Soldiers Must Refuse to Fight to End the War

ukraine russian troops

Imperialist countries cannot wage war for global power without the tens of thousands of workers they recruit and arm to fight for their empires. If soldiers rebel and fraternize with opposing armies, they can end wars.

Soldiers have significant power by deserting, sabotaging equipment, and refusing orders. There are some reports of Russian soldiers deserting; over 30,000 have died! International Business News (June 22, 2022) reported that 200 Russian soldiers hid out in a village in Ukraine rather than fight. An officer shot himself in the leg to avoid combat, and another GI ran over an officer with his tank. The Russian Army released 100 national guardsmen who refused orders. Another soldier told a reporter that “none of us wanted this war.”

The working class of all nations should not take sides in the war in Ukraine. Russia, the United States, and the EU are fighting for control of natural resources, minerals, oil, gas, grains, and pipelines. The US is intent on weakening the power of Russia and boosting the number of NATO military bases around Russia. Russia has retaliated against these threats with horrendous attacks on civilians.

If soldiers on both sides refused to fight, they could end the war as in Vietnam, described below.  Soldier revolts in WWI and WWII led to revolutions in Russia and China, but successful revolutions require people’s commitment to egalitarianism and anti-racism, and the organization of workers, students, and GIs into a party.

Historical Example of Soldier Rebellions

The Vietnam War, 1962-1973

The US waged war against the Vietnamese from 1962-1973 in order to exploit Vietnam for its cheap labor, resources, and markets for US investment.

A massive anti-war movement developed in the US. Hundreds of thousands of people, including soldiers, marched in Washington, DC. Students organized and shut down campuses demanding an end to universities’ research and development (R&D) contracts with the Defense Department. They staged strikes and sit-ins in Administration and ROTC (Reserved Officers Training Center) buildings to demand an end collusion with the military, and shut down campuses..

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, a radical union with a rich history of anti-war and antiracist actions refused to unload or load any war materials.

During the war years of the 60s and 70s, the antiracist movement grew. Cities blew up when Martin Luther King, Jr. died by an assassin’s bullet after linking US foreign policy to domestic racism. Decades of racism caused black workers to torch businesses and fight the police. Thousands took to the streets demanding jobs, health care, and housing, and an end to poverty, police brutality, and discrimination. Black activists organized the militant Black Panther Party to offer armed self-defense and community services. Chapters developed in 68 cities and grew to 5,000 members, two-thirds of whom were women.  Black veterans in the South formed the armed Deacons for Defense and Justice to repel Klan attacks on civil rights workers.

These uprisings and a growing civil rights movement influenced the anti-war movement in the Armed Forces. Anti-racists rejected labeling the Vietnamese as “gooks.” As one GI said in a famous quote, “No Vietnamese ever called me (the n word).” Black soldiers led militant actions in Vietnam and on US bases. They organized in military jails, coffee houses, and in the field of combat, refusing orders and “working it out in the field,” i.e., negotiating with the officers about a course of action. Soldiers also found safe places to sit and refuse to “search and destroy” Vietnamese people. Drug use was rampant making soldiers totally unreliable. In response to poor treatment and orders that placed soldiers in unnecessary danger, many GIs fragged their officers using their grenades to kill their officers. Estimates of incidents of fragging range from 100 to over 1000 officers killed. The Army awarded officers for the number of people killed which placed the GIs in dangerous and unnecessary combat situations. The My Lai massacre of 500 villagers in 1968 epitomized one of the most racist assaults on Vietnamese people. The corruption among the officers and their class benefits (six months vs one-year deployments) ignited fury against the brass and the government.

When the brass of Ft. Hood, Texas ordered GIs to suppress any “riots” that could break out in black neighborhoods in Chicago during the Democratic Convention, the GIs convened a meeting of 100 and planned to resist these orders. The brass court martialed 43 but gave out short sentences to avoid further mutinies.

Twenty-seven soldiers went “on strike” to protest the murder of a black GI on the Presidio base. At Ft. Dix, New Jersey, soldiers burned down a part of the stockade to protest the brutality of the guards, unacceptable food, and the racist treatment of black and Puerto Rican prisoners. Women organized and led 10,000 people who marched to the base. They bravely confronted rows of soldiers armed with guns and bayonets.  Women were key anti-war organizers. They helped conduct political education with the GIs, wrote leaflets and articles for newspapers, and planned the large marches around the country.

Sailors also revolted on the aircraft carriers. Rebellions occurred on ships docked in US ports and stationed off the coast of Vietnam. Stop Our Ships (SOS) was the call to action. Sailors sabotaged equipment by throwing tools into engines, disabling the ships, and causing millions of dollars in repairs. A wrench in the engine of one aircraft carrier delayed the ship for more than three months. They also damaged some of the planes and boldly refused to service the bombers launched off the huge carriers. The Armed Forces reported 488 acts of sabotage in 1971.

These mutinous actions ended the war. The Department of Defense estimates that 503,926 GIs deserted from 1966-1973. By 1973, the US could not maintain an armed force in Vietnam due to these mutinies AND the courageous, persistent, and guerilla style fighting of the Vietnamese people who successfully repelled the French in 1954 and the US in 1973.

It was all over for the Nixon Administration when the pilots, the most elite group in the military, refused to bomb North Vietnam and Cambodia!! In 1973, the Vietnamese National Liberation Front entered Saigon triumphantly as the US exited.  It was a serious defeat for the US ruling class and a victory for the global working class.

Opposition to imperialist war must develop and grow among soldiers and civilians from the US and the EU to Russia and Ukraine to end the war. In the end, the troops will end the war if they build anti-war actions that weaken the ability of the imperial powers to wage war.


For a Deeper Dive

Sir! No Sir!, a film depicting soldiers organizing against the Vietnam War using footage and interviews with the officers and GIs. Incredibly moving and heart wrenching. Netflix.

Catalinotto J. Turn the Guns Around: Mutinies, Soldier Revolts, and Revolutions. World View Forum, 2017.

Cortright, D. Soldiers in Revolt. Haymarket: 2005.

DuBois WEB. Color and Democracy.

Geier J. Vietnam: The Soldier’s Revolt. International Socialist Review, Issue 9, Fall 1999.

STOP US War Funding In Ukraine! Protest At Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s Oakland Office


Karyn Pomerantz Co-editor of the blog

[email protected]


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