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Hardly Strictly Peace Movement

The CIA’s New York Times correspondent David Sanger reported Oct. 7 that Gen. William Westmoreland had requested “tactical” nuclear weapons to be shipped to Vietnam in February, 1968, for use if and when US troops were overrun at Khe Sanh. President Lyndon Johnson, notified by an adviser,  immediately nixed Westy’s mad scheme, which had been dubbed “Operation Fracture Jaw.”

Sanger quotes once-secret cables which, amazingly, Westmoreland wrote at the height of the Tet offensive, as battles raged far to the south of Khe Sanh and the NLF flag flew over the Citadel in Hue.

Buried in the Times story is the fact that Westmoreland also sought the option of using chemical weapons. What appears to be a belated exposé is also a cover-up in the now:

“Should the situation in the DMZ area change dramatically, we should be prepared to introduce weapons of greater effectiveness against massed forces,” General Westmoreland wrote in a cable [to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler, on Feb. 3, 1968]. Under such circumstances, I visualize that either tactical nuclear weapons or chemical agents would be active candidates for employment.”

In his great book, Hue 1968, Mark Bowden wrote:

Westy’s preoccupation with the vulnerability of Khe Sanh played perfectly into Hanoi’s plans. The buildup of NVA forces there had been a feint. the objective all along had been Hue and the other cities. Westmoreland had fallen for it so completely that even after Hue fell, neither he nor his superiors in Washington could see it, much less admit it.”

Commemorating the Presidio Mutiny

Westmoreland’s aggressive obtuseness was a factor in the decision to press mutiny charges against the 27 prisoners at the Presidio of San Francisco stockade who, on October 14, 1968, staged a non-violent sit-down to protest the killing of a fellow prisoner. The commanding general at the Presidio was a close ally of Westmoreland and out to show that strictest repression was the appropriate response to dissent. (During fiscal 1968 there were 53,357 desertions, 155,536 AWOLs.)

The first mutineers to be sentenced  —Nesrey Sood, Larry Reidel, and Larry Osczepenski— got 15, 16 and 14 years. An article about Sood by Barry Farrell in Life Magazine alerted millions of Americans to the level of unrest within the military and the madness of the brass.

GIs facing court martial are assigned Army lawyers and can also hire civilian lawyers. Terence Hallinan, a leftist San Francisco defense lawyer, represented 14 of the mutineers pro bono. “These are the children of America’s poor whites, a hidden class of people,” he said in one summation. “In peacetime they would never have been held in the Army, but because of the war  because the Army needs every body it can get— they couldn’t be discharged. The war is really so unpopular among GIs that the Army senses that if it started giving these discharges —CO, psychiatric— the floodgates would open and thousands of men would try to get out. Since they can’t let them out, yet they can’t use them in the field, they fill the stockades with them.”

Several of the surviving mutineers, with the support of the Presidio Trust, have organized a 50th-anniversary get-together at the stockade Sunday, Oct. 14. On Saturday evening Oct. 13, 7 pm at the Officers Club, five knowledgable panelists will discuss the significance of the mutiny and the ensuing trials: Randy Rowland, a conscientious objector who the Army considered the mutineers’ ringleader because Hallinan was his lawyer when he turned himself in; Brendan Sullivan, who, as an Army captain, defended Larry Reidel, and would go on to defend Oliver North and tell Senate investigators, “I’m not a potted palm —I’m his lawyer;” Notre Dame history professor David Cortright, author of Soldiers in Revolt (another great book, reprinted in 2005 with an intro by Howard Zinn); Jeff Patterson of Courage to Resist, the first service member to refuse to fight in Iraq); and Susan Schnall, a Navy nurse who has stayed active in the peace movement.

On October 12, 1968, Lieutenant Schnall was among the hundreds of active duty personnel who took part in a peace march in San Francisco that culminated in a rally at the Civic Center. Schnall spoke at the rally and was charged with disobeying an order (by being in uniform) and conduct unbecoming an officer (distributing leaflets for a rally allegedly intended to impair morale). At her trial Lt. Schnall insisted that her participation was protected by the First Amendment and in no way promoted disaffection. A prosecution witness from Naval Intelligence testified, “I heard her say that young men are being trained as killers and the Vietnam was is a dirty filthy war. She said, ‘End the war now. Bring the boys home. Bring the boys home alive!”

Schnall was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to six months at hard labor. But the Secretary of the Navy invoked an obscure policy of not confining women officers with sentences lighter than a year, and she was allowed to return to work at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, where the wounded sailors greatly appreciated her.

The Department of the Army also recognized that the Presidio Mutiny had turned into a public relations disaster and began reducing sentences. The mutiny helped open the eyes of the US Power Elite to the fact that they couldn’t rely on draftees to maintain the empire. Soon they would transition to a “Volunteer” Army, and later to Blackwater, and here we are today.

Commemorate the Presidio Mutiny! Saturday evening at the Officers Club, 50 Moraga Ave., 7-9:30 pm. Sunday afternoon at the stockade, 1213 Ralston Ave., 1-3 pm. Be there or be in DARE.

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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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