After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, many American citizens, in a fit of revenge, were eager to join the war. When the Vietnam War broke out a few decades later, however, things were different. There was a wave of draft dodging and anti-war fervor that moved overseas with many soldiers being sent to fight.
Anti-war resistance in the US military became more organized and was known as the “GI Movement”. The roots of the movement can be found in the army and marines, later it spread to the air force and navy. At that time, the soldiers published a number of anti-war newspapers. According to Vietnam veteran and author David Cortright, more than 400 separate anti-war periodicals were published during the conflict.
Photo: American infantrymen in Vietnam in 1968 | Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
In some cases, the resistance went even further. Civilians set up cafes for soldiers who were against the war. Located near active military bases, soldiers could enjoy free coffee and live music along with anti-war magazines and posters. Most were short-lived, but others survived until the end of the conflict. Cortright reports that more than a quarter of soldiers serving in Vietnam admitted to reading an anti-war magazine or going to such a cafe.
But some members of the army were not satisfied with publishing anti-war newspapers. The acts of resistance included ignoring orders and leaving the base without permission, thereby becoming deserters. A book by Lawrence M. Baskir and William A. Strauss states that there was a 400% increase in desertion in the armed forces from 1966-71.
In June 1966, Private First Class James Johnson Jr., Private Dennis Mora, and Private David A. Samas refused to be sent to Vietnam. They were later known as the “Fort Hood Three” and were among the first US Army soldiers to publicly oppose the war. For many, their actions were “a turning point in the wider anti-war movement” and “the beginning of a rebellion against military authority and war”.
The large number of deserters had a significant impact on the armed forces. Richard Moser wrote in New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era that desertions “fundamentally limited military capabilities and contributed to the aura of chaos that hung over the armed forces in the early 1970s .” Some soldiers defied the war by ignoring the direct orders of their commanders. One of the most famous incidents was revealed in a New York Daily News article from 1969. According to it, a group of 60 soldiers defied a direct order from their commander.
At the same time as the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement erupted in the United States, and these feelings of resistance were carried overseas with the soldiers. Many African-American soldiers also complained of unfair punishments, menial assignments, and being denied promotions they deserved. After decades of making the same sacrifices as white soldiers and being treated differently, black soldiers had had enough.
This phenomenon was most evident in racial uprisings. One occurred in 1968 at Long Bình Prison in Đồng Nai Province, an American facility where soldiers convicted of various crimes were held. By August 1968, its capacity was nearly doubled, and more than 50% of the inmates were black. These prisoners felt that they were being punished more severely, which led to a riot in which one soldier was killed.
Another riot occurred at Travis Air Force Base in California. According to the Oakland Tribune, the riot began after a white airman kicked a black airman during a fight, bringing already high tensions to a boiling point. More than 600 airmen took part in the 1971 riot, and 135 people were arrested for various offenses during the four-day incident.
The worst cases of insubordination during the Vietnam War involved so-called fragging (from the word frag, which is a hand-held fragmentation grenade). This meant the killing or attempted murder of a soldier by another soldier, and the most common version of this act was an attempt by a lower-ranking soldier to kill a commanding officer. Fragmentation grenades, which were issued to members of the army and marines, were often used for this purpose.
Incidents of this nature became commonplace during the Vietnam War. Sources indicate that nearly 900 such attacks occurred in Vietnam from 1969-72. The situation worsened enough that officers began to change procedures. Some remained armed, or changed the way they slept to reduce the risk of attack.
In the early 1970s, the US government realized the devastating effects of opposition to the Vietnam War. When Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird visited Vietnam in 1971, he was said to be “shocked and dismayed” by the level of morale he saw there. Seeing that the ground forces were not in the condition they should be, the US began to request more airstrikes.
The situation in Vietnam influenced the thinking of President Richard Nixon and the poor morale is said to have caused him to try harder to hasten the end of the war. In 1973, the US formally ended conscription.