Academic journal article Military Review

PROTEST AND SURVIVE: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War

Academic journal article Military Review

PROTEST AND SURVIVE: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War

Article excerpt

PROTEST AND SURVIVE: Underground GI Newspapers During the Vietnam War, James Lewes, Praeger, Westport, CN, 2003, 256 pages, $67.95.

"Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear," says Stephen Stills' 1966 song "For What It's Worth" (with apologies to protest songsters of the 1960s). This description largely applies to James Lewes' countercultural cri de coeur, Protest and Survive.

What Lewes actually wants to do is clear-rescue the so-called Vietnam-era "GI movement" from dismissal by the "establishment" of its day and by modern academic critics. In Lewes' eyes, military leaders regarded GI dissenters as fringe malcontents, while scholars have, at worst, overlooked them entirely or, at best, consigned them to being exotic subspecies of the 1960s counterculture.

To reverse these judgments, Lewes argues that those behind underground military newspapers were the vanguard of the "plurality of GIs [who] not only opposed U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia" but were involved in an active, organized resistance movement.

The evidence Lewes offers for his thesis is thin and at times even contradictory. He relies on some especially turgid critical communicationstheory scholarship, the self-serving reminiscences of various protest figures and "Gonzo" journalists, and the manifestos contained in 130 or so various underground GI newspapers archived in four university collections.

Although Lewes maintains that significant numbers of U.S. military personnel resisted the war, he has only his own wishful thinking to confirm this view. Indeed, at one point he flatly states, "It is impossible to accurately assess just how many GIs took part in anti-war activities." In recounting the saga of Roger Priest, an apprentice seaman assigned to the Pentagon in 1969, Lewes notes that Priest was the publisher, editor, and often sole contributor to his own "liberation newsletter"-hardly indicative of a mass movement.

Lewes perhaps anticipates such criticism, devoting a chapter to the military's "response and repression" that emphasizes the necessarily anonymous status of most uniformed dissidents. Unfortunately, this lands him in the predicament of propounding a nonfalsifiable theory. If the evidence for mass resistance does not exist, then it was either suppressed by "the brass" or the members of this supposedly seething underground were all cleverly hidden. …

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