Other Voices: The Connexions Newsletter
January 22, 2017

This Issue: Disobedience

Ultimately all power structures depend on the obedience of those over whom they rule. It helps if people believe in the legitimacy of those who wield power, but the crucial thing is obedience.

Once people start to disobey in significant numbers, the dynamic of power changes fundamentally. Disobedience, especially on a large scale, shakes the power of the rulers, and increases the power of those who disobey.

Given the nature of state power, the most threatening form of disobedience is the refusal of soldiers to obey orders. In this issue, this is the form of disobedience we focus on. When soldiers begin question the orders they are given and start regarding the authority of those who give those orders as illegitimate, the military hierarchy, and ultimately the state itself, are threatened.

In this issue of Other Voices, we recall the resistance of rank-and-file American soldiers to the Vietnam War. This resistance was a powerful factor in ending the war, probably second only to the indomitable determination of the Vietnamese to drive out the American invaders. Yet the soldiers’ resistance has been virtually erased from history. Hollywood has made hundreds of movies about the war; none shows the actions of thousands of American soldiers who refused to fight. Their resistance included not only desertion and combat refusals involving thousands of soldiers, but hundreds of instances of GIs killing their own officers when those officers tried to compel them to go into combat.

We also feature an article on rank-and-file soldiers in the Egyptian army. Virtually all of them come from the working classes, and their loyalty to the regime cannot be taken for granted. If they refuse to continue obeying a hierarchy that has soldiers repressing their own people, Egypt’s dictatorship will face a crisis.

From the Archives we feature the Principles of Nuremberg, which were used by the Nuremberg Tribunal to judge Nazi war criminals. These principles were subsequently adopted as key elements of international law. The fourth principle states "The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him". This principle makes clear that under international law, an agent of the state, including a soldier, has a duty to refuse orders that violate international law. We would do well to highlight this duty at every opportunity.

Also in this issue: an article of strikes and other forms of resistance by prisoners and by immigrant detainees: another form of disobedience against the repressive power of the state.

Other articles look at recent worker’ struggles in China, and recall the life of John Berger, the British critic and writer who taught many about different “ways of seeing” the world.

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Topic of the Week


The idea of disobeying illegitimate authority is central to what Connexions stand for, and is present in thousands of articles, books and films on the site. You’ll find a sampling of resources under the Disobedience heading, as well as others under Refusing Orders, Mutinies, and Civil Disobedience.

This Week on Connexions.org

When Soldiers Resist

The multi-pronged efforts of draft resisters, journalists, mass demonstrations, civil rights organizations, peaceful and bloody resistance by US soldiers within the ranks, and the unwavering efforts of millions of Vietnamese – despite overwhelming casualties – to resist an occupying superpower, ended the war in Vietnam. The increasing resistance of soldiers, in particular, terrified the brass. Read more

Keywords: DesertionRefusing Orders

Winning the Rank and File Soldiers in Egypt

The vast majority of the soldiers in the Egyptian army come from the working poor, be they from the urban centres or the countryside. The experience of rank and file soldiers, from their first days of basic training, is characterized by systematic attempts to humiliate them and break their spirits, wages so low that they are often forced to complement their meagre earnings with work during vacation days, stiff and often unjust punishments for minor offences, as well as – for the conscripts especially – the constant reminder that wealth very often trumps civic responsibility. The army is volatile: the degree of class-consciousness of the rank and file soldiers, a key part of the mass of working class Egyptians, will determine whether the elite can hold onto power. Read more

Keywords: Egyptian Revolt 2011Soldiers

Can Soldiers Resist?

An interview with Tod Ensign, a GI/veterans rights organizer, who discusses the difficulties of organizing soldiers who are cut off from the rest of American society. This, he says, affects the antiwar movement very directly and its ability to reach soldiers through their families and buddies. Read more

Keywords: Refusing OrdersSoldiers

Convict and Immigrant Detainee Struggles Converge in Strike Wave

The ongoing struggle of convicts to preserve and enhance their humanity has been taking on an explicit labour aspect, connected to and conscious of such struggles outside the prison walls, and it appears to be intensifying hand in hand with the convicts’ traditional struggles for human dignity. Read more

Keywords: DetentionPrisoners

China in Revolt

Few in the West are aware of the drama unfolding in today’s “epicentre of global labor unrest.” A scholar of China exposes its tumultuous labour politics and their lessons for the Left. Read more

Keywords: ChinaWildcat Strikes

John Berger 1926-2017

He helped form a generation for whom he made it possible to discover different, critical ways of seeing. John Berger’s revolutionary insistence was that our reality could be seen differently, and altered by our intervention. Read more

Keywords: ArtCritical Thinking

Website of the Week

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence (www.breakingthesilence.org.il) is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military and who have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. They endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population's everyday life. The Israeli government is doing its best to try and undermine and destroy the organization. Find them here

Keywords: Israeli MilitaryMilitary Violence Against Civilians

Book of the Week

Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance during the Vietnam War

By David Cortright

The story of soldiers who dared to stand up for what is right by standing down. Whole companies refused orders. Pilots refused to fly bombing runs, even the intelligence people refused to pass intelligence except to warn US troops. One sailor even disabled an entire aircraft carrier so it couldn’t put to sea for two months. These men and women saved more lives and had more to do with ending of the Vietnam war than any other factor combined... and the story has been almost entirely suppressed. Read more

Keywords: Refusing OrdersSoldiers

Film of the Week

Sir! No Sir!

A documentary about the anti-war movement within the ranks of the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. The film explores the profound impact that the movement had on the war and investigates the way in which the GI Movement has been erased from public memory. It documents the rise of the anti-war movement among American soldiers, culminating in the years 1970-1973, when 92,000 soldiers deserted, many fleeing to Canada, France, and Sweden. During those years thousands of soldiers were jailed for refusing to obey orders, and in Vietnam, hundreds of cases of “fragging” (soliders killing their own officers) were recorded. Find out more

Keywords: Refusing OrdersWar Resisters


GI Coffeehouses

The story of the GI coffeehouse movement, which served as centres of anti-war organizing among soldiers in the Vietnam War era. Read more

Keywords: CoffeehousesAnti-war movement

People's History


In the U.S. military, fragging refers to the act of attacking a superior officer in one's chain of command with the intent to kill that officer. The term originated during the Vietnam War and was most commonly used to mean the assassination of an unpopular officer of one's own fighting unit. The US Army itself does not know exactly how many officers were killed by their own men during the Vietnam War. We know at least 600 were murdered, and another 1400 died mysteriously. Consequently, by the early 1970s, the army was at war not just with the enemy but with itself.

Read more and See also

Keywords: Anti-war MovementSoldiers

From the Archives

Principles of Nuremberg

The Nuremberg principles were a set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. The document was created by the International Law Commission of the United Nations to codify the legal principles underlying the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46. The fourth principle states "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him".

Read the Principles

Keywords: Nuremberg TrialsWar Crimes

Connexions Calendar

January 24, 2017
Imagine a Canada that respects indigenous rights

What do you think resource extraction and development in Canada would look like if the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was implemented? Please join us for an interactive discussion panel to learn more about this important topic.

January 25-26, 2017
All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone

"All Governments Lie" (the subtitle might be “Most Journalists Lie”) is a timely, convincing documentary that will cause audiences to question what they see and read.

January 26, 2017
What's The Matter With America?

Thomas Frank, author and founder of The Baffler magazine, delivers Ryerson's annual Phyllis Clarke Memorial Lecture.

January 26-29, 2017
Guelph Organic Conference & Trade Show

165-booth Trade Show in the Guelph University Centre (Jan. 28-29), 42-workshop program, multiple trade gatherings, tastings, events, soirées and other network happenings..

January 25, 2017
Why Should I Care About The State of Journalism?

What happens to our democracy when investigative journalism declines and fake news and echo chambers impact worldviews, actions and votes?

January 29, 2017
A Life of Activism: Natalie Zemon Davis & Chandler Davis

The United Jewish People’s Order hosts a talk with the UJPO members and lifelong social justice activists who came to Canada during the McCarthy era in the U.S.

The Connexions Calendar is an online calendar that exists to advertise events that support social justice, democracy, human rights, ecology, and other causes. We invite you to use it to promote your events. Adding events to the Connexions Calendar is FREE. We'll give you a username and password which you use to log on. Use the contact form to arrange for a username and password. Read more →

Seeds of Fire

January 25, 2002
Israeli Refusniks

A group of Israeli reservists issues a declaration (the Combatants’ Letter) saying they will not serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) if assigned to the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip.

January 30, 1968
The Tet Offensive

Beginning of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The National Liberation Front in South Vietnam and North Vietnamese troops launch a series of coordinated attacks on U.S. occupation forces and their South Vietnamese collaborators. They attack Saigon, 36 provincial capitals, and more than 100 cities and towns, as well as American military bases. They suffer heavy losses, but the attacks become a turning point in the war, as wide sections of the American public come to realize that the American invasion of Vietnam is not the success that U.S. government propaganda has said it is.

February 1, 1960
Lunch counter sit-in

Four black students sit down at a Woolworth’s whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, claiming their right to be served, and refuse to leave. It is not the first sit-in in the American civil rights movement (there have been sit-ins in at least 16 cities since 1957) but this one lights a spark and gathers increasing support. The sit-ins continue, and in July Woolworth’s finally agrees to desegregate its lunch counter after losing 20% of its business. The sit-ins also succeed in gaining widespread publicity and support for the civil rights struggle in the American South.

February 2, 1512

Hatuey, a Taino from Hispaniola who fought against the Spanish invasion of Cuba, is burned alive by the Spanish after being captured. His legend lives on and inspires future generations of rebels in the next five centuries.

February 4, 1913
Rosa Parks

Birth of Rosa Parks (Rosa Louise McCauley) (1913-2005), American civil rights activist. Her refusal in December 1955 to give up her seat on the bus to a white man leads to the Montgomery bus boycott, which in turn leads to the end of laws requiring segregated seating in public transportation.

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This issue was edited by Ulli Diemer.

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