Monday, April 10, 2017

Turn the guns around!

I just read a really really good book but I'm going to do it a disservice. I'm going to post some comments about it that aren't as fully thought through or comprehensive as they should be, some notes that don't rise to the level of a full-fledged review. Not because it doesn't deserve better--it does--but because of time constraints. Better to say something quickly, I decided, then nothing at all for who knows how long. So to my comrade John Catalinotto, author of the terrific new book Turn the Guns Around: Mutinies, Soldier Revolts and Revolutions, my apologies for the short shrift. To the rest of you, here's an even shorter version of my brief comments to follow: 

Read this book.
Why? For simple reasons.

First, it tells a story that very few people know. Second, this story is beyond relevant for anyone who is or wants to be engaged in the current wave of people's struggle--the resistance movement as it's now being called. There are rich lessons to be found in these pages. Third, because it will boost your morale--and who doesn't need that at this juncture?

Turn the Guns Around is mostly a history of  GI resistance during the U.S. war against Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. Its focus is the work of the American Servicemen's Union and the ASU's newspaper The Bond. Catalinotto was deeply involved in both the organizing and the newspapering, so this is a tale from the inside, with an insider's feel for the nuance and complexity but also an analyst's perspective on the big picture. The book delivers both ways. There are page-turning day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour depictions of key cases when active-duty soldiers and sailors defied the brass, refusing orders, refusing to deploy, refusing to fight. Interspersed throughout are what felt to me like the pumping heart of the book: dozens of letters from GIs published in the Bond. It all feels fresh, immediate, as if it happened yesterday instead of 50 years ago. 

Alongside the ASU's overall story, there are several chapters that shift and broaden the focus. These chapters are about the Paris Commune; the Bolshevik Revolution; and the revolution in Portugal with its connection to the national liberation of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. In each case, Catalinotto shows how the the role of soldiers and sailors was a pivot point, how the moment they threw in their lot with the revolutionary forces of the workers, peasants and oppressed was central.

Which shows what he's really up to with this book. This is not just a fascinating story of brave, heroic people, although it is certainly that. This is a political orientation. And a reminder. Overwhelming as the enemy's forces can seem with all their state power and military might, our side--the side of the workers and oppressed, whose ranks include all those hundreds of thousands of enlisted personnel--is capable of overthrowing them. We've done it before. We'll do it again.