Peace Movement: Soldiers and Vets
When draftees, soldiers, and Vietnam veterans joined the peace movement, the protests moved from civilians marching on the streets to citizen soldiers disobeying orders and undermining the fighting capacity of the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Even as peace marches grew larger and more frequent in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the U.S. political system continued its escalation of the war in Vietnam. Harvey Richards recognized this deepening of the protest movement and photographed the actions that struck at the heart of the military machine.
The Stop the Draft Week demonstrations that began on October 16, 1967 in front of the downtown Oakland Army Induction Center opened deep cracks in the pro war political consensus and began the massive involvement of soldiers, on duty and as veterans, in the peace movement. Protesters arrived at the Oakland Army Induction Center to greet busloads of draftees reporting for duty with picket signs, victory signs and chants of “Hell No We Won’t Go”. Joan Baez joined the sit in in front of the main entrance to the Induction Center and was arrested along with many others. A massive police presence cleared the streets and sidewalks and then the buses drove up and unloaded the draftees at the main door. Two months in December, 1967, a second Stop the Draft Week protest witnessed protesters sit down in the street in front of buses loaded with draftees to prevent them (at least symbolically) from going to war. More draft cards were burned. Many were arrested. Even though the war machine had its way, the sight of open civil disobedience in the face of the patriotic hysteria in the midst of a shooting war shocked the nation.
In April, 1968, “GI’s for Peace” signs appeared in the large peace march in San Francisco. On October 12, 1968, GI’s for Peace organized and led another march to end the war in Vietnam. Active duty soldiers in uniform in full defiance of U.S. Army orders not to do that led the march and spoke openly at the rally in front of City Hall. The march reflected the increased numbers of soldiers rebelling against the war. During 1968, there were 155,536 individuals who were Away Without Leave (AWOL) from the U.S. Army. Of those 53,357 were designated desertions. On October 14, 1968, two days after the march, 27 prisoners in the Presidio brig staged a sit down protest over conditions there. Newspaper headlines read “Mutiny in the Presidio”. The sit down protesters sang “We Shall Overcome” and were charged with desertion with a possible death penalty. One of the Presidio 27 remembered the events here. The film “Sir, No Sir!” by David Ziegler is about these events. Harvey Richards’ film No Greater Cause filmed these brave soldiers speaking at the rally. David Ziegler’s film contains their reflections about their experiences 30 years later.
All images are copyrighted © Paul Richards 2001-2013.