Chapter 11 In Case of Riot – Break Glass

The details of the events of My Lai had yet to be reported and few if any enlisted men knew any of it. The sergeant was speaking from first-hand knowledge. But eventually when Hersh published the details nearly a year later, his descriptions mirrored the sergeant’s comment except that no VC were found in any of the villages. The sergeant could not have known that but the JAG colonel doubtless did.

Cleveland, Ohio in April and May of 1970 was the was the scene of the steel hauler’s war with the Teamsters over poor representation, a war that eventually got them better freight rates and an independent local. Teamsters, and steel haulers in particular, are a rough bunch. Their war escalated into violence that rivaled firefights in Viet Nam, with bombings, gunfire, trucks set ablaze and scab drivers stopped at gun-point on the highway. After a couple weeks of this the governor called out the Ohio National Guard.

At that time, if you joined the National guard the deal was 6 years of one-weekend-a-month and two weeks of summer training camp. In exchange you didn’t have to go to Viet Nam but if there’s a civil disturbance you’re subject to be called up to duty. “But that almost never happens,” said the recruiters betting their prospects hadn’t thought of Newark. The Teamsters made liars of those recruiters. The guard was on active duty for several weeks to deal with the Teamsters and doubtless were not happy about it.

A month after our field house lecture by the JAG officer, it hit the news that US ground troops had been deployed to Cambodia and the years-long secret bombings were revealed. Uprisings on college campuses were immediate. On May 2 1970 at our regular drill, we were given alerts to be ready to move out at a moment’s notice. We were confined to the post until further notice. No explanation was given. The grapevine quickly leaked the news that there was a riot expected. We were to have been the regular army stand-in unit for the Ohio National Guard. But the governor called out the guard instead to Kent State University late that afternoon. The following Monday, according to official reports there was a riot and the guardsmen shot dead 4 students and injured many more.

We were not called up, though our company was on full alert for the rest of May and again that summer as Asbury Park burned. Had we been called up, perhaps events would have been different. Perhaps we were better trained than the Ohio guard. Perhaps we were better educated. Perhaps because we all had combat experience, and been under fire, unit discipline would have been better. Perhaps we would have disobeyed an unlawful order. Perhaps. But we had not been at war with the teamsters for a month. We were not tired and short tempered. Thankfully, no one in our unit had to decide whether to obey an order to open fire that may or may not have been given. The whole business makes me sick to my stomach even now.”

“Mon dieux,” said Agnes. “I had never imagined you being put in such a position. When I got to Paris in the spring of ’70 there was much student unrest, but the authorities quickly realized that brutally putting it down only made things worse. But then in France there was a long tradition of socialist support for student movements and the ’68 uprising involved something like a fifth of the population. I had missed the worst of it by a few weeks in ’68. But two years later there I was in Paris again but this time the feeling was very anti-American. Cultural imperialism they called it.

“Some of it was a holdover from the protests of the Viet Nam War in 1968. But at the time, I thought it was cultural rather than political. But from what you say about 1970 in The States, I think there must have been a connection.”

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