Books by James W. Tollefson

Released: July 7, 1993

Why one group of young men chose not to go to war, as told in their own words. By interviewing only conscientious objectors who took a legal route to evade the Vietnam War rather than those who simply dodged the draft, Tollefson (English/University of Washington) defuses the sort of hindsight criticism that threatened to derail Bill Clinton's campaign. The author's ``sample'' is broad, though not scientific, and includes a Roman Catholic seminarian; sons of men who served with distinction in WW II; leftists; conservatives; Jews; Lutherans—nearly every kind of American male to be found at the time. Twenty-odd years after the event, these men's words tend to share a detached tranquility—one to some extent depersonalized because no names or even pseudonyms are attached to the oral testimony, preventing readers from following the development of any one particular case. The excerpts are arranged chronologically— some as short as a paragraph, others several pages long—and grouped into five sections: ``Deciding Not to Fight''; ``Trial and Imprisonment''; ``Serving My Country''; ``A Country Not My Own''; and ``Making Peace.'' From these examples, we learn that the peace of mind that came for many COs upon their fateful decision was generally followed by harrowing, often hellish, experiences as local draft boards and law-enforcement agencies routinely insulted, humiliated, and brutalized the men for acting upon dictates of conscience. (It seems that the CO experience has changed little since the WW II days detailed in Charles Shipman's It Had to be Revolution, p. 442.) Those who served in the war in noncombatant roles had different experiences—but usually demeaning ones as well. The process by which many COs, so harshly defined as inadequate and shameful by their fellows, worked their way back to a condition of social acceptance makes for compelling, if uncomfortable, reading. Quiet, simple, disturbing: An invaluable contribution to the cultural history of the 60's. Read full book review >