Racial Tensions in the Military

George Daniels and William Harvey

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Black Marines Against the Brass. (September 1969). Interview with William Harvey and George Daniels by Andy Stapp. Introd. by Shirley Jolls. New York: American Servicemen's Union.

"Interview with William Harvey and George Daniels who have served two years on a 6 and 10 year sentence respectively for their opposition to the war in Vietnam."


Black Marines Against the Brass

"Interview with William Harvey and George Daniels who have served two years on a 6 and 10 year sentence respectively for their opposition to the war in Vietnam."

Interview by Andy Stapp, ASU Chairman

Introduction by Shirley Jolls, Coordinator Committee for GI Rights


On September 4, 1969, George Daniels and William Harvey, two black Marines imprisoned for their opposition to the Vietnam war, won a partial victory over the Pentagon. More than two years after their kangaroo courts-martial, the Brass was forced to release the men from the Portsmouth, N.H. Brig, pending appeal.

The following interview with Andy Stapp, Chairman of the American Servicemen's Union, is the first opportunity Harvey and Daniels have had in those long months to bring the real case to the public, their case against the racist Marine Corps officer elite.

In December 1967 the military convicted Harvey of "disloyal statements" and Daniels for "advising, urging and attempting to cause insubordination, disloyalty and refusal of duty." This interview makes it clear that, were any shadow of justice present in the Army's courts-martial, the Brass would be on trial. The officer clique who, in Harvey's words, "Try to beat a man down into the dust," would be in the Brig.

When the imprisonment of Harvey and Daniels became known through the American Servicemen's Union, nearly a year after their incarceration at Camp Pendleton, the significance of the case was immediately evident. Harvey and Daniels had not been convicted of any act, but had been given 6 to 10 years at hard labor for their words alone. It was also clear that the "crime" was not simply opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam; the underlying reason for the officers' seemingly harsh reaction was Harvey's and Daniels' defense of their nation, the people of Black America.

The facts of their case are told in a previous pamphlet, "Kangaroo Court Martial" – from the barracks discussions which the Brass used to frame up the two black militants, to the farcical trials staged to make an example of the two men.

Harvey and Daniels did indeed become examples, but not as the military intended, to frighten or dampen the anti-war, anti-Brass movement – on the contrary, Harvey and Daniels became models of struggle and determination to many thousands, in and out of the U.S. Armed Forces.

In "Kangaroo Court Martial" we wrote:

"It is too late to intervene against the Pentagon's offensive of July 1967, but it remains for the anti-war movement to make their case known nationwide and raise a cry for their release which will penetrate the walls of the Portsmouth Brig."

Those seemed only hopeful words a few short months ago, but the task set has been in part accomplished.

It was undeniably the support of thousands of civilians and GIs which broke the Marine Corps' once total hold on Harvey and Daniels.

George Daniels points out that the officers thought they could get away with the harsh sentences because they were convinced the public would not be concerned with two more black prisoners. "After all," says Daniels, "it's been that way for quite some time."

At every opportunity, the ASU, the Committee for GI Rights and other organizations exposed the Brass' infamy. The case was raised in connection with each war protest and related for the now better organized movement in the Armed Forces to each new, and better defended, case of opposition and rebellion, such as the Presidio mutiny trials and the current case of the Ft. Dix 38.

Public pressure pushed the Military Review Boards, hearing the American Civil Liberties Union appeals at the Pentagon, to reduce the 6 and 10 year sentences to 4 and 6 years this summer. As pacifist and other organizations added to the protest, it became clear that new layers of opposition were openly coming into play. And, this month, the protest did reach the gates of Portsmouth Brig and swing them open, at least temporarily.

Among the mounting cases of opposition in the Armed Forces, the case of Harvey and Daniels is a central one. Theirs is only the second occasion of release pending further action by the military courts, following Capt. Howard Levy's release on bail. It is a major step toward constitutional and civil rights for GIs.

The case is central, too, to the many instances of self-defense by Afro-American soldiers against racism, as in Kanoehe, Hawaii this August. There the Brass was forced to negotiate with a unit of black Marines who would not longer stand for the open brutalization by white officers.

Things have changed since July 1967. In many ways the anti-war, anti-Brass movement of soldiers has taken the offensive. Underground newspapers proliferate, tying the widespread groups of resistors together. The American Servicemen's Union has grown to an organization of thousands, with members at 100 bases around the world.

The internal controversy over the Green Beret conspiracy and their CIA-ordered murders in Vietnam has thrown the military establishment off balance. And the spread of opposition to racism and the Vietnam war has forced the Pentagon to back down a bit, at least on paper, and suggest all sorts of reforms, "human relations councils" and standards of "equality." Racist to the bone, the Brass still can't for the sake of effectiveness, allow the white elite to provoke open conflict like this summer's events at Camp LeJeune.

In particular, the Marine Corps has had to reaffirm lip service to its provision for "request mast," a sort of grievance meeting for the airing of opinions and problems. It was just this "mast," a meeting of the Enlisted Men with their CO, which the men of the Second Infantry Training Regiment were trying to arrange when the officers slapped them down and arrested Harvey and Daniels.

The struggle has won a victory, but it is a partial one. Harvey and Daniels are out of prison, but still in the Marine Corps. After a short furlough, the men were assigned to regular duty. And those two years in the Brig were "bad time," that is, do not count toward their enlistment terms.

It remains to be seen what the outcome of the pending appeals will be – reversal or confirmation of the kangaroo convictions.

One thing is sure: Harvey and Daniels still need support for their steadfast opposition to U.S. aggression and racism. A real victory ought to bring more than reversal of those guilty verdicts. The Pentagon must make reparations to Harvey and Daniels. There must be no more such frame-ups. All political prisoners of the Pentagon must be set free.

Shirley Jolls

Source: Black Marines Against the Brass. (September 1969) Interview with William Harvey and George Daniels by Andy Stapp. Introd. by Shirley Jolls. New York: American Servicemen's Union.

Black Men and the War

Andrew Stapp: What do you feel that the attitude of the black servicemen is toward the Vietnam war?

William Harvey: I feel that the black man's attitude is that the war is one of genocide toward the colored people of the earth in general, in that the military can kill two birds with one stone. There is a little bit of the fear element inside the black servicemen's makeup but it is slowly and surely disappearing.

George Daniels: I find that many blacks seem to feel that the war in Vietnam is just another attempt to spread the racism that exists in this country. By their going over to Vietnam, they also view it as a fratricidal attempt.

Blacks view all people other than whites as their brothers. Because everywhere you look in this world where people of color are being oppressed, it is being done by the white man. And by seeing this, blacks, in many cases rather than accept the white person as an individual, they'll judge them all beforehand and say such words as honky-devils and a reversal of the names they've pinned on us. Also, in more cases, we find this to be true in the names they've pinned on the Vietcong, the "gooks," "chinks," "wetbacks," "niggers," "kikes," and things like that.

But the black man's attitude has changed. Upon the advent of such songs as SAY IT LOUD, I'M BLACK AND I'M PROUD, blacks who might have once straightened their hair, or been ashamed of their large noses or thick lips, are finally realizing that this is what they are and why they should be proud of it. The attitudes are changing for the better. As the years go by and the months go by it will have changed so much that the little courts-martial that have been taking place won't be able to take place for fear of the clamor that blacks will bring forth.

Black Rebellions in the Army

Andrew Stapp: What are the reasons for rebellions of the black servicemen stationed in Hawaii, Vietnam and North Carolina that have broken out in the last couple of weeks?

William Harvey: It is because the basic concept of the Afro-American's manhood is being challenged and he's stepping forward to take up the challenge. Upon going to Vietnam, the fear of what will happen to you if you don't go is what really makes you go over there.

George Daniels: As Harvey said, the attitude has changed. The riots of the black servicemen that have been taking place are nothing but sheer manifestations of the frustrations that have been in them for months and months, if not years. And at long last, they're saying that they no longer accept this. They won't accept it as it is, and they must act accordingly. So they're in rebellion. They've tried to do things, I think peacefully, but in many cases violence is necessary.

Everything this country has, she achieved through violence. Back in the 1776's around here, when Britain had imposed an embargo act on this country she didn't just get around a coffee table and talk it over. They picked up arms. Perhaps this is what's necessary here. And I think that the riots that have been taking place at the various brigs and also Portsmouth, N.H., which have been covered up a great deal are showing what is to come in the future months.

Conditions in Military Prisons

Andrew Stapp: What were conditions like at Portsmouth Naval Prison?

William Harvey: Well, to start with the attitude of the guards – over in Vietnam they love you and want to fight by you because they know that you can save their life. But once you put on a gray prison uniform and they're still wearing brown or green, you then become the dog and they are the master.

In Portsmouth it is psychological slavery. They try to beat a man down into the dust so bad to make him go along with the establishment, knowing that when he gets back on the streets then he won't take when he gets back on the streets then he won't take up arms against them. This can be seen in the work details they give and the attitudes shown by parole boards.

These boards ask you what you'll be doing when you get outside. Do you plan on joining any anti-government movements? They also like to ask blacks, are you a Muslim, do you hate white people, would you kill them if you got out on the street? Of course, how can you answer something like this before a board? If you're truthful, you have to say what you feel.

Take the medical department, for instance. They don't administer the proper service to the prisoners because they don't feel that prisoners rate it. When a man is hurt and he needs something badly, they more or less keep him on drugs and keep his mind off the problem rather than treat him. And this is some of the things going on in Portsmouth Naval Prison.

George Daniels: The treatment of blacks I found at Portsmouth is somewhat weird. They have a way of keeping the blacks angry. And when blacks get angry, they take it somewhat erroneously out on the whites.

Now I don't know if this is planned or what, but their omitting certain books and certain publications left the blacks no other alternatives but to meet certain duty men and make friends with them. You find many duty personnel who realize that many blacks are in this institution because of unfair trials. And thus, they sympathize with them. But the duty men figure that they only have a few months left and keep their mouths shut.

Many of the guards there realize that things aren't right. But it is the officers who will put pressure on the blacks, who will make it difficult for them to procure any type of reading material. You always have access to Western books and fiction, but things that deal with the problems of today, the most important problems, you won't find at all. The treatment of blacks is really something.

Officers and the Days of Yes-Sirring

Andrew Stapp: You mentioned officers as being worse than the guards. Would you elaborate on this?

William Harvey: Yes, I would say so because even during inspections the officers would step before your cell and expect you to snap to attention like some kind of robot. One day we were walking down the tier and two guards were leaning up against the cells just shooting the shit and I yelled "Come to attention!" They snapped real quick without even looking to see who it was. We knew right then and there they had fear struck in their hearts from the high class officers.

George Daniels: This is definitely true. The officers, they really have everything going. Their clubs are better, their quarters are better. During my last two months at Portsmouth, I was assigned extra hard duty because of the various marches you've had for us outside the prison. The job of typist was taken away from me. The officers said, well, since you're a political prisoner and you're causing so much trouble here you can't have a job of this nature. So I had to go up and make up their beds and things like that. They are treated differently because of the fact that they're officers. They expect you to look at them and feel you owe society something 'cause she's been kind to you by permitting you to enter the Service, giving you an opportunity to fight for your country that's supposed to be yours and everything.

Officers feel that you're indebted to them and yes-sirs, no-sirs, and yes-sirs, and no-sirs, and all this is very tiresome. In many cases you have officers in Portsmouth, second lieutenants, who haven't even been overseas yet, who are perhaps 22 years old, and here we have CMPs and prisoners here 25, 26 years old, who have been in the service for years and years, having to say yes-sir to a man who's just out of college.

Andrew Stapp: How many black officers did you see in the Marine Corps?

George Daniels: During my time in the Marine Corps, which is three years, I've seen approximately two black officers. And the Naval Disciplinary Institution there was only one. They got rid of him rather fast. Now there aren't any and when you have your C&R Board, C&R which is Clemency and Restoration Boards, the whole board is white.

Andrew Stapp: How many black prisoners are there at Portsmouth?

George Daniels: Out of a total of 1200 prisoners, about 400 are black. Most of them are there for going UA (Unauthorized Absence), some for going to Vietnam and realizing what they were involved in and rioting.

The Results of Support

Andrew Stapp: There was a lot of agitation done around your case by the American Servicemen's Union. What effect do you think it had?

William Harvey: I believe that the military thought that this case wouldn't receive any publicity at all. That's why they tried us in secret. After all, who wants to hear about two black marines thrown into jail for speaking against the white establishment? The publicity definitely got us out earlier. If there wasn't any, I would be here giving this interview now.

George Daniels: I'm inclined to agree with Harvey. I think that the publicity has helped us a great deal. In America, when you're black and poor, not too many people are really concerned with you, so the Military felt they were able to get away with giving us 10 and 6 years without anybody ever finding out about it. And as Harvey has said, who would be concerned about two black people who just happened to serve time in jail. It's been that way for quite some time. The publicity played a major role in dramatizing our plight and showing people just what takes place in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Kangaroo Court-Martial

Andrew Stapp: Would you describe your "subversion" trials?

William Harvey: Mine was more or less funny, because the law officer would ask my lawyer: Do you have the arguments that you would like to raise at this time? My lawyer did have some pretty good ones. But they were being thrown out the window so quick both of our heads were swimming. The lawyers of the prosecution would scare the people sitting on the stand testifying against us so bad that they actually didn't know what they were saying. My lawyer would object, but the law officer would always overrule in order not to have it put in the record book on what is going down.

One of the reasons why I think I got six years and Daniels got ten was because of two of the fellows testifying against me didn't really want to do it, and when they got up there and found out what they actually were doing, they told the law officer, "If I had known this, I never would have come in here."

The law officer said, "Get this man out of court." And the other ones were just confused. All around, they should never have been there, and the law officer said "Discount his testimony, too."

But the ones before that, we used to come into the legal office and walk past the prosecutions office and see them sitting down and drinking coffee, and talking with them, becoming palsy-walsy, saying that this man is trying to defect you from your country, we think that you ought to testify against him and have him put away because he's a bad type. And this is something that went on at our courts-martial.

George Daniels: In my case, I think the law officer played a very major part. In one case a witness was called in and he gave his testimony that concerned how he felt about communism and how it stands up to the so-called capitalism or democracy we have here. And the law officer after hearing him speak, called an out-of-court session and he told me and my lawyer that he didn't believe that what he was reading and had been reading about the black man is true.

He had this attitude, you know, the old cliche, some of my best friends are Negro and things like this. He said that he just couldn't believe that this was true, that blacks were deprived as they really are. He rapped about his driving through ghettoes and slum areas and not really feeling that this was as bad as the newspapers and black people play it up to be.

And with this attitude in court, I guess it must have disseminated somehow among the jury. They must have also felt the same way. Because it's difficult for any white person to appraise a black man's life when he's never been black for one day.

White Juries,
White GM,
White DuPonts

Andrew Stapp: Did you have an all-white jury?

George Daniels: Yes, I did have an all-white jury. This brings to mind something. When testimonies were being made for me, most of the people on the jury were either writing things on paper or sharpening pencils or breaking things. They weren't paying attention. But when the prosecution brought its witnesses on, they were all looking at him keenly with their ears open. Really, as if to say, "This is true here, we'll really get this guy this time."

As my charge sheet has stated before, I was then over-generalizing on many things. I felt the problem in America was then a racial war, per se, and nothing else. But now I view it as a type of war that it is the rich people, the few rich people, exploiting large numbers of poor people.

The poor are inducted into the Armed Forces and used as cannon fodder, the rich people really gain from it. And whereas I once thought my enemies were all whites, I see now that it is the people on the Board of Directors of General Motors, DuPont, people who are getting their pockets lined with all this bloody money. And now I have to say that perhaps there are many whites who are concerned with the black man's plight and wish to work along with them. And not maintaining some kind of paternalistic thing, this father image, where "I'm going to help this man who is below me." I think that when the people realize this, that the people on top are purposely making poor whites fight poor blacks, only then will we be able to solve the problems that exist in this country.

Andrew Stapp: Do you see a connection between the fight of the black colony at home and the fight of the oppressed people around the world against U.S. imperialism?

William Harvey: Yes, there is a direct connection. If the Puerto Ricans, the Mexicans and the blacks in the United States actually did what they are supposed to be doing in relation to the world revolution, less Vietnamese would be dying and less Africans would be dying down in Rhodesia. But the United States Government knows this and in order to keep the black population in America down, they're letting all the dope infiltrate right back into the ghetto to keep the ghetto asleep. You can't bomb the airports where the jets take off to go to Vietnam while you're nodding in someone's back hall. And this is very well known. And this is why I believe that all of us must get together and actually go out there in the violence thing – no nonviolence.

George Daniels: As many people are realizing now, especially blacks, as long as there are slaves in Africa, their own so-called liberty that they think might possess here is in jeopardy. So Africa, Asia and Latin America and all other places, what happens there affects us and vice versa. I think as long as we continue to fight this as strongly as possible we'll see reflections of our work taking place in these other countries.

Eight-Point Program of the American Servicemen's Union

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT TO COLLECTIVE BARGAINING. Union representatives of the enlisted men must have the right to meet with today's dictatorial officers and tell them what the men want. The present Hitler-type regulations forbid this and call it mutiny. Such regulations must go.

WE DEMAND ELECTION OF OFFICERS BY VOTE OF THE MEN. The soldiers in the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam elect their own officers. What's wrong with American GIs electing theirs? United States officers should not only be elected, but the subject to recall at any time by majority vote. We demand election of officers by the vote of the men in their command.

WE DEMAND AN END TO SALUTING AND SIRRING OF OFFICERS. We believe compulsory saluting and Sir-ing of officers is degrading to GIs. This show of obedience is required to create an atmosphere of subservience to the dictatorial orders of the officers.

WE DEMAND FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGES. We demand a wage system based on the needs of the enlisted men – pay by work, not rank. We demand an end to the impoverishment of enlisted men, which forces many of our brothers' families to welfare while the banker generals get $50,000/year.

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT OF BLACK AND BROWN SKINNED SERVICEMEN TO DETERMINE THEIR OWN LIVES FREE FROM THE OPPRESSION OF ANY RACIST WHITE PEOPLE. We know that racism seeks to divide the oppressed enlisted men against one another in order to prevent unity in the fight against the Brass. We know that black and Spanish-speaking brothers are placed in the most dangerous assignments and suffer the highest casualty rates. We demand an end to the filling of the stockades with black and Spanish-speaking GIs who have refused to submit to the racist attacks and insults imposed on them by the Brass.

WE DEMAND RANK AND FILE CONTROL OVER COURT-MARTIAL BOARDS. We demand an end to the system whereby the all-powerful officers sit in judgment over GIs. In the Armed Services there has never been a GI of the rank of PFC or lower who has served on a court-martial board, and yet 90 per cent of those court-martialed are PFC.

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT OF FREE POLITICAL ASSOCIATION. GIs have been harassed and court-martialed on the basis of their association alone. We believe that our association and organization is a matter of our survival – our life and death.

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT TO DISOBEY ILLEGAL ORDERS – LIKE ORDERS TO FIGHT IN VIETNAM. We believe that no officer has the right to order us to fight and die in battles against our brothers, be they in Berkeley, Chicago, Detroit, Santo Domingo or Vietnam. The GIs have a right to decide where they want to die and what they want to die for. We believe that orders must serve the needs of people.

Labor donated
September, 1969           published by:
American Servicemen's Union
156 Fifth Ave., Rm.538
New York, N. Y. 10010

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