- Soldiers of Peace: Civil War Pacifism and the Postwar Radical Peace Movement
With such vast expanses of the corporate media and the discipline of history devoted to the history of warfare, books about the history of peace are always welcome. Hence, Thomas F. Curran helps fill the gaping hole in the literature left by America's fascination with mass killing. Soldiers of Peace tells the story of "perfectionist pacifism" in the Civil War era. Primarily a narrative of the Universal Peace Union (UPU) and its leading light, Alfred Love, the book raises important questions about both the prospects and limitations for organized peace activists who confront the power of the military state. While Curran finds much to praise in the UPU, he argues that its very perfectionism limited its appeal. [End Page 242]
Curran locates the origins of Civil War pacifism in millennialism and the general reform spirit of the antebellum period. Prewar movements had left figures such as Love, Adin Ballou, and Henry Clark Wright with a deep belief in the higher law of God's commandments and of their obligations as citizens in God's Kingdom. The demands of the war, especially conscription, forced such people to choose between the call of the President and the call of God. Believing that all killing was wrong, they chose the latter and embarked on a campaign of moral suasion to convince their fellow Americans to abjure violence. As the war heightened their commitment to nonresistance, it also brought them into contact with one another. Shortly after the close of hostilities, Love, Ballou and others organized the Universal Peace Union as a vehicle to spread peace through education. The UPU expanded its outlook beyond nonviolence, promoting a holistic vision of peace that linked it to racial justice, women's rights, justice for Native Americans, abolition of capital punishment, and other social justice issues. This linkage, Curran believes, represents part of the true significance of the UPU, admittedly a failed organization. It bridged the gap between nineteenth-century peace activists and twentieth-century organizations such as the War Resisters League.
Curran's book relates the story of the UPU in a lively manner and there are many insights that cannot be noted in a short review. The author might have focused more directly on the failure of the organization. He blames the perfectionists for sectarian views that "repelled many potential sympathizers" and for taking an "uncompromising position" that "narrowed the tactics they allowed themselves to enjoy" (p. 201). This conclusion, while certainly plausible, would be more convincing if argued more consistently throughout. Curran might also have given more thought to changing definitions of masculinity and to how social movements work in general.
Overall, though, this slim volume is a valuable and much needed addition to the literature. As the country slides ever closer to a fully militarized society, there is much to learn from those in the U.S. past who stood against such a future.