Sunday, December 29, 2019
When The Bolsheviks Went Into The Trenches To Stop Russian Continued Participation In World War I, Circa 1917
When The Bolsheviks Went Into The Trenches To Stop Russian Continued Participation In World War I, Circa 1917
By Lance Lawrence
[Sam when he was telling the story, Frank Jackman’s story, to his longtime companion Laura who knew some of the outline of Frank’s military service, had to bring her up to speed on some of the specifics which the reader may as well be interested in although Frank a few years early had written a detailed summary of the whole affair for the Progressive Nation magazine when they were doing a series on Vietnam veterans and wanted the perspective of an anti-war soldier who while in the military became a military resister. (While every serious civilian peace activist then, or now, honors those who “got religion” as Sam likes to call it on the issues of war and peace after their military service was completed the military is the special category that marks off this story from theirs.)
Here in quick outline is what Sam told Laura. Frank had been drafted in 1969 in the heart of the Vietnam War, had allowed himself to be inducted with a slight anti-war feeling but not enough to do anything else about so accepted induction in the Army. (Sam, just to set the record straight had been drafted in 1968 had served a year, actually thirteen months with a month R&R in Hawaii, in Vietnam as an 11 Bravo, an infantryman, a grunt, “cannon-fodder” as Frank would say, and saw other do, and he did things which still cause restless nights.)
About three days into basic training down south down in notorious Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia which all recruits go through Frank realized that he had made a big mistake, a very big mistake, since whatever seemingly slight anti-war feeling he had previously expressed had actually been a pretty powerful opposition to war but only had been awakened by the actual experience of Army life. Frank would always tip his hat later to those draft resisters who had formed their powerful opposition to war before facing induction and under the threat of several years of federal prison. Nevertheless, being no place where he could seek help and not sure what help he needed he went through both basic training and, and this is important, Advanced Infantry Training, the same training that Sam had gone through about a year earlier, meaning training as an infantryman, grunt, “cannon-fodder” as he came to call it. That meant no question in the post-Tet summer of 1969 when the Army was desperate for replacements after suffering heavy casualties and the only place on the good green planet when 11 Bravo skills were in anything like serious demand was in Southeast Asia orders to Vietnam. At the end of that training with a month’s leave before reporting to Fort Lewis, Washington for transit that was exactly what happened.
While home, still not sure what he was going to do, he got in touch with the Quakers up in Cambridge who he had found out were doing counselling for G.I.s in exactly his situation. The option presented which applied to him out of several not good paths to choose from, after a technical AWOL (absent without leave, a no no) to get dropped from the rolls for not reporting to Fort Lewis, was to turn himself in at the nearest Army post which was at Fort Devens out in Ayer, Massachusetts and apply for Conscientious Objector (CO) status. A long shot as the counsellor made clear but the route he had to follow if he expected relief. At that time the Army was turning down virtually all such applications whatever basis for the beliefs, sincere or not. Frank was turned down on the basis of his Catholic just war theory and moral and ethical objections none of which then were viable as reasons for discharge, and as the next step the Quakers had gotten him a lawyer who was very interested in testing these kind of Army turndowns in federal court on writs of habeas corpus. That was one strand of the Frank case which in the end would be the way that he got out of the Army via granting of a writ in civilian court and received an honorable discharge as a result since the court ruled the Army had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in turning down his admittedly sincere application.
The other more important strand, the one which makes sense of why Frank startled Sam by affirming his pride in what he had done in the military one night soon after he had gotten out and more recently reconfirmed several weeks ago was his increasing commitment to the cause of peace, to stopping the massacres in Vietnam. One day he decided not without feelings of extreme anxiety to join a demonstration those Quakers from Cambridge were putting on at the front gates to the fort. During the duty day and in uniform both illegal. That action lead to his first special court-martial where he drew and served a six month sentence, or rather almost six months with a couple of weeks chopped off for good conduct. Sam had to Laura explained some of the specific details of that case previously about how the military authorities pretty high up in the fort conspired to try to ship him off under guard to Fort Lewis for transit to Vietnam something that
was only averted by a time temporary restraining order from that federal court in Boston. Also explained how Frank in his defense of his actions in open court had read into the record Bob Dylan’s searing Masters of War which drove the judges apoplectic.
Stockade sentence one down Frank had clearly what he called “gotten religion” about war and peace during this whole process and almost immediately after he got out one Monday morning early on the weekly parade field where everybody lined up he came storming out of the barracks in civilian clothes carrying a sign “Bring The Troops Home.” That brought a second Special court-martial in which he drew another six month sentencing serving almost all of it before the writ of habeas corpus came through releasing him from the Army’s clutches. Otherwise Frank had mentioned one time he might still be in the stockade the way he was feeling and the Army was obliging him in his determination to break the chains holding him to the Army.
Another night Frank would tell Sam and some other friends that after he first turned himself in long before he served serious time he had felt relieved of the fear that troubles most people into thinking twice about doing what their heart tells them to do for fear of incarceration. He, not having been entangled with the law previously had had to stay in a naval prison cell in Boston subsequently a State Police holding cell before being transported to a short pre-trial detainment cell in the post stockade, after turning himself in as an AWOL. That very few days of initial imprisonment acted as a catalyst since a lot of the fear of jail time, which is nevertheless hard time to do no matter what anybody says, is a fear of the unknown and of stories heard from childhood about not doing this or that unless you wanted to wind up behind bars where they might lock you up and throw away the keys. The first taste relieves that anxiety. He made everybody laugh that night when he related how every freaking dumb-ass drill sergeant in basic training and AIT would warn their charges that any willful misconduct would wind them up in Fort Leavenworth, the maximum security hard-ass hard time place for the incorrigible. After surviving that first small bout, that mere taste Frank recalled that he would keep repeating to anybody who would listen- “hey, what do you want to do wind up in Leavenworth” when they threatened to put him away for keeps. A strange way to lose your fear of being locked up in the slammer but a nice cautionary tale. Lance Lawrence]
You never know, especially if you have lived in this wicked old world long enough, when some ancient memory long buried will come up and bite you. Not literally but make you sit up and take notice nevertheless. Take the case of one Frank Jackman, a writer, something of an inventor, and for our purposes one of those guys whom he, when in writing mode, has called a member in good standing of the Generation of ’68, a turbulent war time, roller coaster of emotion time which deeply formed many a baby-boomer. Oh yes and for our purposes since we will be speaking of war and what the hell to do about stopping it as we approach the final year of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the so-called war to end all wars, a full-fledged Army veteran. A veteran of a certain type not to be found in the cheap dollar a hard liquor drink bars adjacent to your local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting hall.
This is the way Frank told Sam Lowell, a friend from high school down in North Adamsville, south of Boston also a veteran but of the more traditional type, except also minus the cheap bar stuff one night over a couple of drinks at The Grotto in downtown Boston near the Seaport District. (A story Sam would tell his longtime companion Laura, Laura Perkins as well after setting up the story with a brief Frank Jackman introduction outlined above.) Frank had, as mentioned previously, startled Sam by opening up the conversation with a statement that he had always been understatedly proud of his Army record, what he had done for the cause of peace in his very small individual way, when, using old familiar language from their growing up poor Acre section of town, the deal went down. (Sam had automatically thought after hearing that sentiment that Frank should be rather than understatedly have been “understandably” proud of that record wishing he had done something similar when he time had come to face his demons.)
Sam was a bit confused by Frank’s comment nevertheless since while both men were Army veterans and whatnot they seldom of late had talked about those experiences much less what lessons Frank as the more political type of the two had drawn from that experience. He asked Frank why he had brought up that point since they long ago had agreed that Frank had done the right thing during his Army time (and that Sam to his everlasting regret had not but nobody pushed that point then or now). What had caused that recollection to surface once more was a recent “controversy,” what Sam usually called “a tempest in a teapot” when whatever the problem was it was minor in the great scheme of things. This would prove the case as well but Sam could see where Frank would be incensed by the implications of what went as a result of that minor event in the great scheme of things.
Of all things almost fifty years later the big deal was over Frank’s discharge, his official DD214 which for all military personnel is the summation of one’s service time and discharge. What enabled you to be called veteran by friend and foe alike, and what entitled you to certain governmental benefits reserved for those in veteran status. If you can believe this would come up with what you already know from above about whether he was even a veteran. Sam gasped in disbelief but held up comment because he wanted every gory detail of this charge.
Both men, each from a different place but each having “gotten religion” on the issues of war and peace, began shortly after Frank’s discharge which was later than Sam’s to work with various anti-war veteran groups like the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Sam did that kind of work for a while and even today if Frank asks him he will show up at an anti-war rally against American aggression in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or the ever-growing threat of war in places like Iran and North Korea. But mostly he was bogged down with work, with three ex-wives and a parcel of kids who almost broke him with college tuition and left the politics to Frank. Frank as well would have periods of political inactivity due to a lot of the same reasons Sam had except he would stick with it more for the long haul-those periods of inactivity he called an “un-armed truce” with the war-monger. Particularly Frank (and Sam for a longer while than usual having finally gotten that parcel of well-behaved kids through college which had nearly broken him having a little more free time) became incensed and energized over the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Iraq invasion of 2003 and wound up joining the local chapter of another veteran’s peace group, Veterans Peace Action (VPA), in Boston. And that is where “the rubber hit the road” as one of Sam’s expensively-trained at his almost breaking point expense college boys would say.
Frank, as anybody who read the introduction could see a mile away, once he is committed to something is in “all the way.” That was his approach to VPA once he decided to join up. That joining up process as previously with VVAW and other later organizational affiliations meaning no paper membership but an activist’s commitment and for a few years, several years actually, there was no problem, no political problem. When Frank had joined he had specifically joined the local VPA chapter since there was an option to join the local, the national organization or both. He opted for the local since he felt, and still feels that the national organization is something that he would be merely a paper member of which did not interest him in the least. Things seemed okay until a local member with ties the national organization who let’s call him as Frank did “the Inquisitor-General” began an individual campaign a few years ago directed mainly at Frank declaring that he was not a member of VPA since he has not, had never, paid dues to National (he did faithfully to the local chapter as well as contribute extra funds for various campaigns another usual step when he was “all in”). The Inquisitor-General as it turned out was right when Frank checked that matter out. Was right as far as that fact went although the local held to its long-time which was reaffirmed in their subsequently enacted by-laws that one could be a local member without being a National member as long as one, with various hardship exceptions, paid local dues. Mostly bureaucratic hokum as the whole thing drifted like smoke from his mind.
Not so the Inquisitor-General (let’s call him to save cyberspace I-G for simplicity’s sake hereafter). He would periodically badger Frank about his “non-membership” usually via e-mail since while the I-G may have been an organization stickler he played other than poster child “thorn in the side” no active role in the local organization. Had his base of support to the extent that he had any in the national office VPA bureaucracy. Then about a year ago the I-G amped up his campaign, decided for his own nefarious reasons or his own delusions, or maybe both, that if Frank didn’t apply for National VPA membership which required proof of military discharge, that vaunted DD214 that he was “hiding” something ( that proof of discharge a requirement of the local chapter as well but being a looser not as well organized volunteer organization with fewer resources and less procedural hurtles had never asked Frank, or many others for that matter, for discharge papers upon becoming members). He was hiding something, something nefarious in a veterans’ organization of any stripe, that he was possibility not a veteran. Frank sensing a twisted turn in events in order to protect himself had quickly contacted the State Adjutant-General’s Office to get a copy of his discharge since he no longer had a copy at home. A few days later it came via e-mail and he forwarded that copy to the local executive committee which was the appropriate place to verify his status under normal circumstances. End of story as Sam was famous for saying.
Not quite, actually not by a long shot. The I-G as far as Frank could tell never pressed the issue further that year. Several weeks ago the I-G again pressed the issue not only to Frank but to the Executive Committee once again defaming Frank as possibility not a veteran. The executive committee or the members who overlapped from the previous year told the I-G that they had seen Frank’s discharge and that was that. As you now know that was not the case. The I-G essentially defaming the committee in the process wanted a copy of the discharge which he as a merely marginal member of the local VPA was emphatically not entitled to view for privacy reasons among others. He kept up a drumbeat including to Frank to produce the DD214 although Frank had a long-standing policy of not responding to anything from the I-G for any reason after few blow-outs a few years previously. On this particular issue Frank was adamant that he needed no “good conduct certificate” by the I-G (or any other entity including the local and National branches of VPA) as a stand-up anti-war soldier. Without going further into the silly rather continuously repetitive details at some point not yet concluded the Executive Committee started expulsion proceedings against the I-G and Frank has retained a lawyer to begin a defamation suit in Massachusetts court.
During this whole nightmarish Kafkaesque/1984 process Frank had a chance to think through not only his pride in his individual actions against the American war machine during the Vietnam War but his changing attitude not toward the personal actions themselves but to their effectiveness. That is in a sense the real reason, if one was necessary since the question of discharge for him was finished the day he received his discharge back in February of 1971, Frank had kept his personal history “on the low” as they say in another context. That leads us finally to the title of this piece, the why of the Bolshevik way to stopping war in its tracks at the soldier, grunt, cannon-fodder on the ground.
You see, and the first time Sam heard Frank mention this he freaked out, Frank has come to believe that pride or not he should have when ordered to Vietnam gone there and seen what he as an anti-war soldier could do to stop the war “in the trenches” taking a phrase from World War I. His later model the Bolsheviks, at that 1969 time their anti-war policies unknown to him, who Frank thought correctly ordered their male members if inducted or dragooned into the Czarist armies to accept that induction under penalty of expulsion from the organization (a policy of later Bolshevik-descended organizations including the Communist and Socialist Workers parties in their better days in the United States).
Not for the Bolsheviks the refusal of the draft notice as occurred in America with wide-spread refusal on an individual basis. Refusal by the kind of politically adept young men whom if they had been inducted and accepted orders to Vietnam en masse could have perhaps shifted the balance. Shifted it even more drastically than in the actual case where the American Army in Vietnam in 1969 no end in sight, no victory in sight, nothing but useless deaths in sight was half-mutinous. Had, as individual soldiers Frank met in VVAW and VPA would confirm from refusal to go beyond the minimum ordered march to FTA on their helmets to laying wasted under marijuana and other refined killer drugs. Was an army even to, maybe especially to, the top generals, a spent force and which would take an all- volunteer and several years to put back into fighting trim.
Such actions by those young men, by Frank, might have shortened the war by years. Of course such speculation would depend on whether such numbers would have been permitted to go, whether in Frank’s individual case he would have landed in a unit that would listen to him, whether he might like many others have landed in mutinous Long Binh Jail (LBJ). One thing Frank knew as this 100th anniversary of the last year of the First World War was coming into focus collective action beat individual acts of conscience six, two and even. He laughed as he thought about how insignificant the I-G’s nonsense mattered in the great scheme of things except he had to be stopped in his tracks like any other miserable wannbe big fish in a little pond. Somethings never change.