The Troops Can't Dig Your Anti-War Demonstration

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. November 27, 1969, Vol. XIV, No. 59

The Troops Can't Dig It by Lucian K. Truscott IV

FORT CARSON, Colorado -- They came in bunches of five and six, some struggling against the gusting wind with banners and signs proclaiming support for the anti-war movement within the military, demanding improved conditions within the stockade and increased rights for the Army enlisted man. More than 100 strong, they made the turn off four-laned Route 115 and headed for the main gate to the post. An article in the Denver Post the day before had advertised their intent, and the Fort Carson authorities were prepared. A line of concertina barbed wire and a small phalanx of MPs met the protesters a short distance from the gate. The MPs were silent, stony-faced; the protesters noisy and unsure of themselves. The confrontation was under way.

In yet another of what has become a rash of anti-war demonstrations at Army bases across the country, Movement anti-war forces confronted Army authorities with demands on issues which, to them, are as black and white as MP armbands. The protesters' questions and their answers were as simple as the tactic of confrontation itself. How do you get out of Vietnam? You get out now. What about the "oppressed" GI? Rights. More rights. No specifics, just "rights." And the stockade? The prisoners there are political prisoners; they deserve improved conditions, and everybody knows that conditions there are bad. No mention of state and federal prisons and their conditions. No mention of Lansing State prison in Lansing, Kansas, where a recent month brought more than 20 cases of self-inflicted wounds in protest of conditions there. Easy issues: easy tactics. A demonstration, a confrontation, "in support" of the oppressed GI, "against" the war that he has fought in the past and will fight in the future. An object lesson in Movement refusal (or ignorance) of reality and self-indulgent action, for "action" as Abbie Hoffman once told me, "is pure information." "Show them through your action," he later wrote, and "if they don't understand it, fuck 'em, maybe you'll hook them with the next action." Maybe. But not this time.

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I got word of the demonstration the morning it was due to happen. "There's a big article about it in yesterday's Denver Post," a guy in my company told me. "Have you seen it?" I hadn't, and I wouldn't have if he hadn't alerted me. It was significant that I (as well as 99 per cent of the company) didn't even know about the demonstration the day it was supposed to occur, but more important still were the men's attitudes when I asked the question, "Say, have you heard about the demonstration that's coming off this morning?" Reactions ranged from total indifference to "Wouldn't it be cool to fly over and CS 'em!", CS being the most potent of the Army's tear gas. Not once was even a flicker of sympathy for the demonstration shown, and even as I explained the demonstrators' benevolent intent, comments were hostile or non-existent. The men I talked to were not what one would describe as especially reactionary; they were just some of the troops, many having served in Vietnam, most counting the days and looking forward to getting out of the "goddamn Army." From diverse backgrounds, they ranged in education level from college to grade school. But their opinions of the demonstration were as alike as their backgrounds were different. Why should some kid bother himself with what is essentially our business? And the war? Support for the NLF and denunciation of the U.S. effort did little to comfort the minds of men who had friends die 10 feet away from them. Demands for immediate troop withdrawal coincided with the sympathies of the great majority of the men, but the accompanying rhetoric had nothing but negative effects. Men who had fought and risked their lives in Vietnam had little respect for those whose symbolic speech merely reflected the fear the GIs had already felt.

The chasm between the intent of the protest and its effect on those in whose support it was perpetrated was as evident as the hostility of the demonstrators when confronted with the unthinkable: the GIs they yelled at across the barbed wire showed nothing but silent disgust. They were on duty Saturday afternoon because of a protest they could have done without, for had it not occurred they have been free to take advantage of what was to the protesters a "nice afternoon for a demonstration." In fact, as the demonstration wore on, the calls of the protesters degenerated from the likes of "We're on your side," to demands for a drink of water and parting cries of "pig and the self-reassuring ring of "We've made our point; by this afternoon, everyone on the post will know about us." Painfully absent was how "everyone on post" would regard the demonstration, or in fact, if anyone on post would even find out about it, save the troops who pulled extra duty because of it. Sadly, the V-signs flashed at me as I passed the demonstrators marching back up Route 115 somehow lacked buoyant and, in a way, proud peace signs flashed between GIs.

I approached a group of demonstrators at their formation point a few miles down 115 as they gathered to travel back downtown. My comments on the GIs' reaction to the demonstration fell on unlistening ears. I was shouted down with replies that included, "Well, they're all fascist pigs," and "Then how do you suggest we fight the establishment?" A good question, I thought, as I reflected on the afternoon's activities. Especially since the demonstration was evidently not anti-establishment, but pro-GI. Or was it both? The answer was rather unclear, as I turned and headed for my car, pondering the paradoxes which faced those who cared and those who were cared about.

A longhair raced up alongside me and thrust a paper into my hands. "Here. Take this copy of the Bond, the paper of the American Servicemen's Union. It's a national thingie." A thingie. Maybe that was it. Not a demonstration, not against and not for. Hostility and love in the same breath. V-signs backed by gritted teeth instead of smiles. And not just a thingie, but a national thingie. Yeah, I could dig that. But can the GIs? Can you?

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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