The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Sixty years ago:
How the troops forced the government to bring them home

Aug 15, 2005

This August marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Thus it is also the anniversary of another important, though certainly lesser known, historic event: the "Bring Us Home" movement of American GIs.

Soldiers, and their families and friends back home, greeted the end of the war with great joy, because to them it meant to be reunited with their loved ones. U.S. government policy-makers had other concerns, however. They were worried about how to control the countries formerly occupied by Germany and Japan. A U.S. senator explained in February 1945: "It would be an anomalous position for the United States to occupy, after putting up the men, the money, and enduring all the sacrifices which these mean, to have our country precluded from the markets we have liberated." So, the U.S. now intended to occupy many of these countries, to make sure that they didn't end up with governments not controlled by the U.S. – especially countries where popular revolts were underway, such as China, Indonesia, Korea and Viet Nam.

Thus, not only did the U.S. military command decide to keep troops stationed abroad; it actually ordered additional units to be deployed in Asia and the Pacific.

And the troops reacted – swiftly and forcefully. By August 21, 1945 – that is, one week after the surrender of Japan – the White House had already received a telegram from 580 members of the 95th Division stationed at Shelby, Mississippi, protesting their deployment. Congress was soon flooded with similar letters and petitions.

The troops' letters were accompanied by those of their families and friends back at home. Soldiers were rubber-stamping their letters home with such slogans as "Write your congressman – get us home" and "No boats, no votes." The head of the U.S. Senate Military Affairs Committee complained that mail from mothers, wives and sweethearts demanding that their men be brought home was running to almost 100,000 letters daily – excluding letters from the soldiers themselves!

By the end of the year the soldiers were in the streets, protesting. On Christmas Day, 1945, 4000 soldiers marched in Manila, Phillippines, demanding ships to bring them home. Within the following two weeks, more demonstrations involving 1000 or more soldiers took place in Manila; on the island of Saipan in the Pacific; in Hawaii; in Calcutta, India; as well as in Europe, including Paris, London and Frankfurt, Germany. Soldiers booed down their commanding officers during rallies, held mass meetings, formed committees of elected representatives, wired telegrams with thousands of signatures, and took out full-page ads in U.S. newspapers demanding the removal of the U.S. Secretary of War Robert Patterson. On the island of Guam, 3500 Air Force men staged a hunger strike. The fact that the soldiers' committees were racially integrated while the military was still segregated is a sign of the unity among the troops.

The military was caught by surprise. Chief of Staff Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an order on January 17 banning all demonstrations by soldiers, but the troops didn't back off. Being faced with a strong and widespread revolt of the rank and file and having no good options, the government and military brass gave in to the troops' demands. The number of enlisted soldiers was reduced from 12 million to 3 million within a year. After another year, by the summer of 1947, the number was down to 1.5 million. Congress let the conscription law expire in March 1947 and waited until June 1948 to restart the draft. Very few soldiers were punished for the revolt, and in those cases the punishment usually didn't exceed transfers.

What made the soldiers' revolt at the end of World War II so strong? One reason was the time period itself. Many of the soldiers were workers who had participated in the great labor struggles of the 1930s, which gave rise to big unions such as the UAW and Teamsters. These workers-turned-soldiers had gained very valuable experience in how to organize a fight, and used that experience to demand to be brought home.

Today's troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may not have that kind of experience under their belts. But this little-known episode of U.S. history shows them, and those of us here at home, what it takes to force the government to end the occupation of other countries.

That's exactly the kind of history the warmongers don't want the population to know. No wonder there are very few history textbooks that devote even a few lines to the successful "Bring Us Home" movement 60 years ago!