|Part of the G.I. movement|
|Date||October 14, 1968|
|Resulted in||Arrest of protesters|
The Presidio mutiny, one of the earliest instances of internal military resistance to the Vietnam War, was a sit-down protest carried out by 27 prisoners at the Presidio stockade in San Francisco, California on October 14, 1968. The stiff sentences given out at court martials for the participants (known as the Presidio 27) attracted international attention to the extent of sentiment against the war within the U.S. armed forces and the mutiny became "[p]erhaps the single best known event of the domestic GI movement".
Several events and the overall conditions in the stockade set the stage for the protest. First, there was the death of Richard Bunch, a prisoner in the stockade, who was killed on October 11 with a shotgun blast while walking away from a work detail. That evening there was a vocal protest inside the stockade against the killing; Keith Mather later called it "a miniature riot". On Sunday the 13th, prison officials held a memorial service and all the prisoners went "because he meant something to us." During the service the "chaplain stated it was justifiable homicide." This infuriated the prisoners who knew Bunch had been shot in the back and, according to one of the prisoners, "We started throwing chairs in every direction and yelling." Further heightening the tension, conditions in the stockade were overcrowded, with up to 140 prisoners housed in a space intended for 88, and there were charges of mistreatment by guards. One of the guards recalled later that the "place was extremely overcrowded...The conditions were atrocious.":p.74:p.54 & 58
The protest was set into motion, however, by a group of four AWOL soldiers who turned themselves in at the end of a large anti-war march in San Francisco on October 12 near where the Presidio is located. The military had made attempts to prevent service members from participating in the march, ordering up mandatory formations and special maneuvers which would keep men on base. Nevertheless, a large contingent of several hundred active duty and reserve servicemen marched at the front of the parade. The four AWOL soldiers (Linden Blake, Keith Mather, Walter Pawlowski, and Randy Rowland), having been put in the stockade, met with prisoners over the weekend and convinced them to participate in a protest over prisoner conditions and against the war.
The protest was carried out during the morning formation on Monday the 14th. Twenty-eight prisoners broke ranks and sat in the grass, singing "We Shall Overcome". One of them returned to ranks when challenged, but the remainder continued to sing, with Pawlowski reading a list of demands. After the first orders to disperse were ignored, the camp commandant came and read the articles of mutiny. Randy Rowland recalled later that fire trucks pulled up around them. He said, "We didn't know it at the time but later we found out they told the firemen to squirt us, and the firemen said no, we fight fires, we don't do this shit." Eventually the protest was broken up by military police in riot gear with "gas masks and their big sticks." They removed the protesters one at a time.:p.56
The trials, escapes and appeals
The protesters were all charged with mutiny, the rarest and one of the most serious military offenses, which carries a potential death penalty. They were tried in small groups in the spring of 1969, with future star criminal lawyer Brendan Sullivan among the defense counsel. Before the trials, however, three of the prisoners had escaped. On Christmas Eve in 1968, Mather and Pawlowski, "facing long jail terms for their leadership roles" and hoping to undermine the case against the other protesters by removing the "star defendants" from the trial, took advantage of the holiday distractions, jumped out a window and "jogged off the post". Two months later, Blake made a dramatic escape from a prison hospital, sawing through his window bars for two weeks at night with a smuggled hacksaw blade, and then squeezing naked through the hole. As the first defendants were sentenced to 15, 14, and 16 years at hard labor, national attention was focused on the severity of punishment for a non-violent protest. The charge of mutiny was particularly denounced, and even the officer in charge of the preliminary investigation recommended reduction of charges to "willful disobedience", but was overruled by Lt. Gen. Stanley R. Larsen, commander of the Sixth Army.
On appeal, the long sentences for mutiny were voided by the Court of Military Review in June 1970, and reduced to short sentences for willful disobedience of a superior officer. Rowland, for example, was released in 1970 after a year and a half imprisonment. The three escapees fled to Canada, with Mather remaining a fugitive until 1985. At the time of his release from the Army disciplinary barracks at Ft. Riley, Mather's lawyer Howard DeNike described his client as America's "last prisoner of conscience from the Vietnam War." 
The Presidio mutiny was the first of a number of protests and riots that drew attention to anti-war dissent within the military. It brought press investigation of the conditions at the stockade and of the situations of the protesters. For example, it was determined that none of those convicted had been given the non-combatant assignment promised by recruiters. And it highlighted a serious drawback to the military general court martial, namely that the court's deciding members are "named - and then rated - by the man who sends the case to trial in the first place.".:p.219 But even more significantly it raised the fundamental question of democracy within the military. Can, and should, rank-and-file soldiers debate and read about the war they are assigned to fight; and what if they disagree with their commanders?:p.226 These same issues were working their way through the federal courts in the case of Captain Howard Levy, another early resister to the Vietnam War, eventually being decided by the Supreme Court in the controversial Parker v. Levy (1974).
The book The Unlawful Concert by Fred Gardner (Viking Press, 1970) reviews the affair in detail. In 1980 the movie The Line depicted a fictionalized version of events. The episode is also examined in the 2005 documentary Sir! No Sir!, which examined military resistance to the Vietnam War.
- A Matter of Conscience
- Brian Willson
- Court-martial of Howard Levy
- Concerned Officers Movement
- Donald W. Duncan
- FTA Show - 1971 anti-Vietnam War road show for GIs
- F.T.A. - documentary film about the FTA Show
- Fort Hood Three
- GI's Against Fascism
- GI Coffeehouses
- Movement for a Democratic Military
- Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War
- Sir! No Sir!, a documentary about the anti-war movement within the ranks of the United States Armed Forces
- Stop Our Ship (SOS) anti-Vietnam War movement in and around the U.S. Navy
- Veterans For Peace
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War
- Waging Peace in Vietnam
- Winter Soldier Investigation
- Sir! No Sir!, a film about GI resistance to the Vietnam War
- Keith Mather oral history from A Matter of Conscience - GI Resistance During the Vietnam War
- Randy Rowland oral history from A Matter of Conscience - GI Resistance During the Vietnam War
- Waging Peace in Vietnam - US Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War
- Moser, Richard R. (1996). The New Winter Soldiers. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 74.
- "Mutiny in the Presidio". Time. February 21, 1969. Retrieved 2008-11-25. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Gardner, Fred (1970). Unlawful Concert: An Account of the Presidio Mutiny Case. New York, New York: The Viking Press.
- Seidenberg, Willa; Short, William (1992-10-01). A Matter of Conscience: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War. Andover, MA: Addison Gallery of American Art. ISBN 1879886324.
- Rowland, Randy. "The Presidio Mutiny". National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force. Archived from the original on 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2008-11-25. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Cortright, David (2005). Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War. Chicago: Haymarket Books. pp. 57, 58.
- "Presidio Mutiny Case - Barbed Beauty". St. Petersburg Times. April 12, 1969.
- Carver, Ron; Cortright, David; Doherty, Barbara, eds. (2019). Waging Peace in Vietnam: U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War. Oakland, CA: New Village Press. pp. 111–116. ISBN 9781613321072.
- Jeschke, Paul R. (January 28, 1969). "G.I.s Face Mutiny Charge Amid Protest in California". Columbia Missourian. UPI. p. 11. Retrieved 2008-11-25. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)[dead link]
- Crowley, Walt; William Crowley (1997). Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle. University of Washington Press. p. 287.
- Thompson, Erwin N. "Chapter XXI: Sixth U.S. Army, 1946-1980" (PDF). Defender of the Gate: The Presidio of San Francisco: A History from 1846 to 1995. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-11-25. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Vietnam War's "Last Prisoner of Conscience" Prepares for Freedom".
- D'Amato, Anthony A. (1995). "The War Crimes Defense". International Law and Political Reality. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 55. ISBN 9041100369.
- Richard Parker. Parker v. Levy (1974). The First Amendment Encyclopedia [online]. [Retrieved 2020-04-01]. Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University
- Berg, Rick (1990). "Losing Vietnam: Covering the War in an Age of Technology". In Dittmar, Linda; Gene Michaud (eds.). From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.