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.

Pub Date: July 7, 1993

ISBN: 0-316-85112-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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