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Your Military Left: San Antonio’s Underground GI Newspaper

October 6, 2015

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Between 1967 and 1971, American GIs stationed on military bases across the world, wrote, produced, published and distributed over 130 newspapers.[1] These newspapers, edited and written anonymously and often distributed clandestinely, offer a unique window on the activities and thoughts of many servicemen who opposed the US intervention in Southeast Asia and found the situation in Vietnam intolerable.

Often using generic military commands as titles (Your Military Left, About Face!, All Ready on the Left, Fall in at Ease, As You Were), the papers not only deliberately subverted traditional military ethos, but also alerted potential readers to the contents and sentiments expressed within the pages. The reader’s interests dictated the papers’ contents and, not surprisingly, GI publications often solicited written and financial contributions from their readers and subscribers.[2]

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Inside, the newspapers offered a space for disaffected soldiers to voice their grievances against those who controlled and commanded their lives (“the brass”), question and criticize the logic and progress of the war, and join other anti-war and civil rights activists in struggle for peace, justice and human dignity.

UTSA Special Collections has recently acquired two issues of a GI –produced underground newspaper from San Antonio. Your Military Left was a monthly newspaper, published at Fort Sam Houston. Between July 1, 1969 and May 1, 1973, the enlisted men stationed at Fort Sam Houston, published 20 issues of the paper. It was distributed in local San Antonio stores such as “Joint Effort” on Broadway near Brackenridge, the “7th House” on Hildebrand just west of San Pedro, and “US” on Main Ave near San Antonio College where San Antonio counterculture crowds shopped and hung out throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Like other GI underground papers, Your Military Left addressed soldiers’ “frustrations of being caught at the bottom of the largest negative cause in the world,”[3] provided commentary on issues of equality within the military, reported on daily abuses inflicted on soldiers by their commanding officers and informed the readers of activities of allies, activists and supports on and off base.

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While the paper did not shy away from calling out by name sadistic or abusive CO’s, the editorial staff as well as the writers remained well hidden under the cloak of anonymity. Because the paper contained political opinions contrary to the military regulations and was critical of the government and military efforts in Vietnam, the staff of GI papers was often subject to censure and arrest for distributing the paper on base. Many soldiers involved in publication and distribution of the GI press or participating in anti-war activities were court martialed and sentenced to 2-15 years of hard labor, jailed, or dishonorably discharged.[4]

While the harsh military tactics of dealing with dissent were well known to the GIs and well publicized and critiqued in GI publications across the US, the mainstream press was often slow in picking up on the situation. It was the GIs in collaboration with the anti-war movement activists that brought the harsh punishments to public light, which, in turn, put pressure on the Pentagon to reduce the sentences, and transfer rather than discharge or jail the dissenters.

The 1969 transfer of Your Military Left’s editor, Thomas Connell and his associate, Damon Ruttenburg demonstrates the shift in official policy. The story made the AP news and was picked up and reprinted in Baytown Sun, a local Texas newspaper covering news in Southeast Harris County:

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The transfer of an underground newspaper editor from Ft. Sam Houston to another post was routine and not a punitive measure against the soldier, an army spokesman says. The new editor of “Your Military Left,” an anti-war newspaper circulating here since June, claimed that his predecessor and another man were transferred to other posts as punishment for their dealings with the newspaper. The former editor, Spec. 4 Thomas Connell, 22, was arrested last month with a civilian and another Ft. Sam Houston soldier, Pfc. Damon Ruttenburg, for allegedly distributing the unauthorized news sheet on post. After the charges against them were dropped on grounds of insufficient evidence, the two men were transferred. Connell, of New York, was sent to Ft. Sill, Okla., and then to Ft. Chaffee, Ark. Ruttenburg, of Pennsylvania, went to Ft. Bliss. The new editor, Pfc. Paul Reid, 21, of Valley Forge, Pa., said the transfers were the “latest unquestionably illegal move by the army to suppress publication of ‘your military left.’ ” Both Connell and Ruttenburg are conscientious objectors, Reid said. [5]

Your Military Left sheds an important light on the role of GI alternative and underground press on the government’s Vietnam policy and adds to the history and tradition of soldier dissidence as well as the history of San Antonio’s countercultural movements in the 1960s and 1970s.  It is our hope that in time, UTSA Special Collections will acquire the remaining issues of Your Military Left and make the entire run available to researchers.

[1] James Lewes, Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War, Westport: Praeger, 2003, 5.

[2] Ibid., 5

[3] Your Military Left, San Antonio, TX, September 16, 1969, 2.

[4] Ibid., 93-95.

[5] The Baytown Sun, October 13, 1969, page 7

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2015 11:03 am

    Reblogged this on stillness of heart and commented:
    This looks fascinating.

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