The book takes readers to San Francisco in the late 1960s. As the war in Vietnam was escalating, twenty-seven men held in the overcrowded stockade staged a sit-down and asked to present a petition of grievances after seeing one of their fellow prisoners killed by a guard.
The angry AWOLS and deserters considered their nonviolent rebellion a justifiable attempt to attract attention to deplorable conditions. That their superior officers would charge them with mutiny in an attempt to squelch dissent by GIs took them by surprise. The first men to be court-martialed were given 15-year sentences.
Gardner covered their trials for Hard Times, a Washington weekly, and subsequently wrote The Unlawful Concert. His book, which John Leonard of the New York Times called “disturbing and important,” describes the Presidio 27 — as they came to be known — and the civilian and military lawyers who took part in their trials, and it raises questions concerning the rights of military personnel.
“If the book will serve to focus attention on the fact that whenever the men in the ranks air their grievances, the administration of military justice ranks near the top of the list,” wrote Chicago lawyer Gerald L. Sbarboro in the American Academy of Political and Social Science Annals, ” … then the author’s efforts to accentuate many of the things that are in fact wrong with military justice will be justifiably rewarded.”