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Blood on the Tracks - A Review

By Horace Coleman (reviewer)

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Blood on the Tracks, The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson, A Psychohistorical Memoir.
S. Brian Willson
(PM Press, 2011)

Most people know Willson as the man run over by a train while protesting the shipment of arms to Vietnam from Concord, California (the train's crew sued him claiming they had PTSD from the incident they caused while exceeding their speed limit!).

student at a conservative Christian seminary where he changed his perceptions about Christianity. He become a war veteran, had an internship in a D.C jail, graduated from law school, worked for the National Moratorium on Prison Construction, directed a VVA Outreach Center, attended Dewey Canyon III, and worked in a John Kerry senatorial campaign.

Willson had a Norman Rockwell youth. His parents were conservative, Republican, small town, ultra Christian people.

Willson captioned a picture of his snow-suited self this way: "As a two-year-old in Geneva, New York, in the 1940s I loved to play in the snow, no matter how deep or cold. I didn't want to be penned up in that damned crib."

Blurbs for his book were written by Noam Chomsky, Ed Asner, Martin Sheen and Kris Kristofferson. Daniel Ellsberg did the Introduction. Statements about Willson inside the book were written by Cindy Sheehan, Roy Bourgeois (founder School of Americas Watch), Charlie Liteky (Nam vet Medal of Honor Recipient), Cynthia McKinney, radio personality and former priest Blasé Bonpane and historian Staughton Lynd.

There aren't many people who've been in a sit-in/fast on the Capitol steps (Veterans Fast for Life). Most memoirs don't have chapter notes, an index and a recommended reading list. Few authors have been to Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, the Gaza Strip, Haiti, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Nicaragua, Palestine, and Panama.

In Vietnam, Willson went on ground missions to assess air strikes effectiveness. In hamlets and villages he saw unarmed, noncombatant dead or mangled women, children, babies and old people. The too common collateral damage. What he saw sickened and changed him.

While stationed in D.C., and later working there as a civilian, he saw the system's flaws and inequities. How hard it is to make positive changes. Carefully researching history, politics and capitalism showed him realities beyond formal education's indoctrination.

Trips to Central and South America showed him bloody realities nightly news and daily papers didn't cover. Going to Cuba, Israel, the Gaza strip and Nicaragua showed him the real American way of life, the consequences of much US aid and covert intervention. Watching Daniel Ortega go from true revolutionary to conventional corrupt politician was a disillusioning shock.

Willson has also seen hope glimmering: Horizontialism (". . . A method of people relating to one another in direct democracy while discovering a new creative force that links with other social movements.")

The real revolution is ". . . a soul and an ecological consciousness that totally grasps that all life is part of one evolving universe." He says "I do not like to think about what may happen if we are unable to take a leap of consciousness."

Willson mentions Jared Diamond, an evolutionary biologist who studied societies and their collapses: "environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, change in friendly trade partners, and a society's response to its problems." We have at least three out of five going on.

Willson has seen and done a lot. He's walked lightly on the earth but left deep tracks. He's fought the good fight, shared what he's learned and appropriately flashed yellow, red and green lights.

Not many people have pictures of themselves with: David Cline, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Ron Kovic, George Mizo (founder of Friendship Village), graduating from a class at the War Resisters League, on the cover of In Business magazine, as Director of a VVA Outreach Center, at a black-tie dinner with John Kerry, with Daniel Ortega, with Dick Gregory and Martin Luther King III, walking through Contra country with Veterans Peace Action Team members and campesinos, with Jesse Jackson, with Daniel Ellsberg.

- Would it be a good strategy for the really smart and vicious "terrists" to funnel funds to the most radical right wing politicians and think tanks? Newt Gingrich could probably use a little help with his new Contract on America . . . .

Horace Coleman was an Air Force air traffic controller/intercept director in Vietnam (1967-68).

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