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Three Centuries of U.S. Writing Against War

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The worst war in history, commonly known as "the good war," receives a fair amount of attention in this collection, including Robert Lowell's refusal to be drafted into the middle of it, following the mining of dams, and the "razing of Hamburg, where 200,000 non-combatants are reported dead, after an almost apocalyptic series of all-out air raids." Also included is Jeanette Rankin's statement on why she voted against war on Japan, and Nicholson Baker's reflections on the wisdom of pacifists who tried to end World War II and rescue the victims of Nazi camps.

"Nobody in authority in Britain and the United States paid heed to these promptings. Anthony Eden, Britain's foreign secretary, who'd been tasked by Churchill with handling queries about refugees, dealt coldly with one of many important delegations, saying that any diplomatic effort to obtain the release of the Jews from Hitler was 'fantastically impossible.' On a trip to the United States, Eden candidly told Cordell Hull, the secretary of state, that the real difficulty with asking Hitler for the Jews was that 'Hitler might well take us up on any such offer, and there simply are not enough ships and means of transportation in the world to handle them.' Churchill agreed. 'Even were we to obtain permission to withdraw all the Jews,' he wrote in reply to one pleading letter, 'transport alone presents a problem which will be difficult of solution.' Not enough shipping and transport? Two years earlier, the British had evacuated nearly 340,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk in just nine days. The U.S. Air Force had many thousands of new planes. During even a brief armistice, the Allies could have airlifted and transported refugees in very large numbers out of the German sphere."

Looking for the ideal hilarious response to pro-violence hypothetical questions re ticking time bombs, imminent and continuous threat drone victims, and what you would do if someone attacks your grandmother? Read "What Would You Do If?" by Joan Baez.

Wondering why the deep reaction to the death of Daniel Berrigan? Read his writings.

This collection includes very thoughtful writing on the powers and limitations of nonviolent activism. It includes a rich literature from and about prison -- too much in my opinion. It may also go too far in stretching to include commentary from pro-war writers who have quibbles with particular wars. It includes a rather lengthy dialogue debating the use of violence in which you'll find yourself waiting forever for the anti-violent debater to start making a case. It includes a speech by Barack Obama, for godsake, in which he argues, based on patent falsehoods, for war, for the U.S. civil war, for World War II, for war on Afghanistan, and for Iraqi WMDs, though opposing what would come to be the hallmark of his presidency: "dumb wars."

Recent wars don't come into the book. The book doesn't look into the matter of falsehoods we're told about wars, and the actual motivations and results of those wars. Focusing on going to prison, it offers much less on education and other forms of protest, and virtually nothing on envisioning a world beyond war, a world of diplomacy, aid, and the rule of law. Only a short excerpt from Barbara Ehrenreich touches on creating a new movement for the total abolition of war.

Still, it is because of the wealth that was included in this book that I wish a bit more had made it in. We need to create a broader movement, but we do not need to do it alone. We would be foolish not to draw on this collected wisdom.

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