Portraits of warriors seeking peace.
Military veterans are putatively honored in this military-minded country. However, writes Messner (Sociology and Gender Studies/Univ. of Southern California; King of the Wild Suburb: A Memoir of Fathers, Sons and Guns, 2011, etc.), “the voices of actual veterans who have fought our wars are mostly under the radar.” That is especially true, he adds, of veterans who have returned from war and now advocate peace—and resistance to war. Here, the author focuses closely on veterans of America’s most recent wars—in order, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War—to consider how their experiences intertwine with their activism and with their own self-identities. In the case of the WWII veteran–turned–peace activist, for instance, the “wartime thread…constitutes less than 2 percent of the tapestry of his life.” Yet, for all its brevity, his wartime experiences have proved formative, at least in part because he manifested symptoms of PTSD half a century after the war ended. Messner also examines the differing cultures to which veterans returned. In the case of Vietnam, the war was unpopular, but the anti-war movement “vibrant,” so that it included “thousands of antiwar veterans.” The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, conversely, are ongoing and have yet to form a defining counterculture. Still, as one veteran/activist who saw naval duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom observes, wars make veterans who share common experiences: He was “adopted” by Vietnam veterans, who in turn encouraged activism in such areas as opposing the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim mandates, building a modern movement called Veterans for Peace, “calling for peace at home and abroad,” as the veteran says. “Not just calling for it, but working for it…and putting our bodies on the line for it.”
Though anecdotal and with a small sample set, Messner’s narrative points the way for other activists seeking to build popular opposition movements.