With books on Lt. Col. Oliver North reminding us of the glories of war and the excitement of covert operations, "An Outbreak of Peace" and "Troublesome People" are being released at a propitious moment indeed. Against attempts in some quarters to elevate jingoism to a national religion, each of these two new books gives the reader great insights into how thoughtful people come to grips with the issues of war and the often unpopular struggle for peace.
"An Outbreak of Peace" is a novel about teen-agers and how they deal with the reality of growing up in a nuclear age. The story is set in a small New England town where a seventh-grade young woman named Cassie lives. It is summer vacation, and the Polish-American youngster is exploring her art, her heritage, and her relationships to her friends and family.
The young people in the book come together to produce a peace art display. As they work together, they discover a great many things about their town, including that some there hold jobs that are military-related. The book is outstanding in reflecting the points of view of young people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Though about the difficulty of creating and displaying their peace art, the book really demonstrates how it is possible to work for peace with one's own family, friends and acquaintances.
At times, events proceed altogether too smoothly for the teen group, yet there are a great many conflicts. The story is well told for the most part. But the real value of this book is not so much its literary merit as what it does to empower young people. Too often, youth in this society feel great despair, helplessness and cynicism. "An Outbreak of Peace" offers hope and concrete ideas for how to do something to promote peace to the 13-18-year-olds for whom the book was written.
Much recent research has been done lately to show that children and youth are worried about nuclear destruction. Several researchers have found that after the fear of losing one's parents to death, the fear of nuclear holocaust is second on the list for most American teens. "An Outbreak of Peace" gives readers the opportunity to confront their fears and feelings vicariously and to see how one group of youngsters did something concrete about them.
One of the themes of the book is expressed by Cassie, who wants to know, "Why is peace such a dirty word for some people?" Why indeed? The actions of pacifists have almost always been difficult for governments to deal with. "Troublesome People" is a well-written, wonderfully exciting account of pacifists from World War I to the present anti-nuclear and peace movements. Caroline Moorehead, the author, interweaves her modern-day interviews with surviving pacifists from World War I on with well-documented historical research.
As a journalist for The Times of London, Moorehead vividly tells the story of the people who made history, people from Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States. The book challenges some on-going "misconceptions," one of which is that pacifists are "appeasers" who do great harm. In the chapter on pre-World War II England, she writes, "The mood today is against the 'appeasers' of the thirties. . . . By the 1950s, it had become familiar to question whether the strength of the British pacifists of the prewar years had not enabled Hitler to start his great buildup of armaments. Except for a small wing of the pacifists, however, none of them really had anything to do with appeasement policy. On the contrary, peace movements as a whole stood for resistance to Hitler, Mussolini, and to Japan; pacifists were passionate anti-Fascists, and many tried to push the government into resisting Italian aggression in Abyssinia."
American audiences will be especially fascinated by the account of U.S. pacifist history. The chapter begins with the late Bayard Rustin, the first field secretary of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). With Rustin's life, one notes the fusion of Gandhi, Quakerism, civil rights, and pacifism. While serving his first prison sentence in 1942, in Ashland prison in Kentucky, for conscientious objection to the war in Europe, Rustin organizes the many prisoners who are in jail for making illegal whiskey. Most of the incarcerated pacifists were vegetarians, and so gave their meat to the "moonshiners." The two groups became close and under Rustin's leadership, 150 prisoners went on a hunger strike for "an end to segregation in the jail, as well as for the closure of the jail's solitary confinement cells, and for more books." They succeeded in desegregating the prison, and in getting more books. Eventually, the pacifists taught many of their fellow inmates from the Kentucky hills how to read. Anti-draft protests, the Freeze, the Sanctuary movement, Plowshare, and other U.S. peace efforts are all splendidly told in this chapter.