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Fort Hood, 1968 and 2009

Published Dec 5, 2009 10:22 AM

The following talk was given by John Catalinotto at the WWP National Conference, Nov. 14.

By any measure 1968 was a tumultuous political year. Millions of young people were resisting the war against Vietnam. The African-American people were in open rebellion against racism.

Second Plenary Session: Jobs and human needs - not banks, racism and imperialist war. Speaker: John Catalinotto.

The year before, in July 1967, rebellions broke out in Newark, N.J., and in Detroit’s African-American community. U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division were sent into Detroit. Forty-three people were killed and thousands injured.

In 1968, the Tet Offensive shook U.S. forces in Vietnam.

The upsurge was international. A workers’ general strike nearly led to revolution in France.

At home, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and Black rebellions erupted in 160 U.S. cities and towns.

Following Dr. King’s killing, some 5,000 GIs from Fort Hood were sent to Chicago. There the notoriously racist mayor, Richard Daley, ordered “looters and arsonists” shot on sight. At least nine Black civilians died.

By August 1968, Chicago was preparing for massive anti-war demonstrations set to confront the Democratic National Convention. When Black troops from Fort Hood heard they were being sent to Chicago, 100 spent the night of Aug. 23, 1968, in an all-night assembly of protest. When morning came, military police arrested 43 of the troops.

The soldiers had support. There was the coffee-house movement. And the American Servicemen’s Union—an anti-war and anti-racist GIs’ organization Workers World Party helped build—arranged for legal help. The ASU took a class approach to organizing the rank-and-file GIs against their officers and against the war. ASU chairperson Andy Stapp and I went to Fort Hood to visit the arrested troops and get the stories for publicity and to build popular support.

Fearing publicity and growing solidarity, the brass compromised, giving short sentences and letting many of the GIs off on a technicality. Ellen Catalinotto and I attended the October trial of the six troops the military brass considered the ringleaders. Two got three-month sentences, two got just bad discharges, and two were acquitted.

The mass resistance both to the war and to institutional racism continued to grow within the military to the point where units refused to go into combat. Once, in 1975, Black troops prevented a U.S. intervention in Angola.

Today, though many troops are unhappy, there is no open rebellion. There is no open resistance outside the military. Inside, there are individual resisters in today’s all-volunteer army.

The killing of 13 soldiers and officers and the wounding of 25 more at Fort Hood is, however, no aberration. It is an integral part of the last eight years of brutal wars of conquest. It brought the war home.

Maj. Nidal Hasan was reportedly distraught because he was recently ordered to deploy to Afghanistan. Born in the U.S. in 1970 of Palestinian parents, Hasan volunteered for the Army out of patriotism and later experienced harassment for being a Muslim, especially after 9/11.

Whatever Hasan’s motives or state of mind, the shooting took place within a political context. It occurred at a nerve center of a bloody and increasingly unpopular war. It occurred as Palestinian desires for their own nation have again been crushed. It occurred within a week of the FBI’s unwarranted execution of a Muslim religious leader in Michigan.

It is hard to predict the impact of the shooting on Pentagon war plans. Our anti-war movement should do the following:

• Resist any attempt to scapegoat the Muslim community in the U.S.

• Raise demands for jobs at decent pay for youth combined with the struggle against these wars of aggression, to eliminate the economic draft, and solidarity with all soldiers who resist.

The killings, apparently by a U.S.-born army officer who identifies with the victims of the imperialist war, expose a basic weakness of U.S. imperialism. We look to it as a symptom of the Pentagon’s political contradictions that may soon enough show up in other forms of generalized resistance.

End the wars now! Get U.S. troops out of the Middle East and Central Asia!