No #47traitors here;The Logan Act’s namesake just wanted peace with France

If you’ve been following national politics some, you may have heard, from both the left and the right, people naming the “Logan Act” as a way to penalize those Republican senators who sent a letter to Tehran behind Obama’s back. This isn’t the site for it, so I’ll leave it to Charlie Pierce to  explain the atrocity.

What I can do, however, is make “Logan Act” less of a partisan mantra – and explain why we care about it over here. It’s actually an oooooold amendment to the Sedition Act: not the 1917 Act, whose buddy the Espionage Act is currently being used to prosecute whistleblowers, but JOHN ADAMS’ 1798 version. Trying to make like George Bush and get on with a sorta-war with France, Adams had to contend with two soldiers, a current Army medic and one veteran-chaplain-poet, neither of whom thought the newborn nation they’d fought for should take on naval kabuki as its first order of business.

220px-GeoLoganThe ink was barely dry on the Constitution when the first of America’s Wars for Unclear Purposes began: the naval duel with France known as the Quasi-War. By the time the latter ended in 1800, two soldier-dissenters had tried to prevent it—Quaker physician/militiaman George Logan {left} and former Continental Army chaplain Joel Barlow—while Matthew Lyon, now “the asp” of colonial politics, was imprisoned for publishing his objections , calling President Adams names, and publishing “confidential” memos meant for the elite.

The two who tried to prevent it were both Francophiles. Logan, whose grandfather had been secretary to William Penn, was a physician who had spent the war attending medical school in Switzerland and traveling in Europe; upon his return, he hobnobbed with his local militia and began serving in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Fluent in French and something of early enthusiast for the French Revolution, Logan watched closely as Adams responded to French naval maneuvers, made uneasy by unresolved treaty obligations and a new U.S.-Britain treaty. Also watching closely was Yale poet Barlow, veteran of the Battle of Saratoga, now living in France, having rushed to help the French with their Revolution. Barlow wrote home and encouraged Madison to send commissioners to meet with Talleyrand, horrified when said envoys were unable to get him that appointment.  As naval insults continued and anti-French sentiment was high in Congress, Logan took it upon himself to go to France, to see if he could possibly talk to the Directory and test the waters for peace.

While Logan was taking the Quaker path and listening, back home Adams had secured new funds for the U.S. Navy and recalled General Washington in preparation for a ground war. He also acted to crack down on the Federalist press, which in classic 18th-century flavor was a flood of insults to the “tyrant” Adams. Congress then passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, the latter of which made it a crime to criticize the President. Fines were set of up to $2,000 for any person convicted of uttering, writing or printing any “false, scandalous and malicious statement against the Government of the United States; or either House of the Congress of the United States, with intent to defame… or to bring them […] into contempt or disrepute.”

There was a special Logan Amendment added to the Act, written especially for George Logan, whose freelance diplomacy was regarded as traitorous. Logan had, however, met with Talleyrand; after securing the release of some captured U.S. sailors, he sailed for home in August carrying a list of possible terms for peace negotiators. When he arrived in November, he was immediately, if briefly, arrested.

Thinking about all this is enough to turn me into Alanis – as in, “Isn’t it ironic…” To rail against GOP senators who love war against Iran by threatening to use legislation meant to stop an enthusiastic Quaker from preventing a war – that’s jujitsu of a worthy sort.

“Canada! Canada! Canada!”

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Two hundred years ago, Canada had been fighting off invaders for nearly six months; with First Nations allies,  U.S. forces had been defeated at Detroit and Queenston.  In addition to the invaluable coalition with Native forces including the great Tecumseh, the invasions failed in part due to the refusal of some brave soldiers to participate. If they had crossed the border, some might doubtless have remained in Canada afterward and sought refuge  — just like an intrepid crew of American soldiers has done since the illegal Iraq war began.

This past fall, Kimberly Rivera became the most high-profile Iraq resister to be denied sanctuary by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who refused to acknowledge that she’d be arrested when she crossed the border. Many, if not most, Canadians supported her expulsion, saying what former Prime Minister Trudeau’s “refuge from militarism” was never meant for deserters, especially in these days without official conscription. But the story of dissenters in uniform is far richer than we know — and people like Rivera have long been part of the (North) American story.

In 1776, the same month the Declaration of Independence was being finalized in Philadelphia, Lt. Matthew Lyon was just getting to sleep when he heard the shouts. “Turn out! Turn out!”/p>

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“the poor and Midling will bear the burden”

I promised more last time, so here are some mavericks, some eary CO’s, and the guys who pioneered the idea that “War costs. Who pays?” As my last (?) deadline on this book looms, pieces like this will come faster, I think. (At right: the cover of one of my book’s precursors, by the acclaimed Carl Van Doren — who narrated in much more detail than I could one of the first such rebellions.)

all being Volunteers

The Continental Army was itself built upon a “revolutionary crowd,” the “mobs” who stomped on the Stamp Act and and threw tea into Boston Harbor.By 1775, the empire began to crack down, finally noticing that these “mobs” had gradually acquired more and more autonomy for themselves and their legislatures. Parliament enacted the Administration of Justice Act, under which a soldier who killed a rioter could only be tried back in England, out of sight of the colonists being suppressed.ii When four thousand nervous redcoats laid siege to Boston, one result was the “Massacre.”

The militia responded in kind on April 19, 1775, alerted by Paul Revere and his cohorts. A young Minuteman named Daniel Shays was among the 70 militiamenwho mobilized after the redcoats had set fire to homes and fields and most civilians to flee Boston.v Shays was one of the many Irish immigrants that joined the call early, inspired to fight the same oppressors that had driven them across the Atlantic.

After Lexington and Concord, armed rebel supporters camped out at Harvard Square. Most were from already-existing state militiasvi from all the Mid-Atlantic colonies, come to defend Boston’s famous Minutemen and the towns’ “Committees of Safety.” It was this possibly-unruly lot that the First Continental Congress then declared an Army under the command of George Washington, a former British Army colonel from Virginia. Among the enthusiastic recruits at “Cambridge Camp” was young Daniel Shays, who was soon commissioned second lieutenant in the new Army.

A similar offer was being made to Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, and their Green Mountain Boys, who by then included a printer’s assistant named Matthew Lyon. Lyon had arrived in New-York from Ireland in 1765 (the week the Stamp Act was passed); after eight years of indentured service to the captain who’d brought him over, he started drilling with Allen and moved to the border area known as “New Hampshire Grants” (now Vermont). On May 10, the Boys flooded into the nearly-unguarded Fort Ticonderoga and seized it from the British; the ammunition inside helped end the siege of Boston and equipped the new army for the battles in New-York. Inspired by these victories and emboldened by Jefferson’s 1776 poetry, even more joined the fight.

The new Army was thus a loose coalition of regulars and state forces organized along regional lines. Commanders and newspapers alike lauded the “Maryland Line,” the Connecticut and New-Jersey Lines, the swelling forces of the western frontier in Pennsylvania. Some native allies were reported to join in: in Boston a local chief was quoted as “offering to raise a tomahawk” against the British, given the Bostonians’ solid treaty agreements. Benjamin Franklin, who’d spent the revolutionary spring in France, exulted in July: “The Tradesmen of this City were in the Field twice a day, at 5 in the Morning, and Six in the Afternoon, disciplining with the utmost Diligence, all being Volunteers.”

That “utmost Diligence” included immunity to the cause for desertion so often parodied in Voltaire’s Candide, that “Swiss disease” known as nostalgiavii — at least according to Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Continental Army’s first physician. In letters, Rush exulted that the more they felt like a national army, the less subject they would be to the disorder now known as PTSD:

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Revision sneak peek: preview of chapter one

Wonder how those themes I identified earlier play out in an actual war narrative? So did my peer reviewers. even though I thought I was hitting people over the head with them…

Here’s the opening of chapter one of Ain’t Marching, with a somewhat-expanded musings about why these particular rebels made the cut. What do you think? Some longtime observers may note that I changed the tag  for one of those themes, leaving Jerry Maguire behind for the less-pop-culture-y War costs. Who pays?) Thanks to Greg Turner for the evocative photo, “This is What Revisions Look Like.”

Chapter One: A Military Born of Dissent

Lt. Matthew Lyon was just getting to sleep when he heard the shouts. “ Turn out! Turn out!”

Lyon opened his eyes and reached for his weapon, a light infantry “fuzzee” with tamped-down bayonet.Were the Algonkin attacking already? Had the spies been lying? He sat up and ran out the door of the hut, sweating. It was July 1776, and all the river breeze in the world couldn’t stop the heat from rising off his neck.

What Lyon saw, he had feared. Not the redcoats of the British, nor the tanned and paint-spattered skin of the 500-strong Indian warriors reportedly massing at the next hill: just the backs of his men in formation, and preparing to leave the camp forever. In some ways, the 26-year-old lieutenant couldn’t blame them.

This was not the mission he had promised when he got them to reenlist. Not here in Upper Canada, ordered to stay after Washington retreated and“guard” land owned by some rich men they didn’t know. Starving as they were, they told him, they would never buy corn at the owners’ war-inflated prices.

Nonetheless, he had orders. The Indians were coming. Lyon issued commands that turned to pleas. He himself, he told them, would rather suffer death than the dishonor of court-martial; wouldn’t they?

All entreaties were ineffectual,” Lyon told the U.S. Congress 20 years later. “They declared they had been abused—there was no chance for their lives there…As they were going to take the canoe to the other side, they insisted on [the officers] going [with them], and threatened violence if we refused.”

The men submitted to arrest after the company was returned to Fort Ticonderoga, which many of them had helped seize from the British. Their court-martial was overseen by Gen. Horatio Gates, a rival of George Washington’s and a dear friend of John Adams – the same general who had ordered the company north, on behalf of his wealthy supporters who owned that land. Gates ruled that the men were to be publicly flogged, while Lyon was “cashiered” and given a wooden sword in place of his prized musket.

By the time Lyon told his story publicly, he was a member of Congress. Adams was president, and not there to hear him speak. But he was very familiar with Lyon and his newspaper, The Scourge of Aristocracy and the Repository of Important Political Truths. A few years after his testimony, Lyon would be one of the first Adams ordered clapped in prison, for the new crime of criticizing the Presithedent.

That Jericho mutiny happened before many had finished reading the Declaration of Independence – a document that mentions, as cause for action, both oppressive standing armies and their suppression of dissent. Many in the new country’s uniform saw such agitation as just another fundamental, newly-asserted right. And for nearly every touchstone in what is popularly phrased the American Revolution, you find men in uniform acting as the full citizens they had just been declared.

Like the “Committees of Safety” that evolved into state assemblies, soldiers mostly went about asserting their grievances like citizens: they formed committees, petitioned their officers, assigned the more literate among them as representatives. They did so during the so-called “French and Indian War,” when enlistees held their enlistment papers as golden; they did so in the new Continental Army, which was was in its own way composed of the armed mobs who’d assembled in response to Lexington and Concord. They did so during early naval battles, including the first known military whistleblowers in 1777; in 1779, marching on the house of the future Treasury Secretary to protest hoarding, just as the colonies had secured assistance from Continental Europe and the British retreated from Philadelphia, and an even larger contingent leaving their posts entirely in January 1781, after years of pleas for better supplies. A few found themselves newly members of peace churches, like new Quaker Jacob Ritter, or in exile, like Simon Girty, a “white Indian” Army scout who deserted rather than perpetuate an original sin.

In the fragile depression years after the British surrender, Revolutionary veterans generated the anti-banker protest known as the Shays Rebellion, while others spoke on behalf of conscientious objectors at the Constitutional convention, or started newspapers in stark opposition to the government they had helped found. By the time of Thomas Jefferson’s election in 1800, the deciding vote in a deadlocked Congress was cast by Matthew Lyon, who chose to have the ultimate dissenting answer to the man who had imprisoned him in 1798.

As the mini-history above might suggest, of our core themes the most prominent is the one identified by Lt. Ephraim Faulkner and other Pennsylvania militiamen in 1798: “the midling and the Poor shall bear the burden.” Or, in less 18th-century diction, “War costs. Who pays?That was the heart of Shays Rebellion, the January mutineers, even the New England militiamen waving their enlistment contracts on weary British commanders.

Also key from the beginning: the very few moved by conscience to refuse to fight, whether experiencing a mid-battle insight or staking ground for the original “peace churches.” The latter were also among the few consciously protesting one of the country’s two main original sins, since Quakers also spent a fair amount of time witnessing against slavery. In the face of that original sin, we have soldiers of color at a time when their very existence threw out multiple challenges, a few also participating in explicit rebellions. As for the other sin, only murmurs in soldiers’ letters and desertion by a few half-breed “White Indians” signaled any problem with “claiming” formerly Iroquois or Pequot or Shawnee or Alachua land.

Mavericks were there in full presence, if not exerting as much muscle as later. We see our very first military whistleblowers in 1777, in the form of Navy sailors who violated the chain of command because their commander was torturing prisoners of war. The nation’s first veterans were not shy in supporting press that made trouble, including Matthew Lyon’s Repository. As for combat trauma, explicitly regarded by American physicians as a “European” disease unfit for their young patriots, signs of it are still detectable in some veteran diaries and after-war memoirs, especially by Quakers – the latter, of course, beginning their perpetual role as official extreme that opened up room for everyone else to ask questions, some telling the extremists Hold onto your beliefs, brother. By the end of the era, as newer wars approached, you could even see the Revolutionary veterans preparing guides for the ones to follow.

Next, more details about just a few of these stories, though I can’t reproduce the entire chapter. Do let me know what you think?

the first lying promise to veterans: outtakes from 1785

When I’m not tracking that moving target, I’m making my last swim through the rest of the book, to tighten the prose and strengthen its themes. Of course, since I’m the one doing it, that latter task means just-a-little-more-research-please —  sifting through old files and asking the scholarship for bits that belong in that zig-zag of change.

Yesterday, the question I was trying to pursue was:  OK, my 19th-century chapters are all about those original sins (slavery and “Indian policy”). But how much opportunity did earlier American soldiers have to resist enforcing either? Were they active participants or simply surrounded by the assumptions of the day?

In particular, I wanted to know if Continental Army soldiers, so conscious of their compensation, had dangled before them the promise of “empty” land west of the settled colonies. By the time the new century rolled around, as evidenced in the document at left, Revolutionary War veterans were claiming land grants as their due for their service. (That particular vet, Matthew Lyon, had by then survived being thrown into prison by John Adams.)  The answer, of course, was paradoxical: no such promise was initially made when Continental Army troops helped destroy Iroquoia or massacred the Pequot, but proved after the Revolution to be an easy way for politicians to solve problems.

“Independence had thrown into the lap of a none- too-perfect union the vast and unsettled area between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers,” reads an article in Agricultural History in 1946, by a historian named Rudolf Freund, who was seemingly oblivious to the fact that that “unsettled area” was in 1776hardly unclaimed by its original inhabitants.

American Indians are nonexistent in Freund’s piece,  but he does provide some other pieces of the narrative. It all started, as we learned in school, with the German-born Hessian soldiers who switched sides:

Curiously enough, land was first promised by Congress, in August 1776, to Hessians and other foreigners if they would desert from the English army, but nothing much came of it. The story of the military bounty lands really began somewhat later when Congress decided to offer land to its own nationals as an inducement for enlisting in the new army and for permanent service.

The ill- fated summer campaigns of 1776 made it depressingly clear to everybody concerned that the war could not be waged successfully unless the militia was replaced, at least for the purposes of sustained warfare, by an army of regulars who were willing to serve without interruption until victory was won. This was a radical departure from  previous practices, and it was clear that substantial rewards had to be offered to achieve the change from temporary to permanent enlistment. Therefore, when Congress decided in September 1776 to establish 88 regiments on State lines to serve during the war, the former money bounty of $20 was augmented by promises of land, ranging from 100 acres for a private to 500 acres for a colonel. The land was to be provided by the United States, and the expenses connected there- with were to be borne by the States in the same proportion as the other expenses of the war.

All of which was argued over to death in Congress, some by those hating the idea of a “mercenary” army and some by states that feared they’d pay more than others. No one, of course, pointed out the arrogance-crossed-with-hubris of the provision that “The land was to be provided by the United States.”  If Tecumseh had been older than eight years old at the time, perhaps he could have been the one to stand on the floor of Congress and ask: “Provided by who, white man?” In any event, in order to get the land portion of the bounty you had to sign up for at leeast three years or the duration of the war, and even then the commitment was nearly completely verbal. But then, Freund says, came Britain’s surrender in 1782, which suddenly did throw something unforeseen into the national lap: hundreds of thousands of soon-to-be-unemployed military men. “Our circumstances afford an odd Contrast to those we have heretofore experienced. The Difficulty which heretofore oppres’d us was how to raise an Army. The one which now embarrasses is how to dissolve it,” a major named Richard Peters  wrote to Washington adviser Baron Steuben.

By then, military courts and prisons had filled with thousands charged with desertion and insubordination, despite constant efforts to make the Continental force into more of a professional army. Washington and his fellow generals saw themselves as simultaneously fighting the British on one side, Indians on another, and on a third Continental legislators so wary of a standing army that they had still not paid any of the half-wages they had earlier agreed to give former soldiers.

As the exhausted, enraged, still-underfed Continental Army camped out at Newburgh for the winter, Washington — like Wayne two years earlier at Mount Kemble — chose to stay in town instead of going home to warmer Virginia. What happened next, in 1783, is still a matter of controversy. What is not in dispute: that officers at Newburgh met repeatedly, fearing their fate as Congress contemplated peace and despairing of their repeated requests for compensation; that tempers in the camp ran high after the arrival of Colonel Harold Washington of Pennsylvania, who had been part of the Trenton negotiations and had earlier talked down the Connecticut mutineers; that an anonymous Address was circulated throughout the officer corps, which stated in its beginning:

After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out [independence] is at length brought within our reach!— Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours, was active once— it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war! It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace again returns to bless— whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services, longing to divide with you that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved? Is this the case? Or is it rather, a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses?

There’s a reason why the whole thing is sometimes called the “Newburgh Conspiracy,” involving some of Washington’s political rivals at that time. But even after he won that round, the officer corps was still pressing hard for commitments frm the new parliament, and only mentioned the “new western lands” as a last-minute dodge to make sure their debts would be paid. In other words, these soldiers were not jonesing to go grab Indian land: they wanted enough cash to go home to their families.

In particular, writes Freund, some officers at Newburgh who were NOT among the dissenters were instead trying to leverage soldiers’ grievances for a state of their very own: to “turn the insidious counsel of the “fellow soldier” into a positive scheme which would utilize the promised bounty lands and other land grants for the establishment of a new state for veterans on the Ohio.”   With the bloody history of the rest of the West still to come,  two other interesting details from this story. The original plan for the still-to-be-created veterans’ state included “the preparation of a constitution previous to going west which would exclude slavery,” fascinating when the commander-in-chief was still a slaveowner.  And Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the final agreement, included the provision that “the money and pension claims of the army would be treated in exactly the same way as the claims of any other creditor upon the exchequer of the United States.” In other words, welcome to the very first “entitlement” to be passed on  to future generations.

What was then called “the West,” Freund writes, felt an appropriate dumping ground for all those now-useless soldiers, as “a proving ground for the political principles of independence, self-government, and personal liberty for which the war had been fought. Thus, the lands on the Ohio beckoned with the lure of still another Utopia. In these empty expanses would rise a new community from the seeds of a corporation of New England veterans who had forged their swords into plowshares.” Again, what empty  spaces? I want to ask that nice historian, before thanking him for his answer to part of my question.

Why did I talk about a “lying promise” in the title?  Because the power brokers, as sincerely as they believed in their new nation and hoped to outrun “the slave question,” that veterans’ state was likely never a real idea to them. Or if it was, it was as convenient as giving rights to Palestine to a newly-decimated Jewish diaspora was to Europe in 1948: a seemingly elegant solution to a vexing problem that didn’t require them to sacrifice anything.

I’ve talked so much about this, I don’t have room to talk about(or you the patience to hear, likely)  what I learned about the Iroquois and Creek nations. I promise that tomorrow I’ll pull myself back into the 21st century, at least to see who’s still standing in Marja.

Nashville tea party? Not.

I wake up and  the ‘nets are buzzing with a speech last night made in Nashville by that shapeshifter from Alaska (Governor?  Talk show host? Avatar?). But another quiet buzz came in a report about another Battle of Nashville, one that was hardly a tea party. Unsurprisingly, it’s from a Fort Campbell-oriented paper, Clarksville Leaf-Courier, about some often-overlooked troops fighting in that other battle:

“These troops were here, for the first time, under such fire as veterans dread, and yet, side by side with the veterans of Stone’s River, Missionary Ridge and Atlanta, they assaulted probably the strongest works on the entire line, and though not successful, they vied with the old warriors in bravery, tenacity and deeds of noble daring,” said Col. C.R. Thompson in his report.

These troops were members of the 13th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, freed black slaves — recruited from Clarksville and other Middle Tennessee cities.

“This was a very active area for black troops,” said local historian Dr. Richard Gildrie. “They saw a lot of action.”

Newsflash to some: The story of black recruits in the Civil War is hardly limited to those Massachussets units we keep valorizing (mostly because of that movie about the 54th). To this weekend’s Nashville warriors, the thought of armed Negroes is enough of a surprise, I know.  (If that feels harsh, read this roundup of the crowd at the Gaylord Hotel.) But the rest of us need to keep being reminded — thank you, the best-writer-on-the-web-Ta-Nehisi-Coates — of the dimensions of their full role in bringing forward emancipation’s promise.

Speaking of the 13th U.S. Colored Troops our old friend Ambrose Bierce was nearly the regiment’s commander. Born in the Appalachian section of Ohio, Bierce declined the commission, but later saw his racism challenged when he saw them in battle at Overton: ““Better fighting was never done. Their chances were hopeless and they knew it. Still they showed courage and discipline.”

Back to current issues shortly. But I wish some of those USCT reenactors who threw their photos all over Flickr had showed up at the so-called Tea Party convention, just in time for Miss Sarah’s coronation by the likes of those at left/ They could have turned up in full uniform,  maybe with real guns. The woman who left college in Hawaii because of all the less-white folks in the state (“a minority type thing,” her dad said) might have then been slightly more restrained in her slanders.

Notes toward an introduction

It’s been a long time since I first started batting around the idea of a book about the G.I. Rights Hotline, (a book I’d still love to write someday), and instead took on this behemoth of a project. Below is what I’m calling my faux-introduction; we hope that someone with more clout (Dan Ellsberg? Cynthia Enloe?) will write the real one, but in the meantime I tried to articulate my multiple themes and my reasoning behind who I included and didn’t. For those who’ve been following my travails all along,  some of what’s below will feel familiar; my hope is that it will also explain, a bit better, why I zeroed in one the people I did.

My inspiration, kind of my gold standard, was people who’d taken the path directly from warmonger to peacemaker, like Philip Berrigan or the just-recently-lost-to-us Howard Zinn (seen as a 1944 bombardier, right). But that inspiration, and the way I frame it above, is too incomplete to be honest,  or even narratively interesting to me.

On the simplest level, some kinds of military dissent — desertion comes to mind —  ALWAYS constitute a challenge to the military’s functioning, and need to be described even when it’s for non-political reasons.

More profoundly, what’s come clearest as I finish the book is that my interest is not only the total transformers, though that’s kind of the core of the inquiry, as the partial ones along the way. For each chapter and each war, I’m asking for what ends government-sponsored violence and preparation for same were being relied on —especially, perhaps,  including odious ones like slavery and genocide of indigenous people — and honoring soldier-dissent against them, too. My old friend Sam might argue that since the means — military action — is odious, that should be enough; but it’s not.

Back when I was on staff at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, I used to half-joke that  “if there’s gonna be a revolution, it’s going to happen because of antiwar veterans,” like those who volunteered for my branch of the G.I. Rights Hotline. Being defiantly uninterested in Marxist predictions of actual revolution, what I meant was that fundamental, progressive change has been escorted into American life with such figures, half-ignored even as they’re being lionized for other reasons.

I’ve usually described my criteria for inclusion in the book as “a kind of reverse funnel,” one ending in a laser-sharp focus on truly antiwar soldiers but beginning with a much wider palette:  Chapters 1-7 including mutinies over late pay and desertion in protest of the freeing of slaves (one of the least glorious moments for Civil War soldiers) and then narrowing through Vietnam and beyond —until, by  the 21st century, “we have our hands full just challenges thrown up to what some Iraq vets call “gee-wot” (the Global War on Terror).” Earlier rebellions, such as the 1779 mutinies against price-gouging and the 1930 Bonus March, seen only as “important reminders, especially through the Cold War, of the immense potential power of such rebellions.” That all sounds way too glib to me now, after three years of learning and writing.

What feels both more honest, as a journalist and historian, and equally true to the spirit of Philip Berrigan and Howard Zinn, is this:  Include a selection of those who, having had a significant experience in the U.S. military, have used that experience to help nudge American society as a whole away from militarism. Mili-what? Think simply of the concept of “relying on armed enforcers to protect us and our stuff” (the latter meaning land, or water, or oil, or more amorphous concepts such as national identity, ideology or “credibility” ,e.g. saving face).  You can look up the Webster’s definition if you like.

As I write this, Howard Zinn has just died, and a 2004 Nation quote has just surfaced: “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.” It’s those surprises, in the form of challenges thrown down to the established order by soldiers, that I’m tracking, making semi-educated guesses as to which of those zigzags was pointed toward peace.

Show me the money. The name “soldier” is derived from the French “soldat,” meaning money: and issues of how well troops are paid was a flashpoint of dissent from day one.  The opening chapter, “A Country Born of Dissent,”  is rooted in such rebellions, including the 1754 mass desertions of colonial soldiers, the 1781 Mutiny in January that almost got Washington involved, Captain Daniel Shays’ uprising against bankers (whose veteran-troops were called “The Regulators.” Take that, Bernanke!). Class issues were alive and well, continuing when Lt. Matthew Lyon, one of Ethan Allen’s “Green Mountain Boys,” was defeated by a mutiny on July 4, 1776 when his men refused orders that involved not fighting the British but guarding absentee landholders’ property. Matthew Lyon, the commander of that 1776 mutiny and publisher of the anti-Federalist newspaper The Scourge of Aristocracy and the Repository of Important Political Truths, ended up, twenty years later, a foe of John Adams imprisoned under the 1798 Sedition Act.

There wasn’t yet a concept of an antiwar soldier, especially after James Madison nearly secured for Quakers an exemption from military service for conscientious objectors. But in the meantime, men from “peace churches” in uniform were a wild card of their own, as when Methodist minister Lee preached peace to his Continental Army brigade: “ Many of the people, officers as well as men, were bathed in tears before I was done.”

Hardcore mavericks and original sins. For the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, one of the main tasks of the American soldier was to perpetrate those two original sins I mentioned earlier — the slave economy, and the bargain first proposed for native peoples by  Thomas Jefferson. “They will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi,” Jefferson wrote to future president William Henry Harrison, adding that if they resisted “we need only close our hand to crush them.”  Or, either become private capitalists and gentleman farmers like us or kicked off your land, which conveniently becomes ours. Precious few, especially during active duty, saw anything wrong with the latter, though half-native soldier William Apes did wonder why he was fighting in the War of 1812 against those who’d despoiled his Pequot ancestors.  His matter-of-fact “I could not think why I should risk my life, my limbs,  in fighting for the white man, who had cheated my people out of their land,” cast triangulated light on that war’s expansionist aims (for all the geopolitical context and diplomatic spittle, the war ended when the Brits exacted an immediately-broken promise not to mess with the Indians).

A few years later General Ethan Allen Hitchcock called the Jefferson-Jackson expansion policies “a blight upon the Indian.” Hitchcock, the Hamlet of American expansionism, railed in his diaries against President Andrew Jackson, who was acting to put Jefferson’s Indian policies into bloody practice. When another president sent him to Mexico for another very-regretted war, Hitchcock made common cause with West Point dropout and rogue diplomat Nicholas Trist, who negotiated peace with Mexico, even as hawks back home were chanting for his recall.

Those who actually took public action against “Indian policy”   were, almost without exception, also connected somehow to the abolitionist movement, which had begun to move from relentless newspapering and prayer to a harder core. These included Hitchcock, who found in the Civil War the fight he could finally get behind, andSilas Soule, who offered some of the rare light refusing to participate in the  massacre of Indians at Sand Hill after having volunteered for Lincoln’s war against slavery, along with two of his brothers.

Also lining up to end slavery were Ambrose Bierce’s uncle Lucius Bierce, who sent guns to John Brown before raising two regiments for the war; the iconic Charles Shaw and George Garrison, sun of the iconic William Garrison, among the white officers leading battalions of black soldiers, and the Carpetbagger officers who went South to try to enforce Lincoln’s promise. These soldiers were engaged in something intrinsically radical even when working for the President, throwing “surprises” at the powerful economic and social forces that had fed the slave economy.

Without them, we would likely not have the minority who took the next step and went on to become prominent antiwar voices when the Spanish-American and Philippine wars came along —  Frederick Douglass’ son Lewis; the younger Bierce, who William Randolph Hearst feared sending to the Philippines because of his veteran’s skepticism;   and the flotilla of grizzled vets who joined with Andrew Carnegie’s Anti-Imperialist League, like Donelson Caffery (whose brigade had fought Bierce’s at Shiloh), John Adams descendant Gettysburg veteran Charles Francis Adams. Not to mention Mark Twain, who lived to vacation with Woodrow Wilson years after the League was gone and few remembered his“The War Prayer.”  But Twain’s antiwar poems and the writing of the younger Bierce, especially his story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” would be remembered by those looking centuries later for a soldier’s story that rang true.

From “nostalgia” to“shell shock and beyond. Bierce, darling of the yellow press and bete noire of plutocrats, would eventually become what  journalist and veterans’ advocate Lily Casura has called “the quintessential, though unrealized, poster boy for PTSD,” wandering to suicide in Mexico via a tour of old battlefields. A close read of his early postwar writing. as in “What I Saw at Shiloh” which ends: I will willingly surrender an other life than the one that I should have thrown away at Shiloh;  when that same battle took place, hundreds of soldiers of both sides broke down, carried onto hospital ships with a case of what doctors called “nostalgia.” That was around the time that commanders and military doctors started tracking soldiers’ breakdowns as less “weakness” and more something related to war, even positing that the trials of battle damaged the heart muscle — both accurate and prescient, considering the complex hormonal and developmental re-wiring that we now know takes place when stress responses harden.

This, unlike the money and mavericks, is a stream I was looking for, having been near-obsessed with PTSD as a subject long before I knew I would write this book. The relationship between the military and traumatic stress is a complex one, as noted by experts like Col. David Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Consequences of Learning to Kill on War and Society. Some, like Andrew Jackson, never got over it but subsumed it into national policy; others, like Bierce and George Garrison, turned it all inward. Still others, of course,  turned trauma into art —like World War I vet Lewis Milestone, the protagonist of whose All Quiet on the Western Front tells a group of schoolchildren: “We live in the trenches. And our bodies are earth. And our thoughts are clay. And we sleep and eat with death. And we’re done for, because you can’t live that way and keep anything inside you.”

By then, the Freudians were grabbing hold of what laypeople had called “shell shock,” a grip that was complete by the time John Huston, still having nightmares from his World War II service in Europe, made the long-suppressed documentary Let There Be Light,  whose subjects ask earnestly to be cured of their “psycho-neurotic” ailments.That suppression, added to general cold-war amnesia, meant that when Vietnam veterans started experiencing something similar, they had  to work hard to know what was going on.

The process of doing so, getting those truths near-permanently exposed and their treatment mandated, also has required a lot of those surprises, and a fair amount of dissent; like soldiers’ compensation, its psychological damage is another cost of war.

Speaking of the cold war, however,  civil rights icon Bayard Rustin once told his old friend David McReynolds that before the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, national discourse was like a brittle steel wall, and it took a mighty shake from Montgomery to fracture it. That wall squelched a lot of early postwar surprises, from Howard Zinn’s own American Veterans Committee and early organizing by Medgar Evers, while energy underneath it continued to bubble in all sort of unexpected ways, as J.D. Salinger and Joseph Heller poured PTSD onto the page and the paradigm-shattering ROTC dropout Rustin, who’d long since finished his prison term for refusing the draft, began organizing to infuse “Gandhian” principles into the fight for racial justice,  until he showed up at Montgomery to help Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. take his boycott national.

The fracturing of that wall, its accompanying surprises (the Beats, the civil rights movement), is part of the origin story of the 20th-century peace movement. As soldiers and veterans increasingly became involved in the latter, the learning was mutual:

Stand up for your beliefs, brother. How do the less-antiwar dissenters interact with the most hardcore objectors? The dynamic between the two is simultaneously twisted and heartening: From the Revolution on, non-dissenting soldiers often took note of what we’d now call “peaceniks” not with horror but with solidarity, and when the wars themselves turned explicitly bad looked to them for guidance, or at least proof that to object wasn’t insane.  Early examples included  and Civil War medic Jesse Macy, who kept refusing to be shunted aside all the way to the end of the war; conscientious objectors who encouraged strikes at military prisons during World War I and II; and in-service CO’s like Desmond Doss, who saved hundreds of soldiers as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa, and Lew Ayres, who went from playing a traumatized soldier in AQWF to spending months as a medic in the Philippines, some of it under the command of Major William Kunstler.  In these new wars, many young soldiers and veterans tell similar stories: “There’s a lot of respect for what you did,” a Marine once told Stephen Funk (above), one of the founders of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

I hardly mean to claim that the pacifists were making converts left and right (certainly not right). It’s probable that the majority of the soldiers were little affected by these dissenters, but I’m not writing about the majority. And at many points on this zigzag path, there they were —the series of surprises, the wild cards in the deck, the grace notes or minor crescendos that cut against the standard music. As the book proceeds, you’ll glimpse both sides of these interactions — and watch them collude, as when some of them show up sick.

Also in this stream are the civilians without whom the soldiers might never have been able to get the word out, from War Resisters League founders Frances Witherspoon and Tracy Mygatt to the stalwart military law experts and volunteers, from Citizen Soldier’s Tod Ensign to the indomitable Kathleen Gilberd, co-author of Rules of Disengagement, the Politics of Military Dissent. (I know that by doing so I leave out whole swaths of equally dedicated activists who did NOT focus on dissenting soldiers, but ….) In a few cases, like my old friend Steve Morse, it worked the other way just a little; Steve went from Swarthmore to joining the Army so he could better organize soldiers, though at the time he was also part of a somewhat pernicious subset of civilians who saw in soldiers (working-class  and armed!) the  perfect recruits for their brand of socialism. (That subset has remained in action, on all sides of the political spectrum  – from Ron Paul to World Can’t Wait.)

One is for fighting, one is for fun. As better scholars than I have noted, the U.S. military has long been identified with a certain kind of exaggerated masculinity, in ways that have actually increased as those other walls kept crumbling. And the mouse in all those houses is the presence of non-gender-conforming soldiers, from the women who “passed” in the pre-20th century wars to the gays who did the same (Walt Whitman’s lover Peter Doyle or Major Alice Davey Sheldon, also known as James Tiptree Jr.). By the time we get to the 1990s, women have been welcomed into the U.S. military with mostly open arms while gays remain simultaneously criminalized and ubiquitous; the resulting fights for equal treatment, sparked in part by revelations of sexual assault of women in uniform just as gay service members really began to organize, is actually where gender could stop mattering, and stop threatening the military ethos — and thus, no longer belong in this book. Stay tuned to find out if that ever happens.

Everything old is new again. So what’s happening right now, in the dual wars that some aggregate into “the long war” or the “global war on terror?” A series of new and old surprises on all the paths above, along with some new ones enabled by technology and globalization and the sheer kick-ass defiance of the soldiers themselves.