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Presents a history of pacifism and those who have protested against war, concentrating on war resistance in the United States from colonial days to the present and concerns about nuclear arms and terrorism.
At eighteen, or approaching that age, men had to decide whether to register for the draft. Facing that decision, a surprising number of the "me" generation who were coming of age during the eighties were saying, "Not me." It appeared that an antidraft, anti-intervention movement had resurfaced-a sign that a considerable number of young people would no longer blindly follow our leaders into war.
If you ask, "What war?" the box score on mass violence around the world provides the answer. Let's take just the early 1980s:
- Forty-five of the world% 164 nations were involved in wars. Estimates of the number of people killed range from one million to five million.
- There were ten conflicts in the Middle East Persian Gulf, another ten in Asia and Africa, seven in Latin America, and three in Europe. Five of these were conventional wars between nations and twenty-five were internal guerrilla struggles.
- In 1981, the forty-five nations involved in conflicts spent more than $528 billion on their armed forces.The United States and the USSR and its satellites were the major suppliers of their military weapons.
Facts, facts, facts. "We are the best informed people on earth ' " said the poet Archibald MacLeish of his fellow Americans. "We are deluged with facts, but we have lost or are losing our human ability to feel them."
The young Americans who refused publicly to register for the draft were violating the law in the hope that their willingness to accept prosecution and punishment would draw the Peoples attention to the facts about war. They denounced war because it destroys life, corrupts society, and violates morality. They considered U.S. military intervention in the affairs of other nations to be wrong. They worried that what began as conventional war could escalate to a nuclear war. For the young, especially, the threat of a nuclear attack is frightening. They live with the threat of imminent annihilation. They fear that they may never reach adulthood. But is war inevitable? Are we powerless to shape our future?
By refusing to make that first connection with the military-registering for the draft-some young men separated themselves from the machinery of war. Such action by itself may not stop war from coming. This they knew. But at least they would not take part in the killing process.
How does a soldier who has been through that process feel? Here is the voice of Alfred Doblin, a German who served in the Kaiser's army in the First World War. He speaks through Becker, a character in his novel A People Betrayed:
You receive a mobilization order. An agency, an office that you don't know, writes go here, go there, go to your death, to your ruin, go, so that you lose a leg, so that you get a bullet in your spine. Be careful, my boy, there will be gas, poison gas, mustard gas; swallow some. And you'll soon notice it may cost your head, your leg, your lungs, your life, and no one will ever replace them, since your mother gave all that to you just once. And you've been expecting it for a long time. During peacetime You prepared yourself for it, in the midst of your Kant and Plato. And you--don't question. You don't question, You go, you obey. The agency that issues the Orders is more than God. You listen, more than to God...
Then Becker asks himself:
What is it I've finally come to believe is the real evil behind it all? Not the war itself... the incomprehensible, incredible thing about war was-we ourselves. We, you and I. coolies, animals, without the vaguest idea, awareness or understanding ... doing what we were told and not thinking anything about it. Yet it was our lives that were at stake, and we had been taught even as children that God himself created them and set us humans above all his other creatures. And here we were flinging them aside, our lives, as though they were dead logs, as though we had never learned anything, heard anything, and lying there numb like the sub humans who slaved to build the pyramids.
I did it and so did you, educated men who had been pumped full of Christianity, ancient and modern philosophy, Plato, Spinoza, Descartes, Kant. And in the end they had merely flowed right through us and left nothing behind, leaving us oafish slaves, brainless creatures, gasping for air, complete troglodytes, semi apes from the stone age. How is that possible, you ask yourself, how? It was a matter of our very existence. Didn't we really believe any of it, didn't we take seriously what they told us, what we learned? Are we like barrelsful of holes?
When Doblin returned from war, he had learned something. He had not been able to learn it from books. Are we different in America? Are there books we can learn from? School histories emphasize the importance of war. But they ignore, for the most part, the story of resistance to war. Yet resistance does have a history, and surely we should know something about it. No wars fought by the U.S. have ever had the full support of all Americans. And some of the wars-both a long time ago and very recently-were met with open and powerful resistance.
It's impossible to think of any other subject that can match this in importance-for today and for our future.
1. From the early resisters to today’s conscientious objectors (COs), the debate continues about whether one’s convictions are compromised by paying taxes to a government that uses them to support military action and build weapons. Consider that tax money is also used for purposes other than military action and weapons. What are your thoughts about this?
2. How have individuals’ relationship with God and their beliefs about the sanctity of life affected the resistance movement in America? Are the rights of an individual more important than the good of society? If not, who determines what is best for society?
3. Try to imagine what American society would be like if no wars had been fought. Would the United States still be subject to British rule? Would slavery still be legal? Would America be under communist control? Can the freedoms Americans enjoy justify the loss of life and property in a war? How can you support your opinion?
4. Meltzer asks the question, “Is war inevitable?” Can a world of peace exist, without war? How would you respond to these questions, and can you support your ideas with historical proof?
5. During the Civil War, many peace activists came to accept violence when it promised to advance emancipation. When does the end justify the means, and how do we determine where the line is in our lives? Would you be willing to die for a cause? Why or why not?
6. The drafting of able-bodied men began with the Civil War and has occurred often throughout American history. Most proponents of the peace movement see the draft as immoral and illegal, while military leaders think the draft is the only way to ensure wehave enough soldiers to defend the American way of life. What is your opinion? Argue the point using historical evidence. Discuss the loopholes that have sometimes enabled wealthy young men and men of influence to avoid the draft. Would you close the loopholes? If so, how would you accomplish that?
7. Many Americans view those who object to fighting in wars as unpatriotic or cowardly. Military leaders and the American judicial system punish men who refuse to serve in the military for religious or other personal reasons. Many who have refused to serve have done jail time, and those who have agreed to serve only in noncombat positions have been treated with a lack of respect and have often been abused within the military. Do you have any ideas about how this situation could be changed?
8. The media has played a prominent role in war by using either pro or antiwar propaganda. This has become more apparent since the twentieth century because of the advances in technology. What is the responsibility of the media to inform the public, and when does that responsibility cross the line and begin to sway social opinion with propaganda?
9. Meltzer finishes his book by making a plea for the education system to teach that “conflict can be prevented and resolved through nonviolent means.” He calls for the creation of national programs to “[build] tolerance and respect among diverse groups” and to teach young people how to take decisive action to reduce violence. Also, he encourages people to support humanitarian aid, refugee relief, and human rights. Are these goals too idealistic? How do you think these ideas could be made a reality? What could you do to help ensure the success of educational programs like the ones Meltzer supports?
10. Thoreau wanted the individual of conscience to carry action far enough to change society. What do you think one person can do to effect change? Can you think of one person who has effected change in policies related to war?