Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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“Only The Fear Of Mass Action By Enlisted Men And Women Can Prevent Retaliation. Veteran And Civilian Support Is Imperative”
By Jonathan W. Hutto, Sr. GIvoice.org.
Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto is a founding member of Appeal for Redress. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an excerpt from Anti-War Soldier: How to Dissent Within the Ranks of the Military, forthcoming from Nation Books.
On November 9, 1969, The New York Times published an open appeal by 1,365 active-duty service members calling for an end to the Vietnam War and for no punishment for participating in the historic Vietnam Moratorium march.
The petition of these soldiers, representing 80 bases and ships throughout the world, had a huge impact and helped establish the (limited) civil liberties and rights GIs have today.
The members of the GI Movement risked their careers and personal security by signing this petition and participating in subsequent actions.
One of those signers was David Cortright, who went on to write Soldiers in Revolt, the definitive 1975 chronicle of the GI Movement. He was part of an activist group of GIs at Fort Hamilton, New York.
Thirty-five of the 60 personnel in his company signed the petition and several traveled to Washington, D.C. for the historic march.
I contacted David to arrange for a community meeting with some of my civilian and active-duty colleagues in June 2006 in Norfolk, Virginia. Its success led us to ponder whether something similar could be organized around the Iraq War. We wanted to build a movement where service members could express their dissent in a legal, constructive way. I began researching the rights and responsibilities of active-duty service members. The most comprehensive source I found was the website for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), which was very helpful in determining the limits for GIs in petitioning their government for redress of grievances.
I also found an old leaflet from the Military Project, an organization based out of New York, which seeks to educate active-duty service members about their civil liberties and constitutional rights.
The leaflet had several DOD directives that listed limited rights to express dissent:
DOD Directive 7050.6: Military Whistle-blower Protection Act
This Act is the foundation for the Appeal For Redress, our organization. It establishes that every soldier can communicate individually with a member of Congress and Inspector General (IG) without reprisal. Punishment constitutes a violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Failure to Obey Order or Regulation. Once a reprisal is initiated, the soldier can file a complaint with an IG and seek redress from his Commanding Officer (CO). If the CO fails to provide it, the military member has the right to file an Article 138 complaint against the CO seeking redress and restoration to the member of any rights, privileges, property or status to which the member would have been entitled had the wrong not occurred.
Guidelines for Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces: This directive explained how to conduct the redress campaign.
Distributing newspapers and/or publications: Soldiers can distribute newspapers—even ones critical of government—at official outlets on base such as post exchanges and military libraries.
Publication of Underground Newspapers: A member of the military may write for an underground publication if it is done off duty and on nonmilitary equipment. Articles in the publication may not contain slanderous language that is punishable under federal law.
Participation in political demonstrations: Soldiers can participate in political demonstrations while off base, off duty, in the United States, out of uniform and not acting on behalf of the military. Military members cannot attend demonstrations where violence is likely to occur.
DOD directive 1344.10: Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty: Military members:
may express their personal views on political and social issues.
may make monetary contributions to a political organization.
may attend political meetings, rallies, or conventions when not in uniform.
may write a letter to a newspaper editor expressing personal views on public issues.
are prohibited from making a contribution to and soliciting or receiving a contribution from another member of the armed forces or a civilian officer or employee of the United States to promote a political cause, including a political campaig
are prohibited from using contemptuous words against officeholders and government officials.
DOD Directive 1354.01: DOD Policy on Organizations That Seek to Represent or Organize Members of the Armed Forces in Negotiation or Collective Bargaining. Military members may:
join or maintain membership in any lawful organization or association not constituting a “military labor organization.”
present grievances concerning the terms or conditions of the service of such member in accordance with established military procedures.
petition the Congress for redress of grievances.
The Strom Thurmond Anti-Union Law
In 1976 the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) was considering a union drive in the military. The drive was based on the recent GI Movement and the American Service Members Union (ASU), the first attempt to organize a service members union within the United States.
At its height in 1970 the ASU had 15,000 members. Although it had all but disappeared by 1973, with GI activists being discharged and transferred in the thousands, the ASU was a bold example of the political potential of lower-ranking GIs (it was solely for lower-level troops).
Strom Thurmond led the charge to outlaw unionization and organizing within the military when he introduced S. 3079 during the 94th Congress. Before the bill was signed, the military made it law in October of 1977 through the establishment of DOD Directive 1354.1, prohibiting all forms of “collective job-related action” within the ranks and banning union solicitation on base. The directive prohibits soldiers from joining, maintaining or soliciting membership in a labor organization and from striking.
The Appeal for Redress, however, has shown that active-duty troops can express themselves legally to the government and civil society at large. Using the limited rights we have under the Military Whistle-blower Protection Act and DoD regulations, we mobilized more than 2,000 U.S. military members in 10 countries to send appeals to their congressional members to end the Iraq War.
But there are limitations to our work.
Commanders do not legally have to recognize active-duty organizations. Many soldiers are unaware of their political options. Most fear potential reprisals for speaking out. Not breaking any laws does not prevent retaliation by the brass.
Only the fear of mass action by enlisted men and women can prevent retaliation.
The Appeal for Redress is a model for a successful GI movement for the 21st century. Human Rights training in boot camp and the support of the veteran/civilian community are key to success.
Human rights training in boot camp. Boot camp is where service members must receive a firm grounding on all of their rights and responsibilities.
They must be educated about their rights under Article 138 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and their right to seek out an IG to correct misconduct by the chain of command and to appeal to higher authority if the wrong has not been addressed. These complaints are sent to the General Court-Martial Convening Authority, comprised of general and/or flag officers.
Unlike Equal Opportunity advisors, IGs are independent of the command structure, DoD civilians mandated by federal law to investigate and report to commanders on mission performance, discipline, efficiency and the morale of the armed forces. They do not have the authority to correct the wrong, but their findings carry weight with commanders.
Veteran and civilian support is imperative.
The appeal’s success was largely due to the support of major veteran peace organizations, which formed a task force that supported the troops in terms of supplies, contacts, legal support and overall coordination.
Civilian activists and community organizers were also instrumental.
The Military Project, a civilian organization in New York City, provided key support in their publications.
It is my hope that with the support of these peace activists, the appeal will develop into a permanent active-duty support network.
This network must work with influential, established nongovernmental organizations and members of Congress. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Amnesty International USA (AI) can be effective in helping GIs maintain, enhance, and become educated about their civil liberties.
The ACLU can help publish manuals that educate GIs on their rights; the NAACP can help organize hearings with the Congressional Black Caucus addressing the surge in Nazis and white supremacists joining the military. Former California Congressman Ron Dellums used his position on the House Armed Services Committee to investigate racism and other misconduct within the military in the wake of hate crimes committed by troops in the early nineties.
This type of advocacy is needed today from Congress. AI can help the GI movement by challenging the unionization ban using the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). Countries such as South Africa, Belgium and Australia grant their troops unionization rights.
The history of social justice movements demonstrates that when all legal means are exhausted, those seeking relief will use unsanctioned strategies if the government fails to act.
During the struggle for the abolition of slavery in the 1800s, the denial of Dred Scott’s human rights in 1857 led to John Brown’s raid in 1859.
During the Vietnam era, the brutality of Chicago’s police against antiwar demonstrators in 1968 led to a mass movement against the war. The Appeal For Redress gives our leaders the platform to address the concerns of GIs before they lose faith in their government.
By Jonathan W. Hutto, September 2007, Nation Books, ISBN: 1568583788
Navy Petty Officer Jonathan W. Hutto, Sr. enlisted in the United States Navy in January of 2004.
Two years later, along with a small group of fellow service men and women, he helped build one of the first active duty anti-war groups since Vietnam.
Drawing on his own experience as an activist, as well as the experiences of the GI resistance movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Hutto reminds us of the citizenship rights of active duty, reserve and National Guard forces, while providing guidance and expertise for those who wish to be heard.
In the short term, writes Hutto, the goal is to "mobilize hundreds and thousands of military members throughout the world to file their grievances and reservations with members of Congress on the Iraq War."
In the long term: "To build permanence with the formation of an Active Duty Network that can advocate on behalf of active duty members on a range of issues to all levels of government."
Hutto previously worked for Amnesty International USA as Membership Program Coordinator (MPC) for the Mid-Atlantic United States from May 2000 to January 2003. As the MPC, Hutto provided direction and guidance to over 250 student youth chapters. In the fall of 2001, after the brutal killing of Howard alumnus Prince Jones by a Prince George's county officer, Hutto initiated a police accountability project in Prince George's County, Maryland to combat police brutality which affected mostly Black and Latino citizens.
Before joining AI, Hutto worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area (ACLU/NCA) as their Community Outreach Director.
This article was originally published in the New York Times, February 28, 2007
In a small but growing sign of dissent, a group of active-duty military personnel and reservists, including many who have served in Iraq, is denouncing the war and asking Congress for the prompt withdrawal of troops.
The service members, who number more than 1,600, have sent an Appeal for Redress to their Congressional representatives, a form of protest permitted by military rules. Most of those who signed the appeal, at www.appealforredress.org, are enlisted soldiers in the Army, from the lowest to the highest ranks.
''There is a sense of betrayal,'' said Specialist Linsay Burnett, 26, who recently returned from Iraq with the First Brigade combat team of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. The division is readying for its third deployment.
''These soldiers stand up to fight, to protect their country, but we are now on the fifth reason as to why it is we are in Iraq,'' added Specialist Burnett, who has served as a public affairs specialist and as a military journalist focusing primarily on the infantry. ''How many reasons are we going to come up with for keeping us over there?''
The Appeal for Redress reads: ''As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.''
The protest, which was started in October by two active-duty service members and is sponsored by three antiwar groups, initially drew 65 signatures, growing to more than 1,300 by February. This week, after the CBS News program ''60 Minutes'' reported on the appeal, about 300 more active-duty soldiers joined the campaign, said Petty Officer Third Class Jonathan Hutto of the Navy, a co-founder of the group behind the appeal.
While the 1,600 make up a tiny part of the armed services, the appeal is one of the first official signs of protest from people within the military. An estimated 70 percent of those who have signed it are on active duty; the rest are members of the Reserves or the National Guard, and about 100 officers have signed it.
Describing themselves as supporters of the military but critics of the Iraq war, leaders of the appeal say they believe it is their right and duty under the Constitution to question the war and its mission, a position not widely voiced in the military.
Their decision to speak out and take their opposition outside the chain of command has been criticized by some veterans' groups that argue that soldiers are obligated to follow orders, not change policy. Critics also say that while service members cannot choose where they will be deployed, they can choose to join the military or not.
When the group sent its first letter in October, the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said it was ''not unusual for soldiers in a time of war to have some misgivings,'' adding that the group constituted a small minority of service members.
In a phone call yesterday with three signatories, including Petty Officer Hutto, the service members said their decision to appeal had not been taken lightly. The military does not allow service members to organize and frowns on dissent.
''The Army has many ways to make your life very difficult,'' Specialist Burnett said, adding that she had come forward largely because ''there are not many voices out there for the men on the ground.''
Jeff Slocum, a chief master sergeant of the Air Force who is scheduled to deploy to Iraq next year, said his high rank was one reason he had signed the appeal. ''I'm not antiwar, I'm not antimilitary,'' said Chief Master Sergeant Slocum, who added that the troops were feeling ''used and abused.''
That 1,600 service members have signed the appeal ''shows just how much we are willing to risk,'' he said. ''We are trying to raise awareness that we need people to be sticking up for us, because nobody else is.''