Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

In the barracks: G.I. resistance movement during Vietnam war

This feature-length documentary focuses on the efforts by troops in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to oppose the war effort by peaceful demonstration and internal resistance.

In the 1960's an anti-war movement emerged that altered the course of history. This part of the movement didn't take place on college campuses, but in barracks, on aircraft carriers and in the jungles of Vietnam.

When I joined the Air Force in January of 1971, after my training, I was sent to Travis AFB in northern California.  Travis was an airlift base for the war in Vietnam.  GI's would come from all over the country to board the big transport planes to fly to the war zone.  When the planes returned they brought back the walking wounded as well as body bags that were lined up along the runway just across the street from my office.

In the barracks, when I checked in the first day, the guy in the Orderly Room looked down a long list on a clipboard and said to me, "I'm sorry man, we've only got one room left.  We'll get you out of there as soon as we can.  Grab your bags and follow me."

We walked down the long dark hallway on the ground floor of the barracks to the last room on the left side.  He kept apologizing to me.  I thought it might be a broom closet with a cot in it.  When he opened the door my eyes were drawn to anti-war posters all over the wall.  There was a blue refrigerator in the room which I later learned was not allowed.  It turned out to be the room of one of the leading G.I resistance movement organizers in the barracks.  They wanted to keep him isolated while they worked on their plan to kick him out.

The Orderly Room forgot about me.  My roommate was not eager to have me there, especially after he learned that in 1968 I had volunteered to work on the Nixon for President campaign while living outside Eglin AFB in northwest conservative Florida - the panhandle.   My step-father, career Air Force, was stationed at Eglin.  (He had been stationed in Okinawa during the Korea War and was also sent to Vietnam.  His job was photo-reconnaissance - worked on the cameras for Pentagon spy planes.)

Frequently at night there would be a knock on the barracks room door and white guys would enter with chairs.  They sat in a circle and would talk about the war and pass around the latest underground newsletter called 'Travisty'.  For the first couple of months I sat in a corner but was listening and read their anti-war materials.  I had a good heart and was always open to hearing new things - but had grown up mostly living behind the barbed wire air base fences so I was generally dumb and politically naive. I eventually pulled my chair into the circle and smoked marijuana for the first time. (The drugs came back inside body bags from Southeast Asia and were widely distributed on the base and beyond.)

Most weekends there were small protests just outside the base front gate.  We were warned not to go out there.  The OSI (Office of Secret Investigation) would be out there taking photos.  Any G.I.'s caught at the protest would be punished.  I was too afraid to go but it made we ask questions - I thought the war was about 'freedom and democracy'?  What if I wanted to go out there and just see what is going on?  How could that be wrong or illegal?

Some G.I.'s would come to Travis and refuse to get on the airplanes.  One night a guy who was refusing to go to the war sat on a roadside curb on the base and cut his penis off.

On other nights the knock on the door would revel Black Panthers with chairs and I learned about racism across America and at Travis.  Some of the resisting black men were in the base jail while resisting whites were mostly 'punished' in much easier ways - obviously white privilege.  The Black Panthers organized a march to the jail and when that didn't bear any justice they organized a riot in the barracks compound.  I learned alot, and was deeply challenged, during those days.

My roommate worked in the base gym handing out basketballs and towels.  He didn't have to wear a uniform, just a shirt with 'Base gym' lettered on it.  In fact he had no uniform at all.  He eventually got kicked out and had to borrow my uniform, with my name on it, for his court-martial.

How lucky I was to have landed in that room.  It was a blessing and a source of liberation for me.  It set me on a path that I still walk today.  I will always be grateful to those courageous guys who helped turn my head and heart toward the good road.



Blogger TomK said...

And Bruce you too have turned many towards the good road with your life. Thank you.

5/2/20, 10:28 AM  

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