By David Cortright
One of the least known but most important chapters in the history of America’s encounter with Vietnam was the internal rebellion that wracked the U.S. military. From the Long Binh jail in Vietnam, to Travis Air Force Base in California, to aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, the armed forces faced widespread resistance and unrest. Throughout the military morale and discipline sank to record lows. Antiwar committee and underground newspapers appeared everywhere.1 Unauthorized absence rates reached unprecedented levels: in the Army in 1971 there were seventeen AWOLs and seven desertions for every one hundred soldiers.2 Harsher forms of rebellion also occurred—drug abuse, violent uprisings, refusal of orders, even attacks against superiors. The cumulative result of this resistance within the ranks was a severe breakdown in military effectiveness and combat capability. By 1969 the Army had ceased to function as an effective fighting force and was rapidly disintegrating. The armed forces had to be withdrawn from Indochina for their very survival.
The strongest and most militant resisters were black GIs. Of all the soldiers of the Vietnam era, black and other minority GIs were consistently the most active in their opposition to the war and military injustice. Blacks faced greater oppression than whites, and they fought back with greater determination and anger. The rebellions that shook American cities like Watts, Newark, and Detroit erupted at major military installation just a few years later. The result was a military tom by racial rebellion.