Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Army Pushback

As Jeff Sharlet’s Vietnam GI (VGI) circulated widely among troops stateside and in Vietnam, the Army began to push back, a clear signal the paper was hitting its mark. The first indication that VGI and its impact on the troops was worrying the military authorities (generally called ‘the brass’) appeared in VGI’s ‘Mail Bag’ for the June issue of 1968. Jeff printed the following letter from an Army legal officer in Vietnam under the heading “VGI RATTLES BRASS”:
Department of the Army
HQ 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
Office of the Division Staff Judge Advocate
APO San Francisco 96490*
*[The route for all mail to and from US personnel in Vietnam]

Dear Mr. Sharlet:

Some idiot who is editor of Vietnam GI … is using your name and is mailing his ‘writing’ to members of the Public Information Office (PIO) section of this Division. The personnel there have enough good publications to occupy their time and have no desire to read the filth and untruths published in Vietnam GI.

James A. Mundt
Major, Judge Advocate General [JAG] Corps
Division Staff Judge Advocate
At the end of Major Mundt’s letter, VGI’s editors commented: “Screw you. Let’s hear from the EMs (enlisted men) in the PIO section themselves.”

A month later, the JAG office of the 1st Air Cav, then based at An Khe in Binh Dinh Province, upped the ante. VGI was usually mailed with various real and fictitious return addresses from Chicago and New York to avoid unwanted attention from postal inspectors on the lookout for ‘seditious literature’, as well as company commanders (CO) in Vietnam trying to prevent ‘subversive’ material from reaching their troops.

In this case, a JAG Lt Colonel wrote to VGI’s East Coast distributor that the paper “does serious violence to the truth”, its “political philosophy is of no consequence”, and, with no hint of irony, that “people here are dying to preserve freedom of the ‘press’.” To stress that he considered VGI a danger to the 1st Air Cav, the colonel added a notation to the bottom left corner of his letter – “Copy furnished: FBI, 201 E 69th St, New York, NY 10021.”

The brass’s discomfort with troops reading VGI of course didn’t deter Jeff and the editors. On the contrary, more copies were printed and shipped to Nam (in plain brown wrappers under the radar), so the Army tried a new tactic – a training film.

During fall of ’68, a “Nam veteran” was handing out copies of Vietnam GI to new recruits at Fort Dix NJ and surprised to learn they already knew about the paper. Their CO had lectured the recruits, warning that VGI and other underground papers were trying to confuse them about the war, and then he required them to sit through a short training film on the subject. As one recruit described the film:

GIs go to a party – in their Class A’s [day uniforms],  dig? – and they meet some nice broads. Well these chicks ask the guys how they like the Army and they say, ‘Oh, it’s Okay’. Then one of the chicks shows them a paper called Vietnam GI and tells the guys that this paper is on the soldier’s side and against the officers.

Young woman handing out VGI at Boston Army Center ‘68

Another recruit picks up the story – the lights go up and the CO comes back on, telling them VGI is written by communists and intended to get them “pissed off about the war and the draft.”

In a kind of barracks epitaph for the Army’s pushback efforts, the GI added: “Personally, most of us guys figure [the CO] and the other lifers are running scared.”

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