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A friend who was in the U.S. military during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War told me that before President G.H.W. Bush visited the troops in Saudi Arabia, enlisted men and women who would be in Bush's immediate vicinity had their rifle and pistol ammunition taken away from them. This was supposedly done to avoid “accidents.” But it was also clear to people on the scene that Bush and his corporate handlers were somewhat afraid of the enlisted people who Bush would soon be killing in his unsuccessful re-election campaign.

The suppressed history of the last big U.S. war before 'Operation Desert Storm' shows that the Commander-in-Chief had good reason to fear and distrust his troops. Our rulers want us to forget what happened during the Vietnam war -- especially what happened inside the U.S. armed forces during the war. Our rulers remember it all too well. They want us to forget what defeated their war effort, and the importance of resistance to the war by enlisted men and women.


Revolutionary unrest doesn't happen every day, but when it does break out, it can overcome the most powerful states with a surprising and improbable speed, and the collapse of the repressive forces of the state is a key moment in the beginning of a new way of life. It's an ugly fact that war and revolution were intimately linked in the most far-going social movements of the 20th century. With the U.S. governments' self-appointed role as the cop for global capitalist law and order, it's likely that the crisis that will cause an irreparable break between the rulers and the ruled in the United States will be the result of an unsuccessful war. That day may soon be upon us. At that point, widespread fraternization between anti-capitalist radicals and enlisted people will be crucial in expanding an anti-war movement into a larger opposition to the system of wage labor and commodity production that generates wars, exploitation, poverty, inequality and ecological devastation. An examination of what happened to the U.S. military during the Vietnam War can help us see the central role “the military question” is going to play in a revolutionary mass movement in the 21st century. It isn't a question of how a chaotic and rebellious civilian populace can out-gun the well-organized, disciplined armies of the capitalist state in pitched battle, but of how a mass movement can cripple the effective fighting capacity of the military from within, and bring about the collapse and dispersal of the state's armed forces. What set of circumstances can compel the inchoate discontentment endemic in any wartime army or navy to advance to the level of conscious, organized resistance? How fast and how deeply can a subversive consciousness spread among enlisted people? How can rebels in uniform take effective, large-scale action against the military machine? This effort will involve the sabotage and destruction of sophisticated military technologies, an irreversible breakdown in the chain-of-command, and a terminal demoralization of the officer corps. The “quasi-mutiny” that helped defeat the U.S. in Vietnam offers a significant precedent for the kind of subversive action working people will have to foment against 21st century global capitalism and its high-tech military machine.

As rampaging market forces trash living conditions for the majority of the world's people, working class troops will do the fighting in counter-insurgency actions against other working class people. War games several years ago by the Marines in a defunct housing project in Oakland, dubbed 'Operation Urban Warrior,' highlight the fact that America's rulers want their military to be prepared to suppress the domestic fallout from their actions, and be ready to do it soon. But as previous waves of global unrest have shown, the forces that give rise to mass rebellion in one area of the globe will simultaneously give rise to rebellion in other parts of the world. The armed forces are vulnerable to social forces at work in the larger society that spawns them. Revolt in civilian society bleeds through the fabric of the military into the ranks of enlisted people. The relationship between officers and enlisted people mirrors the relationship between bosses and employees, and similar dynamics of class conflict emerge in the military and civilian versions of the workplace. The military is never a hermetically sealed organization.

Our rulers know all this. Our rulers know that they are vulnerable to mass resistance, and they know that their wealth and power can be collapsed from within by the working class women and men whom they depend on. We need to know it, too.

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