VN-E11: Hal Muskat
Podcast (VN-E11): “There were US anti-war soldiers all over the world” – Hal Muskat
Vietnam Series Podcast, Episode 11:
“I told my command officer that I wasn’t going to, I was refusing my orders [to Vietnam] … In his rage, he thought if he court-martialed me, he’d have to stay in the Army past his discharge date.”
“My bottom line was, if I ever couldn’t get out of orders to Vietnam, I was going to desert. There wasn’t any issue about that.”
Hal Muskat is a Vietnam era veteran antiwar activist. He enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Paris, France, in 1966 as a clerk to support the European Command, and later sent to Germany. He refused orders to Vietnam in 1968, and took part of the GI Movement.
“It put the military on notice that there was an active GI resistance to their command. And we were going to, we were actively trying to sabotage the war in Vietnam.”
Vietnam Full Disclosure
This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured.
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Minor edits made for clarity and historical accuracy.
Hal Muskat: We wanted GI’s to know there were U.S. anti war soldiers all over the world. There was stuff at Fort Hood, at Fort Ord, at Fort Bliss, at every US Army base. By that time in the US, there was a GI Movement, on every Naval ship. The Coral Sea was putting out two fucking newsletters. The Pentagon, with antiwar GIs, were publishing three different rags representing political positions on the left.
John Luckenbaugh: This is the Courage to Resist Podcast. I’m John Luckenbaugh. This Courage to Resist Podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure Effort of Veterans For Peace.
My guest today is Hal Muskat, Burning Man artist and grandfather, raised in New York City, enlisted into the Army in 1965, at the age of 19. He was deployed to Paris, France, in 1966 as a clerk to support the European Command, and later sent to Germany
He refused orders to Vietnam in 1968, and took part of the GI Movement. Welcome, Hal.
Hal Muskat: Hey, how are you doing? Thanks for your call.
John Luckenbaugh: Can you give us a brief overview of your life leading up to your enlisting?
Hal Muskat: I graduated in high school in June. I worked on resorts until the last September. Worked at the World’s Fair in September. Visited friends in Montreal. After that, they wanted me to stay, because I was about to, I was going to be drafted. I wasn’t in college. Hung out in New York. Hitchhiked to California, marched in an antiwar parade from Venice to Hollywood, I think it was, or … International Days of Protest in 1965.
Went back to help my folks move to Maryland from New York, and then hitchhiked up to New York City, to enlist, in a state of severe depression.
John Luckenbaugh: What were you thinking when you listed into the military?
Hal Muskat: “I need to stay out of it. I need to be in a situation where I will not be sent to Vietnam.” That’s all I was thinking at that time. I didn’t want to be a part of it. I was anti-military, but I didn’t know what else to do, and I did not want to be drafted, but newspapers said they were starting to draft 100,000 guys, from, like, 15,000 or something, in December.
John Luckenbaugh: Wow.
Hal Muskat: And I wasn’t in school, and my girlfriend’s parents in Chicago said, if I continued to stay there and see her, they’d stop paying for her college. That didn’t seem fair, so I enlisted to Europe.
They guarantee they send you, but in the little print they don’t share at that time, when you sign, is that the Army considers that guarantee fulfilled after 90 days in Europe, before your enlistment. They did send me to Europe. I totally fucking lucked out, in going and being one of the last GIs stationed in Paris, because DeGaulle had already kicked out NATO and all foreign troops.
John Luckenbaugh: What is an enlistment package?
Hal Muskat: An enlistment package is simply a guarantee to send you to Europe. That’s all.
John Luckenbaugh: Okay.
Hal Muskat: And they fulfill that guarantee.
John Luckenbaugh: Then they can send you to Vietnam?
Hal Muskat: Then they can send your ass any place, right. After 90 days they consider the guarantee fulfilled.
John Luckenbaugh: Tell us about your service. Why did you choose to be a clerk?
Hal Muskat: While I was stationed in Paris, and then, which enabled me to change my MOS, from Clerk to Entertainment Specialist, after the civilian entertainment director assured me, if I could keep my Entertainment MOS, there were no slots in Vietnam for that MOS, none at all. That was all done by civilians, and it sounds like an attractive offer, so I thought I would go work for him.
He put in for a change of my MOS, and it worked for awhile. At least it worked there, because it was the European Command, as I’ve mentioned. It was the Pentagon in Europe, a joint command, and it existed to support NATO. NATO was about 15 miles away. This is a place where captains and majors took out the garbage.
And we were a support unit for them, and you put on plays, and shit like that. And had the theater, ran the base theater, but the Army being what it was, when they started shutting down bases, the entertainment was the first thing they shut down. Everything on our base, the first thing they shut down was the theater, so I was out of a job after four or five months.
John Luckenbaugh: That’s always the first thing that is shut down.
Hal Muskat: Yeah, right? I just did, had little odd jobs, facilitating families moving. All the time, I was hanging out in Paris, like we … We, meaning the Entertainment Division of the US Army, European Support Command in Paris, France supplied the set for the Living Theater of Paris, The Living Theater of New York’s Paris production of Mother Courage, which is … Brecht was a Communist writer, just totally a antiwar play, and we were subversive by supplying their set from the stage production we didn’t need anymore.
I started hanging out with an artsy, intellectual, critical thinking, antiwar crowd in Paris. And after being reassigned to Germany when the base closed, I’d return every couple of weeks, which is when I met Terry Klug. He noticed my car with GI license plates, and stuck a sticker on the windshield, inviting me to a meeting.
John Luckenbaugh: How did they influence you?
Hal Muskat: I was really happy to have an introduction to the American deserters community in Paris, which was half underground, and half not.
John Luckenbaugh: Yeah.
Hal Muskat: I guess they were pretty much exposed, especially those with declared status. As deserters, there were plenty of guys there who had not declared their status yet. And I was looking for connections, because my bottom line was, if I ever couldn’t get out of orders to Vietnam, I was going to desert. There wasn’t any issue about that.
John Luckenbaugh: What were your orders for Vietnam?
Hal Muskat: I wasn’t in Vietnam. In Germany, I was ordered, came down on a computer-generated “levy”, to go to Vietnam. And I told my command officer that I wasn’t going to, I was refusing my orders.
John Luckenbaugh: Okay. What happened when you refused orders?
Hal Muskat: I have no idea. I didn’t take that step. I just said I wasn’t going. I’m refusing orders. The Major was an alcoholic, a very, very … the only thing he hated more than me, I wasn’t a good soldier. The only thing he hated more than me was the Army. He had done three or four tours in Vietnam.
He’d been in the Army over 20 years, he couldn’t get further than major, he was an alcoholic, an abusive bastard, and he had less than 30 days to get out, and retire with 20-plus years. And he didn’t want anything standing in his way.
In his rage, he thought if he court-martialed me, he’d have to stay in the Army past his discharge date, and prosecute a court-martial, which was totally … I knew it was incorrect, but in his rage, he didn’t, and he just yelled at me: “No fucking asshole motherfucking creep pussy ass motherfucker’s going to extend my stay in the Army so I can put his fucking ass in jail!”
And he just screamed and yelled. After the first couple minutes, I mean, it was scary, but after the first couple of minutes, I realized, that’s all he was going to do. As a clerk, I knew he could easily cross my name off a computer generated “levy”, and add another, which was what they eventually did.
And all during that time in Paris, the first six months in Paris, I spent every, what, Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, when The Army Times came out, the European edition, crossing off names that I recognized from basic training, all summer long. Most of them were killed in action in Vietnam. Within the first few months, in country, dozens of names every week.
In fact, when I visited the Wall, after the first couple times, I kind of went … The first time I went into a trance. So I was looking between April, and June, July, August 1966, when I would have been there, for my name.
John Luckenbaugh: Wow!
Hal Muskat: In the middle, my name, and it was kind of an out of body experience. But it was kind of traumatic, seeing everybody else’s name.
John Luckenbaugh: I can’t even imagine that feeling. Did you have a relationship with Jane Fonda, while in Paris?
Hal Muskat: Terry, we figured out, spoke to Jane initially, around the same week he spoke with me. And she immediately latched onto what he was saying, and became a very early, very, very early supporter of antiwar GIs and deserters. I mean, by early ’68, she was on our side.
But I didn’t meet her there. I didn’t meet her until, I don’t know, some time in the ’70s or ’80s or ’90s. But again, during showings of Sir No Sir!. And we also talked about it, that Terry had initially organized both of us around the time.
John Luckenbaugh: Okay. Were you a part of the GI Movement?
Hal Muskat: I was introduced to the GI Movement in more than just … I met people who were doing stuff, supporting deserters, writing publications. I’d bring literature back to Germany, and distribute it on my base.
John Luckenbaugh: What did they say?
Hal Muskat: The Army didn’t like that.
John Luckenbaugh: And what’d you experience? What was the overall feeling toward the movement in the military?
Hal Muskat: Oh, we were hated.
John Luckenbaugh: Was it the majority, or minority?
Hal Muskat: At that time? Before Tet, the Vietnam vets were, like, “Right on!” The brass and military command was not very happy. And GIs were open, because we knew that we were dying.
John Luckenbaugh: Yeah. Why didn’t more come out?
Hal Muskat: More GIs?
John Luckenbaugh: Yeah.
Hal Muskat: More didn’t, due to fear, but more did, due to reality.
John Luckenbaugh: Okay.
Hal Muskat: I mean, take a look, 1969, Fifth Avenue antiwar march.
John Luckenbaugh: Yeah.
Hal Muskat: Easter Parade. 1969, 50 years ago … fuck, tomorrow. I got back to the States, with three years in Europe, the day before. The day before Easter, at Fort Dix, and that night, I went up and my great-grandmother had an apartment, uptown Manhattan, and Dix was like, a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride to the city.
When I got out, off the bus at Port Authority, in New York City, I was inundated by antiwar civilians passing out leaflets. By the way, nobody’s … and all the GIs, there were thousands passing through there, thousands.
John Luckenbaugh: Wow.
Hal Muskat: We’re obvious, in or out of uniform. I mean, the students had long hair, we didn’t, for one thing. And I don’t remember anybody being spit on, either. And the leaflets were inviting us to participate in a demonstration the next day, which I knew nothing about, and subsequent meetings and parties that night. That night, Saturday and Sunday night.
I went to a bunch of parties, that different organizations … I went to the demonstration. I wanted to see, because I had been out of the country, what an antiwar demonstration was like. I had seen newspapers. This was April ’69. And I got down to where I could see the parade coming, and when they got to where I could recognize anybody, easily the first 1,000 were active duty American GIs, and Vietnam combat veterans, at least 1,000, in front of the parade.
John Luckenbaugh: Wow! That’s awesome.
Hal Muskat: That’s what I said, and I didn’t see anymore of the parade, because I joined them. Then one of the leaflets I got was about people who were organizing at Fort Dix.
John Luckenbaugh: When you returned to Fort Dix in April 1969, what was the name of the newsletter you helped published?
Hal Muskat: “Shakedown” had just published the first two or three issues, I don’t know, that was one. Fort Dix had, like, three or four newspapers publish.
John Luckenbaugh: So it wasn’t just one per base?
Hal Muskat: No, The Pentagon had three different antiwar papers coming out of it. At that point, by early ’69, it was dedicated, committed civilians, who were opposed to the war, were enlisting to organize us.
John Luckenbaugh: Wow.
Hal Muskat: One of the guys who started Shakedown had a National Guard deferment while he was in school. So he’s like, “Well, I’ll do six months, fuck this deferment. I’ll do my six-month National Guard, and I’m going to talk to Boston and Columbia SDS first, and get some support for what I’m going to do for the next six months at Fort Dix.” And he did. He helped start and get funding for the newspaper. When I got down there, they had just rented the coffeehouse.
John Luckenbaugh: Were the coffeehouse and Shakedown connected?
Hal Muskat: Yeah. Shakedown and the coffeehouse were connected. Shakedown was the organ of the Fort Dix Coffeehouse, GI Antiwar Project.
John Luckenbaugh: Did it have a name?
Hal Muskat: No, it was called the coffeehouse, as far as I know.
John Luckenbaugh: Okay.
Hal Muskat: Yeah, we weren’t very creative. The Shelter Half, I think, was an … and that’s an Army tool. That’s your poncho. The Shelter Half, I think, was in Seattle, and what was it called in, well, in Texas …
John Luckenbaugh: Oleo Strut?
Hal Muskat: Yeah, right, and that’s also an Army term. So we weren’t very creative. So we just called our place the Coffeehouse. Somehow, I heard about this cat named Sam, who was involved, getting Shakedown out, and he’d heard about me. And I guess, my second or third day back, I was arrested by MPs for distributing an antiwar paper on the base. Then I think he had heard of me, and not knowing what to do with me, the … what was that unit called?
It was like, a temporary unit for people transferring in and out of Fort Dix, and I was transferred in, waiting to be assigned to a permanent unit. So what they had me doing all day was working in the service, cleaning up the service clubs. And who hung out in service clubs? Brand new GIs.
John Luckenbaugh: Yeah.
Hal Muskat: So, every day I was supplied with a couple hundred new GIs to talk to about the war in Vietnam. It was an incredible organizing opportunity. And I did.
John Luckenbaugh: What kind of things were published on the pages?
Hal Muskat: You can read it online. Shakedown’s online, I believe, on the GI Newspaper Archives. Other stories about Gi resistance, articles about the war, by GIs, by civilians, and coverage of … we wanted people to know, we were not the only ones at Fort Dix. There was stuff at Fort Hood, at Fort Ord, at Fort Bliss, at every US Army base. By that time in the US, there was a GI movement.
John Luckenbaugh: Really?
Hal Muskat: On every naval ship. The Coral Sea was putting out two fucking newsletters. The Pentagon, with antiwar GIs, were publishing three different rags representing political positions on the left.
John Luckenbaugh: How many were distributed?
Hal Muskat: Several, several thousand. We had-
John Luckenbaugh: How often?
Hal Muskat: Every night, we went on base. Every night, we went into the barracks, at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 a.m., and put them on people’s bunks. They woke up to them. We distributed in town. We handed them out on base. I was stupid, and doing it too visibly, and after my first court-martial, they decided they didn’t want me around Dix, and sent me to Fort Lee, Virginia. And I got involved down there, and we put out a newsletter after a couple of weeks.
And the command there said, “We don’t want you, either,” and sent me back to Dix. I got back to Dix, I believe, as the coffeehouse was opening, and a couple days after the Fort Dix 38 had their so-called riot. And one of the prisoners was my friend from Paris, Terry Klug, who had turned himself in.
John Luckenbaugh: Tell me about that event.
Hal Muskat: In June ’69, that was 38 guys who were charged with rioting.
John Luckenbaugh: Why? Why did they riot?
Hal Muskat: Conditions, treatment by the guards, abuse by the guards, opposition to the war. Just like being political prisoners.
John Luckenbaugh: What did they do to suppress the GI press movement?
Hal Muskat: Oh, they banned our papers on base, which didn’t work. They tried to make our coffeehouse off limits, which didn’t work. After the riot, they took the ringleaders out, put them in solitary confinement.
John Luckenbaugh: Wow.
Hal Muskat: That didn’t work, because they couldn’t stop them from going to church, and I went in the stockade Friday afternoon. The riot was the week before. We had a meeting Saturday morning, in the reception barracks, where I was temporarily, and we decided to all go to church the next morning. And we had a couple hundred people in there, asking the fucking Army priest, about the morals of killing, the morality of invading and occupying, and we were educating everybody else in the room.
And they stomped down on religious freedom. And then they moved me to … the next Wednesday, I wasn’t in the stockade a week, to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, like, 100 miles more distant from New York City, and my support base.
John Luckenbaugh: Okay. That’s right down the road from me.
Hal Muskat: Indiantown? I lasted six lovely months there.
John Luckenbaugh: Were you supported through your court-martial?
Hal Muskat: Yeah. More so, the second court-martial, but yes. I had good civilian lawyers from New York, one of whom was named Kunstler, at my second court-martial. And yeah, there was support. You know, that’s my second. I had two court-martials. The second one was, I got six months. The first one, I did not get any time. But there were also two court-martials that day of GIs, for passing out literature.
John Luckenbaugh: When you resisted, did they use you as an example? Did they come down harder on you?
Hal Muskat: … of our constitutional rights. That was being indicated by both the Army military command, and New Jersey State Police. I mean, they were literally stopping our civilian vehicles on state highways, for going through stop signs that didn’t exist. They’d do stuff like, take a driver’s driver’s license, one cop, and then another cop would come and ask for the guy’s driver’s license.
He says, “I just gave it to the other cop.” “You don’t have your driver’s license on you? You’re under arrest.”
John Luckenbaugh: Wow! That’s messed up.
Hal Muskat: Shit like that.
John Luckenbaugh: Did you fight it?
Hal Muskat: Yeah. The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
John Luckenbaugh: What happened?
Hal Muskat: And we won.
John Luckenbaugh: How did the officers feel about it?
Hal Muskat: Oh, it did, as importantly, it put the military on notice that there was an active GI resistance to their command. And we were going to, we were actively trying to sabotage the war in Vietnam. There was no doubt about that. The House Un-American Activities Committee published three volumes on our activities, which are a treasure. Some of what they reprinted and published is the only record of some of that press.
I mean, there were over 250 GI antiwar newspapers, written, published and distributed by us, by the middle of 1969.
John Luckenbaugh: How did your resistance shape who you became?
Hal Muskat: I still resist illegal and immoral authority, and that gave me the moral and political basis to do so, resist oppression and racism, and that gave me the political and social basis to do so. And I learned that a movement as disparate as we are, and not even united under one organization, could actively act to sabotage the United States, in its ability to make war.
I mean, by 1971, they didn’t even trust us on the ground at all. They were disarming GIs after patrol, when they were coming back to base camp. They were taking their fucking guns away.
John Luckenbaugh: Why?
Hal Muskat: Why? Because we were shooting our officers in it, and NCOs who were out with us. By ’71, there was widespread resistance in Vietnam, and we helped with that.
John Luckenbaugh: Vietnam Veterans Against The War sponsored the Winter Soldier Investigation. In what ways does the policy of the military create abhorrent behavior?
Hal Muskat: Oh, they used a colonial mentality, racism, American exceptionalism. The nice kid next door to cut off Vietnamese ears, and carry them around on his canteen belt … he was a Boy Scout, and everything. He played football.
John Luckenbaugh: Right.
Hal Muskat: Racism, and dehumanizing an enemy, if racism can’t be employed, but definitely dehumanizing the enemy, and in terms of America’s incursion into most of the rest of the world, racism. And that’s played out institutionally.
John Luckenbaugh: What would have stopped the war?
Hal Muskat: We did stop the war.
John Luckenbaugh: What would have stopped the war sooner?
Hal Muskat: Getting more GIs to put down their guns, or turn them around sooner.
John Luckenbaugh: Right.
Hal Muskat: Or Daniel Ellsberg publishing the Pentagon Papers sooner. Or Tet happening sooner. I mean, it was a combination of many things.
John Luckenbaugh: What nonviolent action could or can be done to reach the GIs?
Hal Muskat: I’m in favor of massed theatrical die-ins on the steps of Congress, and/or VA, hundreds of GIs pretending they just committed suicide, with cow blood and whatever.
John Luckenbaugh: Why don’t they do that?
Hal Muskat: Ah, people too afraid.
John Luckenbaugh: Yeah. Walk us through some of the things you’ve done as an activist after the Vietnam War.
Hal Muskat: Supported antiwar GIs, and getting involved in culture that represents anything but the predominant, dominant paradigm. Push alternative and subversive cultures.
John Luckenbaugh: Okay.
Hal Muskat: And encourage people to be much more aware of how our government operates, and for whom.
John Luckenbaugh: What would you say to change the opinion of someone who hasn’t had firsthand experience with war, and they’re indifferent about the military?
Hal Muskat: Tell them, wake the fuck up and study American history.
John Luckenbaugh: Huh.
Hal Muskat: I have no patience for people who don’t get it, at this point. None. If you’d ask me what I would say, to encourage a racist to be non-racist, then nothing.
John Luckenbaugh: Hal, thanks for your time today, sharing your experiences of the Vietnam War, your thoughts on resisting, and your continued activism. You are an inspiration to us all. Thank you.
Hal Muskat: You’re welcome.
John Luckenbaugh: This Courage to Resist Podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure Effort of Veterans For Peace.
This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform. For many involved with this campaign to speak truth to power, you can keep alive the antiwar perspective on the US war in Vietnam.
Visit vietnamfulldisclosure.org and couragetoresist.org for more information, and to offer your support.