Re: Subject: Conscientious objectors as protagonists in fiction

Steve Warren (
Tue, 16 Feb 1999 11:57:38 -0500

I know it only from the film version, but "Friendly Persuasion" was based
on a novel by Jessamyn West. It was about a Quaker family and their
difficulties in adhering to nonviolence.

My own experience in the army in 1964 was like a work of fiction. I hadn't
really thought about being a CO until they started training me to kill.
When I tried to get reclassified I wasn't permitted to talk to anyone until
I had completed basic training; then I went through the same dialogue with
officers in two different departments:

"I'm a conscientious objector."
"Did you fire a rifle in basic training?"
"Yes, but at cardboard silhouettes, not living things."
"If you fired a rifle you're not a conscientious objector."

That was the day I stopped being an American in my heart.

Steve Warren <>

P.S. I still haven't killed anyone.
>Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 11:04:14 -0500
>From: Norris <>
>Subject: Conscientious objectors as protagonists in fiction
>My name is Robert Norris. I was a conscientious objector in the military
>in 1970 and refused my orders to go to Southeast Asia. I was
>court-martialed and spent time in a military prison. I have lived and
>taught English in Japan since 1983. Currently I am an associate
>professor at Fukuoka International University.
>Since my first novel "Looking for the Summer" was published in 1996 I
>have been asked on several occasions to do a presentation on the issue
>of conscientious objection. There are a number of academic groups in
>Japan focusing on the social history and literature of the 1960s. They
>seem to be quite interested in making a connection between conscientious
>objection and Japan's peace constitution. In particular, these scholars
>are interested in the experiences of secular COs, those who have
>resisted on moral and philosophical grounds rather than on religious
>I have often been asked to provide information about novels that have a
>conscientious objector as the main protagonist (or one of the main
>protagonists). I am also considering doing a research paper. There are
>plenty of non-fiction books and articles on the issue, but aside from my
>own novel, "The Brothers K" by David James Duncan, and "The Climate of
>the Country," a new novel by Marnie Mueller (listed as published Feb.
>1999 in, I know of no other titles.
>I am hoping that there might be some SIXTIES-L readers who can help me
>find other works of fiction that have a CO as one of the main
>protagonists. Thanks.
>Robert Norris

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Subject: Re: Conscientious objectors as protagonists in fiction
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Mr. Norris,

I would venture to say that there are at least a score of novels that bear
important characters or protagonists characterized as CO's or other
resisters of other persuasions. Saigon, Ilinois by Paul Hoover, "Coward"
by Tom Tiede, "For Consciences' Sake" by Solomon Stuckey, and "Tragic
Magic" by Wesley Brown are four that jump to mind. Since there are now
close to 1500 novels that in some way represent the Viet Nam War and its
aftermath, the chances are high that CO status comes up frequently as
significant characterization or context.

The Imaginative Representations of the Viet Nam WAr Collection at La Salle
University is a place you could go to see all 1500 novels. Of the 600 or
so films you would also see many many portrayals of co's and other
resisters. Those films are also at La Salle.

John Baky