[Marxism] On the GI organizing discussion

Greg Butterfield gregb at wwpublish.com
Thu Dec 9 11:24:42 MST 2004

I'm forwarding this message to the list at John 
Catalinotto's request.
Greg Butterfield


I read with interest some of the exchange over the 
organizing in the military and among military families, 
since that was my strongest emotional and most dynamic 
experience in progressive organizing, when I was a 
civilian organizer with the American Servicemen’s Union 
from 1967-1970. Now I’m an editor of Workers World 
newspaper -- I’ve been a WWP member since the end of 1962. 
The discussion over “Heretic” reminded me of the first 
time we got an inkling of what was happening inside the 
U.S. Armed Forces.

At the beginning of 1967, WW newspaper received a letter 
signed by three soldiers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I still 
have an image of the comrade who handled the mail leaning 
over the table as he pointed out the letter to me. It 
seemed outrageously ultra-left, ending with something like 
“Long live the National Liberation Front [of Vietnam]” and 
“For the world revolution.” We didn’t know whether to be 
suspicious it was a provocation, amused, or to treat it 
seriously. The comrade decided to treat it as if it was 
serious; after all, it was signed by three soldiers 
complete with their ranks: Sp. 4’s Dick Wheaton and Paul 
Gaedtke, and Pvt. Andy Stapp.

It was good that we did. A few months later Stapp was up 
on charges of refusing orders to open his footlocker and 
we (in Youth Against War and Fascism) were defending him. 
By the end of 1967, the ASU had started; the three GIs 
above were its early members. I won’t try to retell the 
ASU story, but the moral of this story is that you can be 
surprised by how rapidly political development takes place 
when people are faced with life-and-death choices.

This was not only in the area of words, by the way. There 
were plenty of times that the young troops took action 
that, while foolish and dangerous for themselves, was not 
a provocation in the sense that it wasn’t provoked by 
police agencies. This wouldn’t necessarily be an act by 
the same people who declared solidarity with the NLF; it 
might be by someone who considered himself a patriot but 
against this stupid war, or someone who hated his “pig of 
the month” non-com officer.

The troops and their families share the same ideas that 
are foisted on 99+% of the working class in this country 
by the powerful media and educational system under control 
of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Is there any wonder very 
few of them will sympathize with Iraqi resistance fighters 
or Palestinian revolutionaries? We should be aware of what 
they are thinking, how they see the world. That doesn’t 
mean, however, that political organizers should mistake 
these thoughts for something that people come to from 
their own experiences or that accomodating to these ideas 
is more democratic than some other way of dealing with 

The GIs are thrown into a horrible situation in Iraq. As 
Stan Goff wrote (was it a year ago?) in his excellent open 
letter to the troops, they are being almost forced to kill 
civilians, to commit war crimes. And they are themselves 
in terrible danger. The news this week – the lip they gave 
to Rumsfeld, the suit against stop-loss tactics, the 
relatively mild punishment for the 343rd Quartermaster 
Company that refused to drive their trucks – show that 
something is happening inside. Then there are the 
individual cases like Jeremy Kinzman’s applying for asylum 
in Canada or Carlos Mejia or the sailor in San Diego 
refusing to go.

It starts to add up. Now I think the Military Families 
organization was a great idea and has connected with the 
families and made a contribution to the movement. I think 
GI Special and SNAFU have both made excellent attempts to 
reach the troops – yet it’s true that they haven’t 
connected the way Vietnam GI and The Bond did in 1968. 
That doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing something 
wrong. The situation might just not have matured yet.

It seems closer to maturity now. And I think the people 
working on all these fronts should be thinking: “Is there 
some way we can cooperate to assist the struggle of the 
troops and their families against this war, to get them 
home safe and without turning them into murderers?” If the 
answer is no, the groups can keep working separately and 
wish each other well. If the answer is yes, the organizers 
should figure out how, because this area of the struggle 
against imperialist war may be the first – as the late 
Dave Dellinger said in the fall of 1967 – to move from 
“dissent to resistance.”

John Catalinotto
jcat at wwpublish.com

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