[sixties-l] Winter Soldier video / GI coffeehouses/movement

From: Kim Heikkila (heik0012@tc.umn.edu)
Date: Sun Jun 18 2000 - 17:56:23 CUT

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    Hello-- I have a suggestion, a comment, and a query:

    The suggestion: For those of you interested in the Winter Soldier hearings
    of 1971 and the film that was made of them, I recommend you check out
    VVAW's website, from which you can order a copy of the video _Winter
    Soldier_. I did, and used it in a class I recently taught on the
    US-Vietnam War. Here's the website address:

    The comment: I have been following the recent threads about 1) if and how
    we should memorialize veterans' wartime service and 2) the GI coffeehouse
    movement with great interest. Both of these issues are central to my
    dissertation, which is an oral history of women veterans of the US-Vietnam

    I have run right up against the first issue as I interview women veterans,
    all of whom volunteered for military duty, but not all of whom volunteered
    to go to Vietnam. I'm finding it a challenge to try to balance a
    recognition of their service with a/my political critique of the war
    itself. On one hand, given the fact that there are some very material
    benefits associated with military service and that these have long been
    denied to or delayed for women, I think that recognizing -- and rewarding
    -- their work is important. On the other hand, I don't want that
    recognition to be read as support for US policy in Vietnam. Some of these
    women, like a good number of their male counterparts, came to vehemently
    oppose the war as a result of their service; others supported US military
    intervention and continue to do so to this day. I suppose it comes down to
    whether we want to allow everybody equal access to/opportunity in "the
    system" as it is, or try to revamp the system itself. While I'm all for
    the latter, it seems something needs to be done to ensure the former in the
    meantime, without, somehow, losing the forest for the trees.

    I'm not quite sure what else I have to say on the matter at this point.
    Except, perhaps, that I think that the insights of both Joe McDonald and
    Jeffrey Blankfort (and others) are, in some ways, part and parcel of the
    same thing. The very fact that it was not necessarily love of country or
    patriotism (JB) that led so many men and women to volunteer for military
    service means that we should be all the more careful not to dismiss
    military personnel as "'just GIs who [don't] know how to spell'" (JF as
    cited by JM). In addition to the many reasons JB cites for enlisting --
    machismo, proving oneself, alternative to jail time, etc. -- many people
    volunteered (not to mention were drafted; Project One Hundred Thousand in
    particular comes to mind) for military duty as a way to counteract the
    pressures of economic exploitation, racism, or sexism -- rightly or
    wrongly, to good or ill effect. From what I've heard so far from the women
    I've spoken to, patriotism and support for the war itself were far down on
    the list of motivating factors. Getting a job with pay decent enough to
    support themselves or their families or to pay for college/nursing school,
    wanting to be treated like "everyone else," breaking the tradition that
    demanded women stayed home and raised kids, taught, typed, or nursed
    (ironically, of course, they often found themselves engaged in just these
    kind of activities in the military)...these are the reasons women joined
    the military and yes, sometimes, volunteered to go to Vietnam.

    I'm not sure where I fall on the to-memorialize-or-not debate; recognizing
    or understanding a phenomenon is something different than memorializing it,
    I think. At any rate, I think that explaining military service only in
    terms of obedience -- to country or custom -- misses the mark, precisely
    because of the myriad other factors that contributed to wartime service.
    So, before we decide how we'll judge or remember servicepeople's service,
    we need to be sure we understand it as an expression of very complicated
    social issues, not just pro- or anti-war or -country sentiment. I think
    this is especially true when considering women's service, especially in
    light of the pervasive "machismo" and "male bonding" that characterizes
    military service.

    The query: Which leads me to my question about topic #2, the GI movement.
     First of all, let me acknowledge that I posted this very query on the list
    some time ago. Thanks to all of you who responded so generously. I have
    not forgotten you or the information and assistance you offered. Since
    then, however, my dissertation has taken on a slightly different shape,
    moving from a focus on women in the GI movement only, to women veterans of
    the Vietnam War in general. I have spent the past year interviewing women
    veterans, very few of whom had even heard of anything called the GI
    movement, much less were part of it. I am still going to include a chapter
    about women who were involved in the antiwar GI movement, however, and need
    to reconvene my search for them. I am hoping that perhaps we might have
    some new members who might be able to help me on this. I am interested in
    talking to women who were involved in the GI movement (coffeehouses,
    papers, demonstrations, unions, etc). I know women were actively involved
    in organizing GIs around issues of military justice, race, class, the war,
    and gender. While I have made contact with several civilian women
    activists, I am really interested in finding military women who were part
    of the movement. I know they are out there, somewhere -- I've seen their
    names and words in the underground GI papers. I just am having a heck of a
    time finding them. If anyone either knows any military women who were part
    of the movement, or has ideas about how I might find such women, I would be
    most grateful for your insights!

    Thanks --
    Kim Heikkila

    Doctoral Candidate
    Program in Ameircan Studies
    University of Minnesota

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