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Derek McMillan

Vietnam War:Soldier Rebellion

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However, soldiers who have experienced combat are almost always "anti-war"."

Peter Taaffe's book "Empire Defeated" comments at some length on "fragging" - the targeting of particularly dangerous officers by their own troops. The officers "accidentally" getting in the path of fragmentation grenades. He also details more conventional antiwar protests among GIs.

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In my experience (1968-1969) "protest" took much less extreme forms. There were no "fraggings" in my battalion. I have a sense that "fragging" has been exaggerated.

Our "protests" took the form of not going out into Night Defensive Positions and calling in as if we had done so. This deserves some explanation. I was guarding a bridge with 9 other marines. We were already grossly understrength to face a determined attack by the VC, and yet the battalion command post wanted us to send 2-3 guys out into the rice paddies after dark to set up NDP's; which would only further dilute what strength we had. So we called in as if we had done this, and then stated that we were going to observe "radio silence" while we were "out there" - all the time staying back on the bridge in a position with some decent defenses. I think a lot of "protest" took that form. And it wasn't really protest in the sense of this thread - it was simply trying to use some common sense to stay alive.

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Mike's post about keeping alive in Vietnam reminds me of my grandad's experiences as a soldier. He lied about his age and enlisted in the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers in 1912 to escape from the poverty of northern England and was sent straight out to China to fight the Boxers. By 1914 he was in India, and was shipped to Gallipoli in 1915. After that, his regiment fought in just about every major battle on the Western Front (well … it was an Irish regiment, wasn't it, so it just happened to find itself on the front line all the time).

His war ended when he went on leave (he was wounded in the leg) in April 1918, arriving in Folkestone on the next boat in after the mutiny started (not many people are aware that the British Army mutinied in Folkestone after the April 1918 German offensive). The MPs were trying to isolate the mutineers, so they pushed the soldiers arriving from France on to the first available trains. My grandad ended up in Sheffield, and by the time the chaos had settled, the war was almost over, so he was told to stay where he was.

My grandad started the war as a private and ended as a sergeant. He hated Earl Haig all his life for the unconscionable loss of life his tactics caused, and refused ever to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. His own feeling was that World War 1 lasted as long as it did because it took all that time for the stupid officer corps to be wiped out, so that the ordinary soldiers could get on with fighting it properly!

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One of the most controversial battles that took place during the Vietnam War was the one fought for 'Hamburger Hill'. For ten days 600 men attempted to take this hill from the NLF. By the time they had obtained their objective, 476 of the US troops had been killed or wounded. After holding the hill for a day, Lieutenant-Colonel Weldon Honeycutt, the commander responsible for the operation, ordered the men to withdraw.

US soldiers were so angry about these unnecessary deaths that money was raised to pay for the assassination of Honeycutt. Shortly after the assault on 'Hamburger Hill', the soldiers' underground newspaper in Vietnam offered a $10,000 bounty on Honeycutt. Despite several attempts on his life, Honeycutt survived.

It has been admitted that between 1969 and 1971 there were 730 attempts by US soldiers to kill unpopular officers, of which 83 were successful. However, these figures only take into account the cases that were reported and investigated. It has been estimated that the actual figures were very much higher than this.

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The British Military often opposed conscription when diehard Tories were calling for its restoration. This is beacuse of the "unreliability" of conscript troops.

During the little local difficulties in the Soviet Union when the army tried to take over from Gorbachev there was a telling interview on Radio Four in which a Ministry of Defence expert derided the "unprofessionalism" of the Russian army by which he explicitly meant their unwillingness to fire on Russian civilians!

I am unsurpised that the elite Marines (celebrated in Tom Lehrer's song) took a different attitude from other conscript troops. I would be unsurprised if a number of "fragging" incidents went unreported....The whole idea is that if you eliminate officers it is supposed to look like an accident or enemy action.

I am also interested in the perception that British Imperialism always sent in the Irish or colonial troops as a human shield in the front line. There is a growing feeling that the puppet Iraqi police and the British, Polish, Japanese "allies" are being used in the same way today. It may or may not be true but the perception itself is important.

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