Book review of Long Shadows excerpted from: Counterpunch, 2/16/2008
Shellshock and Redemption by Ron Jacobs
Long Shadows is a book similar to Casualty Figures in that it relates the stories of men (and two women) who served in the military. The difference, however, lies in the fact that the individuals in Long Shadows decided to use their experience and the trauma it caused to work towards opposing future wars of power and empire. It wasn’t always an easy path to that decision for these folks, but it is one that all of the individuals writing in this collection believe to be the best one they could have made.
The nineteen veterans whose thoughts and memories appear in this book are all members of the Madison, Wisconsin Clarence Kailin chapter of Veterans for Peace, an organization of veterans with over 120 chapters throughout the United States. The collection’s writers include a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, vets of World War Two, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, an Israeli-American vet, and veterans of the Middle East and Asian wars that began with Desert Storm in 1990.
Evocative and often heartwrenching, these stories are a collection of epiphanies by men and women who discovered through personal experience how terrible and pointless war really is. While many of them are now pacifist, one or two are more specific in the wars they oppose. Specifically, they oppose wars of empire and conquest, while supporting the right of people to defend themselves from invasion and occupation. Coming from all walks of life-wealthy, poor, farmers, city dwellers, progressive and reactionary, white skinned and black-each of the individuals underwent a transformation either during their wartime service or in the years succeeding it that brought them to a point where they felt the only option was to speak out no matter what the cost. Some, like WW II vet Charles Sweet, came to this decision because of their children. Others, because of their need to deal with personal demons and guilt. One or two never would have predicted while they were serving that they would join the ranks of the antiwar protesters. Still others, like Will Williams, needed to find a place to transpose the anger within himself (an anger growing from the racism he experienced as a black American) into something positive.
If you don’t tear up at least once while you read this book, then you are not capable of tearing up. Whether it’s a veteran telling the story of seeing his buddy die or his attempts to deal with the torture and wanton killing he either took part in or was unable or unwilling to stop, the emotional level of these memories left this writer drained. Some of the vets herein were diagnosed with PTSD, but most were left to deal with their demons on their own. Still, the book is not all wretched sadness, Indeed, it is the hope for a more peaceful future growing out of the struggle these men and women have joined that is the overriding message in these pages.
As the friend of several members of living and deceased Vets for Peace, I responded immediately and positively to editor David Giffey’s request to review Long Shadows. Having grown up in a military family during the Vietnam era, I think I understand something of what it is like to buck the expectations of relatives and society and take a stand against the military and its purpose. For those who actually wore the uniform to reject it and the brainwashing and come through that intact is worthy of respect. To use those experiences in support of preventing others from becoming veterans is even more noble. That, I believe, is the primary intention of the men and women appearing in this book. That is also why you should share this book with those currently serving or considering such a move. It might convince them to change their mind.