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10 books that hearten my nonviolence.
1. Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer (1968). The time is October 21, 1967. The place is Washington, D.C. Depending on the paper you read, 20,000 to 200,000 protestors are marching to end the war in Vietnam, while helicopters hover overhead and federal marshals and soldiers with fixed bayonets await them on the Pentagon steps. Among the marchers is a writer named Norman Mailer. From his own singular participation in the day’s events and his even more extraordinary perceptions comes a classic work that shatters the mold of traditional reportage. Intellectuals and hippies, clergymen and cops, poets and army MPs crowd the pages of a book in which facts are fused with techniques of fiction to create the nerve-end reality of experiential truthin this work which won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.
2. Begin Again: Collected Poems by Grace Paley (2001). Best known for her short fiction, Paley was also an accomplished poet. Whether describing the vicissitudes of life in New York City or the hard beauty of rural Vermont, whether celebrating the blessings of friendship or protesting against social injustice, her poems brim with compassion and tough good humor. As Sarah Billingsley observed, “Though her meanings are weighty, the simple style of the poems is so informal, the words so accessible, that they read as if Paley were speaking to us.”
3. Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day (2008). For almost fifty years, through her tireless service to the poor and her courageous witness for peace, Dorothy Day offered an example of the gospel in action. These diaries, previously sealed for twenty-five years after her death, offers a uniquely intimate portrait of her struggles and concerns. Beginning in 1934 and ending in 1980, these diaries reflect her response to the vast changes in America, the Church, and the wider world. Day experienced most of the great social movements of her time. Even while she labored for a transformed world, she simultaneously remained grounded in everyday human life: the demands of her extended Catholic worker family; her struggles to be more patient and charitable; the discipline of prayer and worship that structured her days; her efforts to find God in all the tasks and encounters of daily life.
4. Every War Has Two Losers by William Stafford (2003). Born the year World War I began, acclaimed poet William Stafford (1914-1993) spent World War II in a camp for conscientious objectors. Throughout a century of conflict he remained convinced that wars simply don’t work. In his writings, Stafford showed it is possible—and crucial—to think independently when fanatics act, and to speak for reconciliation when nations take sides. He believed it was a failure of imagination to only see two options: to fight or to run away.This book gathers the evidence of a lifetime’s commitment to nonviolence, including an account of Stafford’s near-hanging at the hands of American patriots. In excerpts from his daily journal from 1951-1991, Stafford uses questions, alternative views of history, lyric invitations, and direct assessments of our political habits to suggest another way than war.
5. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Nguyen (2016). All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.
From a kaleidoscope of cultural forms novels, memoirs, cemeteries, monuments, films, photography, museum exhibits, video games, souvenirs, and more this book raises ethical questions about how the conflict called the Vietnam War by Americans and the American War by the Vietnamese should be remembered by participants that include not only Americans and Vietnamese but also Laotians, Cambodians, South Koreans, and Southeast Asian Americans. Too often, memorials valorize the experience of one’s own people above all else, honoring their sacrifices while demonizing the enemy or, most often, ignoring combatants and civilians on the other side altogether. Visiting sites across the United States, Southeast Asia, and Korea, Viet Thanh Nguyen provides penetrating interpretations of the way memories of the war help to enable future wars or struggle to prevent them.
6. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh (1992). World-renowned Zen master, spiritual leader, peace activist and author Nhat Hanh shows us how to make positive use of the very situations that usually pressure and antagonize us. For him a ringing telephone can be a signal to call us back to our true selves. Dirty dishes, red lights, and traffic jams are spiritual friends on the path to “mindfulness”—the process of keeping our consciousness alive to our present experience and reality. The most profound satisfactions, the deepest feelings of joy and completeness lie as close at hand as our next aware breath and the smile we can form right now.
7. A Primer for Forgetting by Lewis Hyde (2019). Drawing material from Hesiod to Jorge Luis Borges to Elizabeth Bishop to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from myths and legends to very real and recent traumas both personal and historical, Hyde urges a culture that prize memory to ask: What if forgetfulness were seen not as something to fear―be it in the form of illness or simple absentmindedness―but rather as a blessing, a balm, a path to peace and rebirth? In response he forges a new vision of forgetfulness by assembling fragments of art and writing from the ancient world to the modern, weighing the potential boons forgetfulness might offer the present moment as a creative and political force. Hyde also turns inward, using his own life and memory as a canvas upon which to extol the virtues of a concept too long taken as an evil.
8. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (1990). A Vietnam vet, O’Brien established himself as a chronicler of the war in nonfiction works such as If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973) and his National Book Award–winning novel Going After Cacciato (1978). In this, his crowning work, a character named “Tim” narrates a series of stories about himself and other young soldiers in his platoon who wrestle with the decision to go to war, walk through booby-trapped jungles, miss their loved ones, and grieve for their fallen comrades. Using simple, emotionally charged language, O’Brien explores the moral consequences and conundrums of the war through daily details, such as the things soldiers carry in their backpacks, and timeless issues, especially the scars they will always bear.
9. Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, edited by Maxine Hong Kingston (2006). This poignant collection, compiled from Kingston's healing workshops, contains the distilled wisdom of survivors of five wars, including combatants, war widows, spouses, children, conscientious objectors, and veterans of domestic abuse. It includes accounts from people that grew up in military families, served as medics in the thick of war, or came home to homelessness. All struggle with trauma - PTSD, substance abuse, and other consequences of war and violence. Through their extraordinary writings, readers witness worlds coming apart and being put back together again through liberating insight, community, and the deep transformation that is possible only by coming to grips with the past.
10. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges (2002). As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, draws on his own experience as well as the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, to show how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies—corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary.