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Oral Histories: Bruce MacLean

Seattle native Bruce MacLean was drafted to the army after graduating from the University of Washington. Opposed to the Vietnam War, if not all wars, MacLean applied for conscientious objector status after being ordered to Vietnam in 1969. While his application was pending, MacLean was stationed at Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, where he worked with an antiwar GI group, the American Servicemen’s Union (ASU), and helped publish Fed Up! underground newspaper.

As MacLean remembers, there was a significant number of soldiers who were against the war on base, and MacLean and the ASU attempted to reach them despite strict military discipline. Sometimes, the ASU used this discipline in their favor: the ASU hosted a public meeting which was immediately interrupted by the military police, giving the ASU a free speech issue to organize around. The ASU attempted to place opposition to the war in a broader context, involving itself in the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott and Native American struggles around fishing rights.

When MacLean’s conscientious objector application was denied, he was ordered to Vietnam. He escaped by climbing out the bathroom window and went AWOL in Seattle before turning himself back in. After spending time in the stockade, he was again ordered to Vietnam, and this time given a full military escort to accompany him onto the plane all the way to Vietnam. His fellow activists seized upon these events to protest MacLean’s “kidnapping” by the army and demanded his return.

In January of 1970, the ASU worked with student activists at the University of Washington to put on a “trial of the army,” a mock trial that held the army accountable for its crimes in Vietnam as well as its repression of dissent and racism within the service. MacLean, one of the “witnesses,” specifically recalls the racism within the army, where non-white soldiers were disproportionately lower ranking, ordered to combat, and killed in battle.

MacLean was discharged in 1971, one of many soldiers deemed “undesirable” to the army, a judgment he wholeheartedly agreed with. After leaving the army, MacLean became a lawyer and worked with discharged soldiers and the Southeast Asian community.

Click here to view a copy of Fed Up, read an article about MacLean’s “kidnapping,” and see ASU’s efforts to organize a Native American GI organization.

Click here to go to a special section about GI organizing at Fort Lewis during the Vietnam War.

Bruce MacLean was interviewed in Seattle on July 13, 2009 by Jessie Kindig and Maria Quintana.