Black History Month
The '60s: Reversing correct verdicts goes against the will of the people

Black GIs, Rebellion and the Fall of the Flag

Revolutionary Worker #994, February 14, 1999

For 30 years, the U.S. military and political establishment has complained about the "Vietnam Syndrome" that just won't go away. Whenever the U.S. bombs or invades a country, the ruling class has to look over its shoulders--knowing that many millions in the U.S. distrust their motives. The ruling class complains that it no longer gets automatic backing in war. U.S. military planners have to deal with the possibility of massive anti-war resistance--especially, they say, "if the body bags start coming home."

For the self-proclaimed global policeman of a New World Order--such mass distrust is a big problem. The U.S. ruling class longs for their "good old days" of the 1950s when most people in the U.S. believed that the U.S. was invincible and saw the world like a John Wayne movie--with the U.S. military in white hats, killing "bad guys and Injuns" in the name of "truth, justice and the American Way."

Today there is a political offensive going on in the U.S. Powerful ruling class forces dream of "correcting" the culture, the people and the larger society. They intend to reverse many correct verdicts created by the 1960s -- to bring the slogan "God, Family, Country" back, center stage, as the official mythology of a purged and traditionalized U.S.A.

The current Inquisition in Washington DC has not openly focused on the issues of militarism and patriotism. But the conservatives have always hated Bill Clinton as an embodiment of the "Vietnam Syndrome." Early in Clinton's presidency, Jesse Helms pointedly warned that Clinton's life might be in danger if he set foot on military bases in Helms' home state, North Carolina--quite a shocking remark for a Senator to make.

Treating Clinton as a symbol of the '60s seems totally perverse to many progressive people--who have watched Clinton repeatedly launch aggressions, starting with a bombing of Iraq in his first days as president. Clinton just proposed the first major hike in military spending in years. For these actions and so many others, Clinton is hated by many progressive people and seen correctly as representative of U.S. imperialism.

But, powerful forces in the ruling class hate the idea of a president who was a "draft dodger" and participant in anti-war marches during wartime. They see this as treason. And they insist that America as a whole should (once again) treat such things as treason. Accepting a president with such a past, even one who now launches cruise missiles, is intolerable.

Before Vietnam, the U.S. authorities had never faced such massive resistance during wartime. The U.S. war-makers had never been so exposed as imperialists waging unjust aggression. And they had never before suffered such a clear defeat as in Vietnam. Millions opposed U.S. aggression.

This is the story of the heroic Black GIs who played a key important part in forging correct verdicts.


July 1967, Camp Pendleton, California--In the middle of the Detroit rebellion, two Black Marines requested a "captain's mast" meeting with their officers. They demanded to know why "Black men should fight a white man's war" in Vietnam. The brass came down hard. The soldiers were convicted of making "disloyal statements" and "advising, urging, and attempting to cause insubordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty." One was sentenced to ten years, the other to six.

By summer 1968, the U.S. military faced deep and widespread insubordination. The disintegration of the U.S. military became so severe that it deeply affected the ability of the U.S. to wage war. In 1971, the Armed Forces Journal reported: "The morale, discipline and battle-worthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States. By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden and dispirited where not near-mutinous. Elsewhere than Vietnam, the situation is nearly as serious."

When the first U.S. ground troops were sent into Vietnam in March 1965 with all that massive firepower, they were told that they were there to crush an isolated, unpopular, poorly armed guerilla force. But the U.S. troops quickly found out that they faced a determined, armed revolution, which enjoyed massive popular support. Eight years, $120 billion and 3 million troops later, the government which sent these soldiers to war had lost the war.

RCP Chairman Bob Avakian has written: "With all its technology of mass destruction and murder, U.S. military power is geared to quickly and overwhelmingly crushing its opponent; but when it gets into war situations where it cannot do this--and particularly where its armed forces take real losses with no prospect of quick victory--the imperialists have increasing difficulty keeping the allegiance of large sections of the population (and they have growing problems of disloyalty right within their armed forces as well, which draw a significant part of their personnel from our people--from the `have-nots' of society)."

"No Vietnamese
Ever Called Me Nigger"

In the mid 1960s--as urban uprisings and revolutionary sentiments developed among the Black masses--the U.S. ruling class took Black youth off the streets and put them in uniform. Hundreds of thousands of Black youth were press-ganged into the Army and Marine Corps. The commander of the Army's 6th Recruiting District in San Francisco said, "President Johnson wanted those guys off the street." The policy backfired. The rampant racist oppression in the U.S. military mixed with all the contradictions set loose by the losing war effort in Vietnam. The Black upsurge in the U.S. swept into the armed forces and played a central role in the creation of anti-war and radical movements among GIs. It is a powerful example of the strategic role the Black masses can play in making revolution within the USA.

Before the 1960s, open protests of any kind were almost unheard of in the U.S. military. Many Black soldiers initially saw the military as "an opportunity." As Chairman Avakian once said "The '60s weren't always the '60s."

But Black and Latino soldiers increasingly became fed up with the constant racist abuse. One Air Force report admitted: "Unequal treatment is manifested in unequal punishment, offensive and inflammatory language, prejudice in assignments of details, lack of products for blacks at the PX, harassment by security police under orders to break up five or more blacks in a group and double standards in enforcement of regulation." Before 1966 Black soldiers accounted for over 20 percent of U.S. combat casualties in Vietnam--far above the percentage of Black people in the military. The official figure dropped to between 11 and 13 percent after that.

As the war deepened and the struggle in urban ghettos intensified, a new current started to take root among the GIs. A section of Black troops strongly identified with Malcolm X--including his support for the Vietnamese revolution. Malcolm mocked the hypocrites in Washington who sent Black GIs to "get violent" in Asia. but demanded that Black people "stay nonviolent" in the Jim Crow South. Then, seemingly overnight, radical sentiments spread. Black Power fists and peace signs started to appear on helmets. Soldiers defied the haircut rules--afros and long hair started creeping out of the helmets. Many Black soldiers started greeting each other with the Dap--the power handshake.

In his book Giant Steps, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar describes what happened to a friend: "My man Munti, who had lived in my building, went to Vietnam all gung-ho. He was a point-man on patrol in the jungle and loving it. Then one day his squad walked right into a horseshoe, a classic Viet Cong ambush where they let you move forward until you're almost encircled and then open fire from 270 degrees. Most of the guys in his unit were hit, and Munti got a flesh wound, some shrapnel in the mouth. They were pinned down, some guys dying, when the VC stopped shooting and yelled to them, in English, `Why are you fighting us, soul brothers?' As quickly as the ambush had begun it dispersed. Munti went wild after that. His political awareness had been magnified a thousand times; his life had been spared. From then on Munti decided he just wasn't going to fight anymore."

A Black vet recalled: "Most of the people were like me...naive. We didn't know what the hell was really going on. Ho Chi Minh made a point that stuck in many of our minds. He said, `It's a civil war...' And it was obvious that we were the aggressors because we were 14,000 miles from home rather than vice versa. We were fighting Charlie in his own backyard. We didn't really feel that we were fighting for our country. Half the brothers felt it wasn't even our war and were sympathetic with Ho Chi Minh."

A favorite saying among Black troops in Vietnam became: "No VC ever called me nigger."

Ghetto Uprisings Reverb in the Military

A reporter at the besieged Marine base of Khesanh wrote later: "The death of Martin Luther King intruded on the war in a way that no other outside event had ever done...We stood around the radio and listened to the sound of automatic-weapons fire being broadcast from a number of American cities." The 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King sparked rebellions in cities across the U.S. Revolts, protests and "racial incidents" broke out on every U.S. military base in Asia.

Carl Dix, now the national spokesperson for the RCP, recalls those days: "I got the first draft notice in April 1968, a couple of days after Martin Luther King was killed and the rebellion swept the cities. I was in no mood to show up at the Army. I sent them a notice back and said I'm too busy right now. So then they hand-delivered me a notice saying I should show up in June--the people who delivered it said they were Military Police....I went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where they had a big sign, `Welcome to KKK Country.' We go by this sign outside the base and it's like, what did they get us into here?"

A Black Vietnam vet says, "What we experienced was the American Nightmare. We felt that they put us on the front lines abroad and in the back lines at home."

In several cases, the military was used to suppress Black protests in U.S. cities--sparking tremendous turmoil among Black GIs. An important mutiny took place at Fort Hood in Texas. On August 23, 1968, a hundred Black soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division gathered to discuss the situation. 43 GIs then publicly announced that if called they would refuse to go to Chicago for riot duty during the Democratic National Convention. Over half of the Fort Hood 43 were Vietnam combat veterans. They were arrested--and faced possible execution for mutiny. Given the explosive atmosphere in the military and throughout society, the brass decided to hush up the mutiny instead and the soldiers received light sentences and transfers.

Throughout Vietnam and the U.S. military, many Black GIs were gripped by a mood of FTA (Fuck the Army). They fought racist oppression. They refused orders to fight. They "fragged" gung-ho officers with grenades.

One white vet described what he saw: "The more they tried to pressure us into line the more they were losing it. They gave this one Black guy an Article 15 over his Afro. Boom, that was it. We all gather in one bunker--a whole big mass meeting. Everybody was pissed. `We gotta do something about this CO.' Some said, `Let's frag the muthafucker. Kill him.' Others thought that would just make things heavier. Only maybe a third of the guys wanted to kill him right then. So there was a compromise made to give the guy a chance. So somebody took a hand grenade and got into the officers' quarters, laid it on his bunk with a note, `Quit fucking us.' "

At one base, officers flew the Confederate flag and called Black soldiers "nigras." When Black soldiers announced they would not go on patrol under these conditions, the officer drew his pistol. Pvt. James "Brother Smiley" Moyler shot the officer with his M-16.

The Making of Revolutionaries

Carl Dix says, "I got orders to report for Vietnam on December 31, and on December 5 I hear that Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered. The Chicago Police staked the house out and about three or four in the morning of December 4, they shoot their way in and blow these two guys away. Then I hear the Black Panthers' side of the story and I said, `Wow, the police carried out a search-and-destroy mission in the middle of Chicago.' Later in the week they attacked the Los Angeles Panthers' headquarters and there were tanks and mortars set up in the streets of L.A. It's like this war isn't just something over there. It's over here too. And I have to decide which side I'm on. I decided then I couldn't be a part of the war in Vietnam. I couldn't go and fight for America."

Carl became one of the Fort Lewis 6--the largest group refusal by U.S. soldiers of orders to Vietnam. At his trial, the military judge refused to listen to the GIs, even ordered them to keep talking while he left for the bathroom. Carl Dix spent two years in Leavenworth military prison.

The Black Panther Party issued calls to Black GIs: "Either quit the Army now or start destroying it from the inside." One poll reported that 76 percent of Black soldiers supported Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver and were seriously grappling with the question of the armed overthrow of the U.S. government. Clandestine chapters of the Black Panther Party formed in Vietnam.

Carl Dix says: "Everything I had seen was telling me that everything that was wrong in society was because of who held power and how they exercised it. And that these people would never give up that power willingly. If I was really down for changing things, I had to be down for revolution. And this lesson was underscored when national guardsmen and cops murdered protesting students at Kent State and Jackson State Universities just before I got sent to Leavenworth for refusing to go to 'Nam!"

A Black marine told a reporter in Vietnam that guys were taking mortars back to Detroit by stashing them in their dufflebags. "You see that four-oh-deuce?" he told the reporter, "Now that'll take out a police station for you."

In the fall of 1972 Black sailors revolted on the carrier Kitty Hawk demanding an end to racism on the ship and a withdrawal of the carrier from the war. A month later 150 Black, Chicano, and some white sailors seized control of various parts of the carrier Constellation for 24 hours, fighting Marine MPs and gangs of backward whites, and eventually forcing the ship to return to its home port of San Diego.

In the early 1970s Black troops made up 30 percent in Army stockades and 53 percent of the prisoners in Air Force prisons-- while comprising only 12.1 percent of enlisted personnel in the U.S. military. Not surprisingly, the military stockades in Vietnam and the U.S. became centers of struggle. Carl Dix spent 15 months in solitary confinement for organizing a hunger strike in the Fort Lewis stockade.

On August 16, 1968 there was a major rebellion at the Marine brig at DaNang. Two weeks later 250 GIs rose up at the Long Binh Jail (known as LBJ) holding the prison for almost a month. Stateside, in 1969 there were rebellions at the military prisons of Fort Dix, Fort Jackson, three times at Fort Riley, Camp Pendleton, and others. At Fort Dix, one of the prisoner demands was: "Free Huey P. Newton, the New York Panther 21, the Presidio 27, and all political prisoners!"

Nearly a thousand GIs of all nationalities met at Germany's Heidelberg University on July 4, 1970 for a conference called by Black GIs--to discuss the war in Vietnam, U.S. military and economic activities around the globe, and racism in the military. Two months later, firebombs went off inside the U.S. base at Nellingen. About 100 Black and white GIs defied orders and marched through the base shouting "Revolution!" and "Join us!"

Two Armies

In much of Vietnam, the U.S. armed forces took on the appearance of "two armies": on one hand, the officers and those who still followed them, on the other hand, the GIs who were withdrawing from the war and involved in resistance. This split led to fights within units, especially in the rear areas--which were often called "racial incidents." In fact, the growing anti-imperialist understanding of the Black soldiers often spread to the white working class soldiers too. The Black and Latino GIs found comrades among the so-called "grays"--white guys taking a stand against the war and the system.

A white vet from a Pennsylvania steelworker family told the RW: "At Long Than North I got assigned to this Security Platoon. Our base camp was a small support operation--supply maintenance and artillery. The sergeant that ran the show was this Black dude named Sugar Bear. Right after I arrived as an FNG (Fucking New Guy), Sugar Bear pulled me aside, `We ain't here to kill no VC. We're here to fucking survive. If you want to be gung-ho, you're gonna die quick.' I said, `Hey, no problem, man.' We got along fine. Our platoon called our moves `Search and Avoid' patrols instead of `Search and Destroy.' When we were supposed to be out on night patrol, we'd go out about a quarter of a mile to this rubber plantation and hang out there all night. There wasn't much action basically because there was an unofficial truce with the local VC. About half the platoon was Black. The way it came down in the platoon was between the dopers and the juicers. The Black and white dopers were pretty tight--but even then they were separate in different ways like music. The Black guys listened to Motown and the white dopers listened to Janis Joplin--and Jimi Hendrix was where we all came together.

"One night Sugar Bear must have planned to clue me some more. He and some of his partners were goofing around. And he just yells over, `Hey, you ever hear of imperialism?' And my first take on it was Chrysler Imperial. I mean, I didn't even know what the word meant! I just knew it was a car. Something big, that's all. And they all laughed. And that's when he invited me to join these discussion groups they were having over the Black Panther Party paper. I'd seen the paper around, but it just hadn't clicked before. Sugar Bear used to get bundles of them--little packets in an envelope in the mail. After that was when I learned the accurate spelling of `Amerikkka."'

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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