The Look Magazine article from 1968

LOOK OCTOBER 15, 1968 Volume 32, No. 21

THE

MILITARY’S

NEW

DILEMMA

PROTEST

IN

THE RANKS

By CHRISTOPHER S. WREN LOOK SENIOR EDITOR

We are tired about all the lies about war, the false ideals, the empty reasoning,” read the hastily mimeographed leaflet. “Even the most degenerate of animals don’t organize and institutionalize their quarrels. Man’s emergence from the dark ages is long overdue.” What put the U.S. Army uptight was that the authors were two draftees passing out 150 copies to other GI’s at Fort Ord, CA. Private Kenneth Stolte, Jr., and Pfc. Daniel Amick were duly court-martialed in May for promoting “disloyalty and disaffection among the troops and civillian populace,” and given four years at hard labor. The crushing of their revolt by the American military machine – in size, wealth and sheer destructive capacity, the most powerful organization In the world – would mean nothing were they the only troublemakers. But they are just two in a parade of uniformed men speaking their minds in a series of embarrassing trials. When one man is hustled off, another steps in. Among scores of cases, here are the most prominent: Capt. Dale E. Noyd, a 12 year Air Force Regular. Declined to train Vietnam bound pilots. Though he asked to resign his commission or be classified as a conscientious objector, the Air Force turned him down. It will dimiss him, after a year of confinement.

Capt. Howard Levy, a doctor with no military training. Would not teach Special Forces medics going to Vietnam. He was courtmartialed and led off in handcuffs to three years in prison at Fort Leavenworth. A sex diviate was recently paroled there; Levy wasn’t.

Pvt. Ronald Lockman, a negro. Said his fight was back in the Philadelphia ghetto. He refused to board a bus that would take him to his Vietnam-bound plane. He was given two and a half years.

“The military’s afraid the whole house of cards is going to fall in without a court-martial, says Charles Morgan, Jr.,Levy’s lawyer. Occasionally, the services play it cool. Marine Cpl.Mary Burns, a pert 20 year old blonde, wore sweaters and skirt on duty in protest  against Vietnam. She was court-martialed, then quietly slipped a general discharge. Those convicted usually end their jail sentence with an undesirable or dishonorable discharge, a handicap in civilian life. “There’s going to be a lot of dishonorable discharges before this thing is over,” predicts Donald Duncan, the combat-seasoned Green Beret master sergeant who made waves by quitting to work against the Vietnam war.

Almost imperceptibly, he closely woven fabric of military discipline is unraveling at the edges. Never defeated in war, the armed forces can’t quite cope with the peace assault.

Ironically, their troubles stem from what has built them up again: the Vietnam war. With the rise in anti-war sentiment in the last three years, the prestige of the military has been undercut. Congressmen and presidential candidates alike have assailed the American presence in Vietnam. Churches are supporting “selective” conscientious objection to unjust wars. Draft evasion counselors are putting in overtime.

A few NCO’s back from the war have also soured draftees. “We say we’re fighting for the Vietnamese people,” says an AWOL soldier, “but I never talked to a Vietnam veteran who cared for them. They called them ‘slopeheads’ and ‘slanteyes’. They respected the VC.” And the State Department’s careful logic looks a little-jerry built down where the fighting is. “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” says a medic out in War Zone D. “I’m not mad at anyone.” An infantryman coming home to Tennessee blurts, “I don’t feel we have any business over there, and most of the fellows in my outfit feel the same way.”

The disaffection has sent tremors up through the strata of command. “We’re not ignoring it,” says a Pentagon colonel, but it’s extremely small. There’s no indication the movement is taking roots.”

But it is spreading. At Ft. Meade MD 113 reservists sued for and were denied discharge from active duty. A month later 206 reservists at Schofield Barracks HI, also sued. In San Francisco nine soldiers “resigned” and chained themselves together before being hauled out a day later by military police wielding bolt cutters. At Fort Jackson, SC and Fort Ord soldiers collected for anti-war vigils at the chapel and were turned away by MP’s. GI’s ran a recent teach in at Berkeley. Sniffing opportunity, the New Left has moved in to set up a chain of anti-war coffeehouses for GI’s just off base: the UFO (Fort Jackson), the Electric Bakery (Fort Lewis, WA)  The Oleo Strut (Fort Hood, TX) and Mad Anthony’s (Fort Leonard Wood, MO.) Powerless base commanders fume, but for a private, it’s cheaper than the sleazy bars and more fun than checkers in the dayroom.

The American Servicemen’s Union is chipping away on the inside. “We are going to improve the Army the same way labor unions improved factories,” it promises. “And once we really get started we can demand higher pay, fair trials, shorter hours and better working conditions.” ASU officer Bill Smith – as a Pfc. he unloaded napalm in Vietnam – says “If we get enough guys , and they are angry enough, what the hell is the army going to be able to do?” Though he won’t divulge the ASUs strength, Smith says it covers 20 bases. The ASU also sends out 15,000 copies of The Bond, a newspaper full of enlisted gripes and ASU amens for choice reading in the chow line. Still, the rigid structure of obedience will never bust wide open. Complains an AWOL paratrooper: “You can’t resist inside the Army. They say you got all these rights, but if they want to send you to the stockade they can. Ex- Sgt. Don Duncan concurs; “Resistance inside the Army is romanticism.  The average GI just tries to get along.”

Most of those disaffected don’t want to assault the system. They want to leave it. Their pacifism is confined to Vietnam. There’s no such thing as selective conscientious objection, huffs an Army legal officer, but some servicemen think there is. They are supported by lawyers and clerics who see the Nuremberg war-crimes trials as a precedent for putting conscience above combat.

Francis Heisler, a civilian lawyer who handles military cases at Fort Ord, until 1966 represented about 40 civilian conscientious objectors for each one in the military. Now it’s five military for each civilian. “These young people know only one war,” he argues. “They cannot in be asked in fairness what they would have done 30 years ago.”

Today, trying to run a war that satisfies nobody, the American military looks to the draft-eligible cynics a little like a hired gun on loan to any regime that will croak “anti-Communist” loudly enough. The Pentagon regulars may never notice, the New Left partisans may never care, but the Vietnam malaise is rotting out the shining heraldry woven by American fighters for two centuries.

The Caissons Go Rolling Along sounded lusty in its day, if a little inane. The army retired the lyrics, then commissioned for itself new words no one can remember. But young men, before they are called for killing, want more assurance than new cliches to the same old tune. Out of uniform or in, more of them are picking up the disquieting cadence of protest singer Phil Ochs: Call it peace or call it treason/  Call it love or call it reason/  But I ain’t marching any more.

AWOL

IN

BERKELEY

PFC Stephen L. Murtaugh, 24, might never have gotten into trouble with the Army if he hadn’t started reading. With a B.S. in photography from Southern Illinois University, he was teaching at the Army Signal School at Fort Monmouth, N.J. when the expected Vietnam shipping orders came. Although at that time he had no thought of going absent without leave, he had checked out four books on Vietnam from the post library. They’d upset Murtaugh. He told himself he’d still go, photograph what he saw and bring home the evidence. He read other books.

Slowly, he realized he could never compromise that far:

We give the Congressional Medal of Honor to a soldier who threw himself on the grenade to save his wounded buddies, and he earned it. Yet we condemn the VC who attacked our Embassy as suicidal maniacs. We say the war is directed from Peking, yet Ho Chi Minh was fighting before China went communist. We say we’re fighting the VC because they want to set up a Communist government, yet we’re dealing with communist governments and trading with them.

* As written by Murtaugh while AWOL.

Murtaugh, a volunteer, had been a good soldier. He had qualified “expert” with the M14 and M16 rifles. As he mechanically made his way to Oakland, Calif., en route to Vietnam, he carried with his orders a letter of merit to his new CO. As soon as he got to his room in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel his first night in San Francisco, he saw Sp/5 Fred Chard on the evening news telling the press he was refusing to return to duty in Okinawa because he’d become opposed to the war in Vietnam. The incident moved him. The next day, Murtaugh reported to Oakland Army Base to draw his month’s pay. Then he took off – for Berkeley, which, unfortunately for the Army, lies next door. Berkeley’s dissidence draws many soldiers jumping shipment to Vietnam.

Pfc Murtaugh quietly became one of them:

I walked up and down Telegraph Avenue. I knew I was going to quit. I was really scared that day I decided to go AWOL. I felt tremendously guilty. I’d been brought up to think that serving your country was the honorable thing to do. I was outside of the law now.      * As written by Murtaugh while AWOL.

A soldier on the run can find friends in the underground community that fringes the University of California campus. Murtaugh was taken in by two students and shared their cluttered walk-up flat.He slept late, roamed the campus walks, snuck into lectures. Mostly he read more about Vietnam.

Offered help in escaping to Canada, he turned it down. His home, he insisted, was still the United States,

Muirtaugh was not alone. The Pentagon announced last May that 190,000 servicemen went AWOL in the previous two years. Like Murtaugh, 60,000 were gone over 30 days. The AW0L rate is much lower than in World War II, so authorities claim, in playing down the problem. Prosecution for desertion is rare and any AWOL with a field jacket, a belt, or dog tags can say he intended to return if he is picked up. “It’s not too uncommon for them to be a little late reporting,” soothes an Army spokesman. “We give them an Article 15 [minimum punishment] and send them on their way.”

But Murtaugh wasn’t about to cop out:

This war is unjust because there are no potential results which will make up for the magnitude of death and suffering Vietnam is undergoing…..ONl peace can offer the chance of a decent life for its people. My conscience demands that I work to end the war.     * As written by Murtaugh while AWOL.

After 29 days AWOL, Murtaugh was dropped administratively as a deserter from the roles of his unit in Vietnam. After 45 days he shaved off the drooping moustache, had his hair cut and uniform pressed, and, accompanied by three San Francisco lawyers, surrendered in Oakland.

He was court-martialed at the Presidio of San Francisco, busted to private and sentenced to six months. He was out in 8 days. The stockade, built for 39 prisoners, held a hundred.

Murtaugh had to make room for newcomers.

He applied for discharge as a Roman Catholic conscientious objector. After five months, the Army approved his request, one of fewer than two dozen approvals since 1966. Murtaugh might have been grateful enough to fade back into civilian life. Instead of returning to Dixon, Ill., he is remaining to work in the San Francisco Bay Area peach movement. If anybody ever thought that a discharge would defuse ex-Pfc. Steve Murtaugh, he was wrong/.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of