering on open mutiny. During the stoppage, according to Seymour Hersh’s The Price of Power, there were cheers whenever a B-52 was shot down by the Vietnamese.
• In March 1972, when the USS Midway was ordered to leave San Francisco for Vietnam, protests and sabotage swept the ship. Crewmen spilled 3,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/24/72).
• “Search and evade” — avoidance of combat by units in the field — became a virtual principle of the war.
• Between July 1, 1966 and December 31, 1973, there were 503,926 “incidents of desertion” (NY Times, 8/20/74). In 1970 alone, the Army recorded 65,643 deserters, the rough equivalent of four infantry divisions.
These incidents are only a sampling of the massive resistance and rebellion by GIs during the Vietnam War. Books have since described what was largely kept from the U.S. population. As Colonel Heinl reported in his “Collapse” article, these “widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam…have only been exceeded in this century…by the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917” in the Russian Revolution.
What GIs did in the past can be done again.