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I Ain't Marching Anymore
By John Ketwig (reviewer)
I Ain't Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America's Wars
by Chris Lombardi
(The New Press, 2019)
Many years ago, my wife and I relocated to exotic Aiken, South Carolina to seek our fortunes. Shortly before, I had returned to the Rochester, New York area from two years in Southeast Asia, where I learned that it doesn't snow up to your lower lip in all parts of the world. Alas, in western New York, a phenomenon called ''Lake effect'' brings the possibility of snow the majority of the year, and I had soon become eager to escape from shoveling snow. After becoming accustomed to the South Carolina lifestyle, we purchased a modest ranch home in a peaceful development inhabited mostly by retired older folks, and we soon became friends with many of our neighbors.
Our closest relationship was with the couple across the street. They had relocated to a warmer climate from western Michigan, where he had been a protestant minister. As time went on, they became aware of my anti-war views, which were somewhat unique for a bedroom community located just a few miles from the Savannah River Plant nuclear weapons facility. Arnold had been a conscientious objector during World War II, and he made me aware of many of the ramifications of that courageous declaration at that time in our history. Arnold and Connie were dear people, and we maintained a treasured friendship with them long after we had moved away. In fact, years later when we lived in the vicinity of the nation's capital, Connie travelled to Washington with a group of lady friends to take part in a special protest against nuclear weapons, and we joined them as a family to be part of the Ribbon Around the Pentagon. When I was puking out the story of my experiences in Vietnam, I know my wife called Connie sometimes for moral support and understanding, and when my pile of papers became …and a hard rain fell, we were contacted by one of my wife's high school classmates who had taken refuge in Canada after the shootings at Kent State. He and his wife have remained in Canada ever since, in silent protest of the militaristic and empirical policies of the United States. ''We didn't want to raise our children in that environment,'' he told me.
Reading I Ain't Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America's Wars was like sharing a visit with Arnold again! Like most Americans, and especially in this era of ubiquitous ''support'' for all things military, I am familiar at best with the history of conscientious objectors throughout our country's many wars. Most of my attention has been drawn to ''our'' war in Vietnam, of course, and I consider David Harris' book Our War and What It Did to Us to be one of the finest documents to emerge from the Vietnam era. I've read VVAW member Gerry Gioglio's book Days of Decision, and David Cortwright's Soldiers in Revolt. In more recent times I've been inspired by Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner, and I regularly contribute to Courage to Resist, an organization that supports modern-day military resisters.
With a title taken from Phil Ochs' classic anti-war song, I Ain't Marching Anymore is the history of America as experienced by the soldiers and resisters who dared to revolt against maltreatment in the military, against the treachery of Revolutionary War wealthy who expected the poor to fight and die without pay, food, or shoes to wear in the snow at Valley Forge. It is the story of resistance to American aggression throughout every war and military misadventure of our bloody American history, and it is a riveting tale. The incredible courage of these resistors is celebrated at last, but that celebration will no doubt be muted if you don't buy this book, savor every page, and then pass it on to the young folks who are daring to question America's militarism today.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of two critically-acclaimed books about Vietnam, ?and a hard rain fell and Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter.