1966 December 29

Dr. Howard Levy Refuses Orders Over Vietnam War; Charges U.S. War Crimes


In one of the celebrated cases of the Vietnam War, Dr. Howard Levy, a dermatologist and Captain in the Army, on this day announced that he would refuse to teach certain medical skills to Special Forces troops scheduled to be sent to Vietnam. The Army then charged him with disobeying orders and with making disloyal statements.  ACLU attorney Charles Morgan agreed to represent him, stating that the case raised “questions of constitutional significance.” Morgan raised the “Nuremberg Defense,” arguing that Levy was justified in refusing to train U.S. Green Berets because they were committing atrocities in the Vietnam War in violation of international law. Levy was subsequently court-martialed and sentenced to three years confinement; he served two years.

For more on Charles Morgan, and his courageous act in speaking out against racist bombings in Birmingham, Alabama, see September 16, 1963.

In addition to Dr. Levy’s case, the Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Read: Howard Levy and David Miller, Going to Jail: The Political Prisoner (1971) [NOTE: David Miller was convicted of burning his draft card during the Vietnam War]

Learn more: Trials of the Resistance (1970)

Learn more: Terry H. Anderson, The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee (1995)

Read first-hand accounts of 1960s-1970s radicals: Clara Bingham, Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost its Mind and Found its Soul (2016)

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