Decades after the end of the Vietnam War, the impact on both Vietnam and the United States is still felt. Yet few Americans are aware that the conflict, which killed several million people, ended in large part thanks to the anti-war movement made up of, among others, 570,000 Americans that refused to be drafted to fight a war that many saw as immoral even then. Among those, 3,250 draft resisters–many of whom considered themselves conscientious objectors–were punished with up to five years in prison, including the anti-war activist and journalist David Harris. These valiant young men from a wide range of social classes are the subject of the documentary “The Boys Who Said No,” directed by Judith Ehrlich, who joins Robert Scheer on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss her film.
As Hallel Rabin stood before the IDF conscientious objectors committee two weeks ago, the military body that decides whether or not she would be sent back to prison for refusing to serve in the army, she was asked the strangest of questions: “Would you agree to wear the army uniform if it were pink?” “I don’t have an issue with the color,” she responded, “I have an issue with wearing an army uniform — regardless of the army.” A conscientious objector, Rabin was still in military prison for refusing to serve due to the army’s occupation policies.
It was June 20th and we antiwar vets had traveled all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the midst of a pandemic to protest President Trump’s latest folly, an election 2020 rally where he was to parade his goods and pretend all was well with this country. We never planned to go inside the cavernous arena where that rally was to be held. I was part of our impromptu reconnaissance team that called an audible at the last moment. We suddenly decided to infiltrate not just the perimeter of that Tulsa rally, but the BOK Center itself. That meant I got a long, close look at the MAGA crowd there in what turned out to be a more than half-empty arena. Our boots-on-the-ground coalition of two national antiwar veteran organizations -- About Face and Veterans for Peace (VFP) -- had thrown together a rather risky direct action event in coordination with the local activists who invited us.
Some National Guard and active-duty GIs are refusing to deploy to U.S. cities rising up against police-perpetrated killings, saying no to complicity in the repression of the American populace and that they have not been properly trained in riot response or de-escalation tactics on domestic soil. Veterans and GI rights organizations told Truthout that dozens of GIs are reaching out to assess their options as President Trump orders military and federal police onto the streets of Washington, D.C., and threatens to use the 1807 Insurrection Act to send active-duty military into cities across the U.S. if governors cannot repress dissent in their states. The National Guard has already mobilized 20,000 members in at least 29 states, and some governors, including Minnesota’s Tim Walz, have already declined Trump’s offer to send in military police.
Courage to Resist is currently assisting members of the National Guard who resisted Trump’s orders to violently attack people on the streets of Washington DC peacefully and lawfully protesting racial injustice. Now that Trump is threatening to use the 1807 Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops in cities across the US, it’s time for every member of the military to search their conscience. We want to make sure we’re there to support the brave men and women who continue to refuse these illegal orders. One Guardsmen who is resisting Trump’s orders originally hoped to join medical missions assisting in natural disasters. Addressing the current situation he says, “I can’t do it. Even looking at my uniform is making me feel sick that I’m associated with this...
It is a well-known feature of revolutionary history that the individual soldiers and sailors who make up the armed forces can be affected by the overarching mood in society and play a key role in the class struggle. The cramped quarters of Navy warships have been likened to “floating factories,” and given the proletarian background of most of their crews, these conditions can breed a fierce class hatred. Add a deadly virus to the already volatile mix, and the stage is set for a social explosion. In late March, after a port stop in Hanoi, an outbreak of COVID-19 began to ravage the crew of the US Navy’s Nimitz class supercarrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Routine safety measures were no match for the virus on a ship with 4,500 sailors interacting in close quarters. By March 31, as many as 200 members of the crew had tested positive for COVID-19—a figure that would continue to multiply in the following weeks.
If you decide to follow your conscience and refuse to obey orders that you believe are illegal or immoral, you will not be alone. Veterans For Peace will support you, along with other organizations who have legal resources and know how to organize political support. If you decide it is time for you to get out of the military, we can put you in touch with counselors who can help you to be honorably discharged. Most of all, as veterans of multiple wars, we strongly advise you not to do anything that you might regret for the rest of your life, just because you were “following orders.”