War by Other Ways: The Greatest Generation of Pacifists Who Revolutionized Resistanceby Daniel Akst, Melville House, 368 pages, $23.19
In 1940, between peace and war, a divided Congress passed a law requiring young men to join the military—the first federal “peacetime” draft, which lasted throughout American participation in World War II. Congress accommodated young pacifist men whose consciences would not allow them to participate in combat: if they could convince the government that their pacifism was sincere, conscientious objectors would be conscripted into either non-combatant military service or non-combatant civilian service.
Non-combatant military service means being a doctor, shooting yourself without getting shot. If a young man felt that wearing a military uniform was too much of a concession for the war machine, he would be assigned to civilian service on the home front – usually working in rural work camps, doing hard forestry work or fighting fires. Other civilian service options include working in mental asylums or serving as human guinea pigs for dangerous scientific and medical experiments. Those who are paid in military service; Those in civil service who did not receive any salary. Refusal to cooperate with this system is punishable by prison terms.
inside Fight in other ways, journalist Daniel Akst discusses young pacifists who cooperated with the government. But Akst is more interested in militant draft resistance—those conscientious objectors who didn’t (or didn’t) cooperate. completely Collaborating with government alternative-service projects. Some refused some form of alternative service, leading to jail, where they protested the injustice. Some initially accepted civilian work assignments but left the job — and went to prison — when they became convinced they were collaborating too closely with an unjust system. Others stayed in labor camps and engaged in strikes and protests.
All these groups, who often kept in touch with and supported each other, used nonviolent protest tactics such as work strikes, hunger strikes, and sit-ins in segregated businesses and prison cafeterias. Akst argues that the nonviolent techniques and principles learned in these protests informed the civil rights, antiwar, feminist, gay liberation, and other movements of the 1960s and beyond. He described David Dellinger and others who defied the draft at Union Theological Seminary as “examples of the type [of draft resisters] Those who matter most to history: Radical pacifists who will play an important role in political and social change in the decades to come.”
Although sympathetic to the World War II resistance, Akst disagreed with them on one important point. The Resistance, as absolute pacifists, opposed the war against Adolf Hitler’s Germany, which August considered just and necessary. August rebuked pacifists who thought it possible for the Allies to end the war with Germany in exchange for Hitler’s pact to free the Jews from his clutches. (More realistically, some pacifists suggested that America relax its immigration restrictions to save some Jews from Hitler’s murder.) Many resisters also drew a moral equation between America’s flawed republic and Hitler’s terror state.
During American involvement in the war, pacifists became isolated from the social mainstream. As August covers, their minority status motivated them to new militancy. They protested against the recruitment of intellectually unchallenged labor into work camps, against prison mail censorship, and against racial segregation in prisons and society as a whole.
The establishment did not always surrender; Prison authorities sometimes force-fed hunger strikers. Yet liberal prison administrators can sometimes be persuaded to meet protesters’ demands. In government-supervised work camps run by pacifist Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren, labor could be hard. But during their time off from work, residents can socialize and organize. Such comparative leniency was too much to be expected from a country at war, and was probably a reaction against the oppressive treatment of war adversaries, almost the last time, in 1917-18.
August’s main characters are Dellinger, Baird Rustin, Dorothy Day and Dwight MacDonald. These four pacifists provided organizational and intellectual leadership to a small but vocal group of draft resisters.
Dellinger refused to register for the draft although, if he had, he could have claimed exemption as a religious seminarian. He was in and out of prison for this and other draft-law violations, agitating both inside and outside. During breaks from prison, Dellinger traded his seminarian berth for living in a Christian monastery. Dellinger and many other resisters were inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, India’s independence leader and champion of nonviolent resistance, who imprisoned himself for opposing the war.
Rustin was an important link between pacifist militants and the anti-segregation campaign. He was a disciple of AJ Muster, a minister turned full-time pacifist, whose group Fellowship of Reconciliation promoted nonviolent activism against war. Many of its members, inspired in part by Rustin, formed a racial justice organization called the Congress of Racial Equality, focused on Gandhian/Mustian tactics against segregation.
Rustin himself was an expert organizer who rallied troops both inside and outside the prison (as it were). Like Dellinger, he alternated between prison and freedom, achieving a relatively high profile as a speaker while outside and as a striker behind bars. Although she had a steady boyfriend, Rustin engaged in promiscuous sex both in and out of prison, a practice that damaged her standing in the anti-war and anti-segregation movements. His colleagues nevertheless continued to rely on his behind-the-scenes arrangements after the war.
Day was a Catholic laywoman who, with the approval or at least the consent of the American bishops, created a network of settlements for the poor. His Catholic Worker movement attacked the injustices of the day, which they perceived as a day that included all war. His uncompromising wartime pacifism divided the Day movement, as he refused to face the war supporters under the Catholic Worker tent. Day made a gesture toward reconciling his pacifism with the church’s “just war” teachings: while Christianity does not explicitly reject all war, he argued, it does reject war in the modern context of deadly weapons and killing techniques. She was also an anarchist and opposed to abortion, regretting her own pregnancy.
MacDonald was a New York intellectual who, like many New York intellectuals, ran a journal or two during the war. Over time he turned from a Trotskyist to an anarchist. During the war he was going through a pacifist phase and he propagated pacifist ideas Biased review and inside politicsA new magazine he founded in 1944.
Dellinger, Rustin, Day, and MacDonald were prominent figures in the 1960s who spoke out against segregation and then against the Vietnam War. Their anti-secession protests took part in the Gandhian spirit that resistance fighters tried to implement during World War II. But in the postwar years, their paths diverged: Macdonald declared during the Cold War years that he supported (with some caveats and exceptions) “the political, economic, and military struggle of the West against the East,” while Dellinger showed a distinctly different approach to Third World communist movements. Anarchist sympathies, often contradicting themselves in reconciling their violent figures with his anarcho-pacifist ideals. At some point the old 1940s emphasis on peace and nonviolence went astray.
Constantly highlighting connections between World War II insurgencies and Vietnam-era insurgencies, Akst at times comes close to writing boomer history, a variation of Whig history in which everything is part of a pattern of progress that culminated in the 1960s. . But at its best, Fight in other ways Paints a compelling portrait of World War II-era pacifist militancy.