[Marxism] Underground GI newspapers during Vietnam war
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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
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
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