From Vietnam Veterans Against the War, http://www.vvaw.org/veteran/article/?id=387

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Jonathan Schell: An Appreciation

By Bill Kelly

When I returned home in the fall of 1969, I was terribly confused and a bit angered. My anger sprung from the realization that I had been conned by my government. The confusion arose from my inability to channel what I knew viscerally into an intellectual understanding.

I found my argument presented week after week in the lead comment of The New Yorker: lucid, cogent and powerful essays picking apart our nation's failed policies in Vietnam. At that time there were no bylines but I later discovered the author to be Jonathan Schell. I sometimes reread these pieces and I am startled to discover how well they hold up and, in many cases, can be used fruitfully in reaching an understanding of our predicament today.

Beginning in the late 70s and continuing to this day, Schell has been in the vanguard of the movement to get control over, if not totally abolish, nuclear weapons. His seminal work on this topic, "The Fate of The Earth," was nominated for a Pulitzer in 1982.

In the spring of 2003, his latest work, "The Unconquerable World," was published. I feel this book is the culmination, so far, of a life devoted to the study of humanity and how we might someday learn to live together.

This book has led me on a painstaking journey of discovery. Warfare and violence, particularly the catastrophic forms we experienced in the 20th Century, are examined. Whether the violence is "conventional," a form where our country has no equal, or "non-conventional" as in people's war, it is shown to be a bankrupt policy that cannot work in today's world.

The history of nonviolent revolution is also traced and the reader will be reminded what can be accomplished when this path is chosen. The words and deeds of Gandhi, Havel, Walesa et al. offer us concrete, hopeful examples of the power of an idea when forced to confront the power of a gun.

This is not an "easy" book. That does not mean the writing is obtuse or the style difficult. Rather I found nary a page that did not force me to examine my beliefs, to draw comparisons, to analogize. To think! This book demands effort from its reader. If expended, I guarantee it will not go unrequited.

Today, just like in 1969, I find myself convinced in my gut that things are amiss. And once again Jonathan Schell has taken on the challenge of showing us a way out of the current quagmire. This is a devilishly difficult book to review or synopsize. Howard Zinn phrased it correctly: "Schell leads us through his argument (not an analysis, which is passive, but an argument, loaded with energy)." And that it is. A well-argued brief for sanity that would do any high-priced attorney proud.

I termed this book a culmination but in no sense is it an end. The arguments continue, week after week, and can be found in The Nation.


Billy Kelly and Jonathan Schell were born in 1943 and grew up on the same street in Manhattan. It had a "sunny" and a "shady" side. Kelly was raised in the shade, a quasi-street kid, and Schell went to the usual prep schools and Harvard. They had at best a nodding acquaintance.

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