May 31, 2004
Undergrad's research finds striking similarity
between Vietnam War and Iraq conflict
By Scott Rappaport
The Vietnam War was never mentioned at all during history major Martin
Smiths high school days in Kingsport, Tennessee--a town roughly
the size of Santa Cruz. But by doing research at UCSC on that conflict
in the midst of recent intense media coverage of the war in Iraq, he
has discovered remarkable similarities between the two events.
Martin Smith, above, is the winner of this years Melkonian
Prize, the highest honor in UCSCs 2003-04 Humanities Undergraduate
Research Awards. During his research, he looked at underground
GI newspapers such as the one below.
Smith is a 33-year-old armed forces veteran himselfhe served
in the United States Marine Corps from 1997 to 2002 and studied Russian
at the Defense Departments Language Institute in Monterey. Smith
is also the winner of this years Melkonian Prize for submitting
the top proposal to UCSCs 2003-04 Humanities Undergraduate Research
Smiths project is titled The Soldiers Rebellion in
Vietnam: Race, Class, and Resistance. He will present his research
on Thursday, June 3, along with four other HUGRA award-winning students
at the Merrill College Baobab Room between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
I got inspired by an essay I had read about the fact that in
Vietnam, it got to the point where morale was so low, that troops refused
to fight, Smith recalled. I had never heard this part of
history before. So I began researching and learned that there has been
resistance to every war we have ever fought. But in Vietnam the resistance
to fight was on a scale never before seen by the U.S. militaryand
it was documented in written reports by the armed forces.
Smith began looking for the reasons why resistance in Vietnam was
so much larger than in previous wars. He found that one cause was the
contradiction between official U.S. policy and what the government claimed
was occurring in Vietnam, and what the troops were actually encountering
on the ground.
We were told the troops would be greeted in Vietnam as liberators
and not met with hostility, Smith noted. The troops were
told they were fighting communism, but in reality they found they were
just fighting poor peasants who were starvingthey were just subsistence
Smith also found that Vietnam was different because it was a working-class
war due to college defermentsblacks and Latinos served disproportionately
on the front lines. He additionally discovered details of the impact
of the antiwar movement that he had been completely unaware of, including
the existence of hundreds of underground newspapers that were utilized
to help build an antiwar GI movement.
There were over 250 underground newspapers--many produced by
soldiers, sailors, and airmen themselves--that circulated stateside,
and several thousand were known to have reached the troops stationed
in Vietnam, Smith said. I've obtained numerous copies of
these papers--it's fascinating how widespread their circulation was."
Smith's project suggests that Vietnam should be considered as part
of the broader history of labor and the working class. He argues that
it was a working-class revolt that helped to end the Vietnam ground
war. The military was the largest employer of working-class people
at that time, and the soldiers revolt was one of the most successful
social movements of the period, Smith noted. He added that major
reforms were also instituted after Vietnam in response to this working-class
rebellion--the draft was ended, military policies and regulations were
liberalized, and pay for enlisted soldiers almost doubled.
Its important that we learn about Vietnam because of so
many comparisons to situations going on today, Smith observed.
Especially now with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, because a similar
thing happened with the My Lai incident--it ripped the mask off what
the U.S. was doing, leading many to question whether My Lai was an isolated
incident or an example of systematic and widespread abuse.
All members of the campus community are invited to the 2003-04 Humanities
Undergraduate Research Award project presentations. Refreshments will
10:30 a.m.--Cody Wofsy, Philosophy Major. "The Rational
and the Right: Choice Theory in Meta-ethics" (Richard Otte, adviser)
11:15 a.m.--Martin Smith, History Major. "The Soldiers'
Rebellion in Vietnam: Race, Class, and Resistance" (Paul Ortiz,
12:15 p.m.--Cole Akers, Literature Major. "Who Needs Greek?:
Classics and Cultural Studies" (Mary-Kay Gamel, adviser)
1 p.m.--Benjamin Pietrenka, History and Politics Major. "Contemporary/Dominant
Views on Morality in the Late 18th Century and the Effects These Theories
Had on Defining the New American Scheme of Republicanism" (Marilyn
1:45 p.m.--William Arighi, Literature Major. "Trashthetic:
'Camp' and the Politics of Representation of a Sub-culture of the United
States" (Kirsten Silva Gruesz, adviser)
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