In this sweeping history, veteran journalist Chris Lombardi covers people within the US military who resisted in one way or another from 1754 to 2020. Despite the scope, in some cases details are so vivid that it seems as though the author must have been a fly on the wall while events were happening.
While conscientious objection to war is an underlying element that runs throughout (Lombardi includes some of the struggles of religious pacifists during the Revolutionary War and early US history), the story she tells is much bigger than that. Much of the resistance within the military has been tied to broader struggles to establish justice and a framework for civil liberties. Conscientious objectors (COs) and war resisters of World War II later played key roles in the civil rights movement, such as Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington. But this book shows how the struggle for racial justice has been deeply entwined with war resistance throughout US history.
For many reformers, it was a stint in war or the military that awakened their consciences. That holds true for well-known war resisters such as Philip Berrigan, William Kunstler, and Reality Winner, as well as for far more obscure heroes of conscience, such as Cyrus Pringle, a Civil War CO who was shackled and abused.
Lombardi highlights the vital role of veterans’ organizations in this story. In the 1940s, the progressive American Veterans Committee “was hoping to shift the ‘American Way’ further along the path blazed by FDR, and deploy that unity and shared sacrifice in the cause of fairness and justice.” Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) both sponsored “Winter Soldier” hearings, in which veterans presented first-hand testimonies about atrocities including war crimes, and created guerrilla street theater to “bring the war home.”
Bill Galvin is the Counseling Director for the Center on Conscience and War.