[Marxism] Underground GI newspapers during Vietnam war

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 7 09:38:11 MDT 2005


H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-USA at h-net.msu.edu (August, 2005)

James Lewes. _Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the 
Vietnam War_. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003. xi + 243 pp. 
Illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. $67.95 (cloth), ISBN 
0-2759-7861-3.

Reviewed for H-USA by Janet G. Valentine, U.S. Army Center of Military History.

Non-Combat Soldier Dissent during the Vietnam War

Following the Tet Offensive, American popular support for the Vietnam War 
waned and anti-war sentiment increased, particularly among young people. 
Searching for a way to demonstrate their disillusionment, college students 
flocked to Students for a Democratic Society and other, less well-known, 
activist organizations. Coffeehouses, gathering places for members of the 
subculture, became centers of anti-war opinion and education and 
underground newspapers devoted ever more ink to anti-war articles. This 
anti-war, anti-military spirit also manifested itself within the enlisted 
personnel of the American armed forces, most of whom were young male 
draftees. One way that servicemen voiced their disaffection was by 
publishing their own underground newspapers where they could express their 
unique anti-war perspectives. In _Protest and Survive_, James Lewes uses GI 
underground newspapers to study the anti-military subculture that developed 
within the American armed forces between 1968 and 1970.

  Lewes begins with a careful explanation of his terminology, a useful 
practice that more scholars should adopt. Chapter 1 examines the book's 
theoretical foundation and the author's methodology; chapter 2 is a survey 
of the literature on underground presses from the American Revolution 
forward. In the Vietnam era, Lewes identifies two generations of 
underground, or alternative, newspapers. Initially, alternative papers were 
published by people who were connected to the community they served. After 
1967, however, underground publications were typically run according to the 
ideal of participatory democracy by committees who considered themselves 
part of a larger revolutionary movement.

Chapters 3 and 4 consider whether the GI press clearly focused on the 
concerns of its readers. Lewes concludes that GI newsworkers understood 
their relationship with their audience in one of three ways: 1) it was 
equivalent and interdependent; 2) the newspaper's character was determined 
by the readers' interests; or 3) the GI press shaped the needs of its 
subscribers. In other words, audience and newsworkers shared the same 
interests, no matter the character of the relationship. It is no surprise 
that underground GI publications solicited written and financial 
contributions from their readers, but the author does not fully explore how 
the newsworkers' dependence on their audience affected the relationship he 
was otherwise at pains to define.

  In chapter 5, Lewes discusses official attempts to repress GI alternative 
publications and newsworkers' concomitant need for anonymity. When 
newsworkers dared print their names, they were, according to the author, at 
risk of severe punishment. For instance, Roger Priest, a seaman stationed 
at the Pentagon, appended his name to his publication. Moreover, Priest 
regularly excoriated military leaders; in one instance he called Secretary 
of Defense Melvyn Laird "a prostitute and a pimp for the military 
industrial complex" (p. 82). Despite official limitations on repressing 
dissent within the ranks, Priest eventually faced general court-martial 
charges on, among other offenses, interfering with the "loyalty, morale and 
discipline of the military" (pp. 85-86). We are not told of Priest's fate, 
and although Lewes lists several other alternative publications that were 
harassed by the military, he provides no details of those cases. 
Nevertheless, Lewes contends that the military consistently and 
systemically attempted to subvert the First Amendment rights of its personnel.

  Lewes's discussion of the GI newsworkers' contention that they were 
merely continuing the inherently American tradition of patriotic dissent 
continues in chapters 6 and 7. Ultimately, according to the author, 
military authority faced the dilemma of whether to ignore the 
insubordination of GI activists, or to justify interfering with 
servicemembers' right of free speech. Although he does not make the 
connection between the two events clear, Lewes argues that, after 
unfavorable publicity from the prison riot at the Presidio in San 
Francisco, the Pentagon loosened restrictions on the "rights of GIs to 
publish and petition" (p. 149).

  Lewes contends that although over time GI and civilian activists had 
forged sympathetic relationships, the GI movement was a "spectacular 
subculture" (p. 130) independent of the civilian anti-war movement. As the 
author sees it, GI activists were formed by their home communities and 
interpreted their dissent in terms of class and race. As with so many of 
his claims, however, Lewes fails to convincingly pursue his argument. For 
instance, if he wishes to separate race and class from the civilian 
anti-war movement, we need to know how he defines that movement. Given his 
claim, one must assume that he considers only middle-class white students 
as being actively anti-war. Startlingly, Lewes ends his work with the 
declaration that GI newsworkers and their publications "helped end U.S. 
intervention in South Vietnam" (p. 152). This is a peculiar claim, 
considering that the effects of the GI alternative press on the 
government's Vietnam policy had not been a thesis of the book.

  _Protest and Survive_ is a curious work. Although thought-provoking, it 
is seriously flawed. Although I rarely grouse about editing, and moan when 
other reviewers do so, after reading Lewes's work I feel compelled to beg 
for more careful proofreading. Throughout the book, "effect" is used in 
place of "affect," often clouding the authors' meaning. Oddities in 
organization and theses peregrinations prompted frequent revisiting of 
earlier passages, and suggest the book is an essentially unrevised 
dissertation. Most grievously, however, _Protest and Survive_ is almost 
entirely lacking in context. Although Lewes is not an historian, as a 
scholar he is obligated to develop a general knowledge of his subject. 
Clearly, Lewes is not adequately familiar with the Vietnam War, draft 
resistance, the civilian anti-war movement, nor even the traditions of 
soldier dissidence, and makes only the most desultory efforts at placing GI 
protest within a larger framework. Sadly, this failure badly undermines 
what could have been a valuable addition to the study of Vietnam-era 
dissension.

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