Dangerous Grounds: Antiwar Coffeehouses and Military Dissent in the Vietnam Era

By Ball, Blake Scott | The Journal of Southern History, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Dangerous Grounds: Antiwar Coffeehouses and Military Dissent in the Vietnam Era


Ball, Blake Scott, The Journal of Southern History


Dangerous Grounds: Antiwar Coffeehouses and Military Dissent in the Vietnam Era. By David L. Parsons. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. Pp. xiv, 157. $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-3201-8.)

The Vietnam War protest movement has received extensive attention in historical scholarship in recent decades. Many studies, however, have largely focused on civilian activists and their successes and failures in influencing the American public's opinions about the war. Here lies the significance of David L. Parsons's fine book. Dangerous Grounds: Antiwar Coffeehouses and Military Dissent in the Vietnam Era explores the efforts of some civilian activists to collaborate with and to provide a base of support for antiwar soldiers within the military, what some scholars have called the "GI movement" (p. 4).

This brief volume focuses on the founding, operations, and travails of twenty-one antiwar coffeehouses located near U.S. military bases. Parsons spends the bulk of this book on three of the most successful coffeehouses: the UFO near Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, the Oleo Strut outside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, and the Shelter Half near Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. The coffeehouses provided soldiers a safe place off base to gather and discuss the war with like-minded military men and civilians, to find counterculture literature and entertainment, to organize antiwar events, and to get access to legal and personal counseling. The author contends that these coffeehouses were "often a determining factor in the growth and long-term survival of local GI antiwar organizations" (p. 11). This may be overstating his case a bit, but Parsons does demonstrate the many ways that the coffeehouse network enhanced the GI movement. It is notable that two of the three major coffeehouses he focuses on were in the South. Parsons chronicles how the coffeehouses had to negotiate the unique culture created by the relationship between military base and military town, which was especially difficult with the very conservative social and racial politics of the late 1960s South.

Parsons's story is at its best when he delves into activist memoirs and his interviews with coffeehouse organizers and volunteers. …

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