Pacifists who fought against the Second World War faced insurmountable odds—but their resistance, philosophy, and strategies fostered a tradition of activism that shaped America right up to the present day.
In this provocative and deeply researched work of history, Akst takes readers into the wild, heady, and uncertain times of America on the brink of a world war, following four fascinating resisters — four figures who would subsequently become famous political thinkers and activists — and their daring exploits: David Dellinger, Dorothy Day, Dwight MacDonald, and Bayard Rustin. The lives of these diverse anti-war advocates–a principled and passionate seminary student, a Catholic anarchist, a high-brow intellectual leftist, and an African-American pacifist and agitator–create the perfect prism through which to see World War II from a new angle, that of the opposition, as well as to show how great and lasting their achievements were.
The resisters did not stop the war, of course, but their impact would be felt for decades. Many of them went on to lead the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, the two most important social stands of the second half of the twentieth century. The various World War II resisters pioneered non-violent protest in America, popularized Gandhian principles, and desegregated the first prison mess halls. Theirs is a story that has never been told.
”Akst convincingly places his protagonists in a lineage of antiauthoritarian activism that runs from Thoreau to the 1960s counterculture and beyond. This history casts the Greatest Generation in a new light.” — Publishers Weekly
”Akst writes effectively of these pacifists and objectors, noting that many of them took important roles in later resistance against war and for advances in civil rights… A worthy exploration of a little-known episode in the history of American involvement in WWII.” — Kirkus Reviews
The stories of the brave people in this book are a profoundly important, and unduly ignored, part of modern American history. Daniel Akst tells them with grace and scope, showing how the convictions of his characters carried them through their whole lives, and into some of the most important battles for social justice of our time. —Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost
Daniel Akst has written an engaging and eloquent book about American pacifists in times that tried their world-views. He tells a morally complicated, compelling story that will intrigue especially anyone interested in 20th century American intellectual and political history. –-Mitchell Cohen, former co-editor of Dissent; author of The Politics of Opera
Dan Akst liberates the history of World War II-era pacifism from familiar “Greatest Generation” narratives. Buoyed by anti-authoritarianism and nonviolent theology, antiwar activists—ranging from David Dellinger and Dorothy Day to Bayard Rustin and Dwight MacDonald—passionately opposed the conflict. With lucid prose, Akst explains how their resistance planted the seeds for the modern progressive movement. –Betsy Wood, author of Upon the Altar of Work