Ryan Harvey

A Timeline of Combat Refusal, Desertion, and Military Resistance

In History on March 28, 2010 at 6:32 pm

500-300 AD. Roman Empire rocked by desertion and draft resistance. Those caught harboring deserters would be, if poor, forced to work in the mines, or if rich, had half of their property confiscated. Rich people were thought to harbor deserters to swell their won agricultural force. Horses were banned from some regions to thwart efforts to harbor deserters. Youths would amputate their thumbs to avoid military service, for which they could be burnt alive. Theodosius I banned this punishment and forced the youth to fight anyways. Draft resistance became such a force that one could get the death penalty for concealing a runaway recruit.

1640s – Deserters from the British military swell the ranks of rebel armies, eventually organized under the New Model Army, that temporarily brought down the monarchy. Shortly before being betrayed by Cromwell, soldiers organized the in Putney Debates to challenge military authority’s to the concepts of grassroots democracy.

1778 – The Philadelphia militia mutinies against George Washington. The rebellion is put down when some of the leaders were executed on the spot under Washington’s orders.

1781 – The Pennsylvania Militia mutinies against war profiteers and for food.  Soldiers march on Philadelphia looting shops and kidnapping wealthy merchant who were jacking prices. Soldiers re-sold the goods in front of the shops for reasonable prices. The militia then rushed into the Pennsylvania assembly demanding changes to the constitution, including a minimum AND maximum wage and the right to elect officers.

1857 – Mutinies and rebellions in the British-Occupied Indian Army, mainly coming out of the Bengal units, expand from religious/cultural dispute into into large wide-scale rebellion for Independence.

1870s -1890s – National Guard and local militias refuse to open fire on, and at times join, strikers fighting for justice in Northern factories/mills. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Homestead Strike of 1892 and the Pullman Strike of 1894 are major examples, but many exist. Usually Guard unites had to be called in from different areas of the states to repress demonstrators.

1890s – Multiple stories emerge of Black GIs from the U.S. soldiers switching sides during the occupation of the Philippines (Spanish American War) and fighting with the indigenous people of the islands.

1903 – Irish-immigrant soldiers drafted into the U.S. Army switch sides during the Mexican-American War, forming the St. Patricio/St. Patrick’s Battalion and fighting alongside Mexican soldiers. Most are killed by the U.S. at the battle of Churobusco.

1914/1915 – Christmas Truce – Soldiers from multiple armies (French, German, Australian, British, many others) refused to fight during Christmas 1914, and to a lesser extent a year later. Known as the Christmas Truce, soldiers played sports, drank and fraternized with each other for a few days until officers forced them to continue fighting, though some officers joined in.

1915/1919 – Mutinies and rebellions rock the British Army across Europe.

1917 – Russian Revolution overthrows Czarist system after major portions of the armed forces, engaged in the war to the East, mutiny, hijack trains and vehicles, and return to the cities to join workers councils moving towards revolution.

1919 – British soldiers under April Lord Allenby refuse to fight during large rebellion in occupied-Egypt. U.S. soldiers sent to oppose Russian Revolution desert and rebel. French soldiers sent to oppose Russian Revolution stage large-scale mutinies in the Black Sea. British soldiers under April Lord Allenby refuse to fight during large rebellion in occupied-Egypt. Mutinies set off failed revolution in Germany.

1920 – Portions of the military join anarchist revolt (Bersaglieri Revolt) against Italian government June 30th. Thousands are repressed by loyalist soldiers at Ancona, Sinigalia, Chiaralie and Piomobino.

1921 – The Kronstadt Mutiny erupts in Northwestern U.S.S.R. critical of Lenin’s government and demanding a more egalitarian and just system.  Rebellion is put down by Lenin.

1921 – Gandi-led non-cooperation movement urges muslims not to fight in the military. When Moplah (muslims peasants) rise up against their landlords soldiers support them, forming guerilla units and raising an army of almost 10,000. Violence leads to splits in movement and it collapses soon after beginning.

1930 – Hindu soldiers in the Garwhal Rifles Unit refuse to open fire on Muslim demonstrators in Peshawar during the Gandi-led Quit India movement.

1932 – Bonus Army, thousands of veterans of World War One, march and camp-out in DC demanding back-pay from war. General Smedley Butler addresses troops with rousing speech of support. The Cavalry eventually repressed the veterans and ends the protests.

1940s – Multiple rebellions involving black GIs rock the armed forces and cause racial fighting on ships and on bases throughout the U.S. military.

1945-1946 – GIs organize “Bring Us Home” committees throughout Japan and the Philippines after getting word that they would be continuing occupations of Asia. Thousands march throughout the Philippines and make world headlines. On Christmas Day, 1945, 4,000 troops march, 1,000 boo down commanding officers at Andrews Field (now Andrews Air Force Base). January 9th 1946 5,000 GIs march on Frankfurt Germany, 5,000 march in Calcutta, India and 15,000 march on Hickman Field in Honolulu. On January 13th, 1946, 500 GIs release the “Enlisted Man’s Magna Carta” in Paris, demanding, among other things, the abolition of officers quarters and separated dining facilities, reform of the court-martial system to include enlisted men, and the opening of all officer’s clubs and posts to enlisted men. Soldiers build solid alliance with CIO unions in the U.S., one of which, in Akron Ohio, released this resolution: “Therefore be it resolved that the Akron Industrial Union Council joins in the soldiers’ protests against the slowdown in demobilization and gives support to the millions of workers in uniform who long for peace, for home, and for a return to a normal life. Be it further resolved that (we) are in full accord with the demonstrating soldiers who protest against being used to protect the wealth and foreign properties of such antilabor corporations as Standard Oil and General Motors.

– Large numbers of Indian soldiers switch sides and fight alongside Indonesians against British Invasion to reinstall Dutch rule. In early 1946, mutiny on the Royal Indian Navy ship Talwar spreads to 22 ships in Bombay Harbor. Sailors form a Naval Central Strike Command and draw up list of demands, including better food, equal pay with British seamen, the release of Independence prisoners and the withdrawal of Indian troops from Indonesia (where they were re-installing the Dutch). A General Strike is called in Bombay to support, involving up to 30,000 strikers. This movement finally achieves independence in India.

1951 – Mass demonstrations and strikes against British rule/presence in Egypt reach military. Mutineers reached into the thousands, hundreds were arrested. 6 months later the government fell, eventually bringing Egypt under the leadership of Nasser, a military man and now a legendary yet controversial leader.

1956 – Hungarian people rise up against Soviet invasion, led by a Russian Officer who switched sides. The rebellion is crushed.

1964-75 – Huge GI movement rocks United States Military, both in Vietnam and at bases at home and around the world. Over 300 GI anti-war newspapers are printed on base or near base, 10 perecent of the U.S. military deserts or goes AWOL, and major incidents of combat refusal, mass draft resistance, refusals to deploy, and on-base protests and sit-ins occur. Movement brings the draft to an end and is a major force in bringing the Vietnam War to an end. GIs sabotage ships and stories of GIs switching sides (the so-called White Cong and the “Salt & Pepper” duo of white and black GIs) and fighting alongside the Vietcong are numerous.

1975 – Portugese soldiers form back-bone of the Carnation Revolution, which overthrows fascism in Portugal without armed-struggle. Soldiers turn “intimidation missions” into organizing drives in the country side, and call demonstrations that mobilize workers and students nation-wide. Soldiers, opposed to the Protugese/British/Dutch Apartheid system in occupied southern Africa also resist deployments to Angola by blowing up their own ships and deserting.

1979 – Iranian soldiers, organized into a regiment specifically to repress rebellions against the Shah, refuse to open fire on student demonstrators, forcing the Shah to flee culminating in the Iranian Revolution.

1980s – 80 percent of the Afghan Army deserts over the course of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Also, many Russian troops switch sides and fight alongside the Mujahedeen and rebel groups.

1980s – The South African War Resistor Defense Fund is established to support soldiers refusing to employ the policies of Apartheid in South Africa.

1982 – Huge mutiny/soldier rebellions in Basra and Mosul/Kurdistan almost topple Saddam Hussein/Ba’ath government in Iraq. Mutiny is put down with the use of poison gas and brutal force.

1982 – Israeli troops organize Soldiers Against Silence, and other groups, to resist orders to occupy and fight in Lebanon. SAS signs up 3,000 reservists who refuse to fight, many are prosecuted.

1991 – AWOL and mutinous soldiers in Basra-area begin march towards Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein. U.S. allows Saddam to violate no-fly zones and crush the soldiers with heavy bombings.

1999 – Soldiers and police join student and workers demonstrations that topple Milosevic in Yugoslavia. Movement wins when soldiers allow students to storm government buildings, some removing their helmets and switching sides in the streets.

2002-present – Israeli soldiers, organized as Refusniks and other affiliations, refuse to carry out policies of occupation and oppression in occupied-Palestine. Many go to jail for refusing the draft or refusing orders into the occupied-territories.

2004-present – Iraq Veterans Against the War forms to mobilize anti-war sentiment within the U.S. military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. IVAW currently consists of over 1,700 members in 48 states and in countries across Europe and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other groups like Courage to Resist and the Military Project, both veteran and civilian-led, form to support military resisters.


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