Review of Soldiers of Peace: Civil War Pacifism and the Postwar Radical Peace Movement, by Thomas F. Curran (228 p, Fordham, 2003).
Review by Edward Agro
I’d long been anxious to read Soldiers of Peace, hoping it might shed light on successes as well as missteps in the current-day antiwar movement. And so it has.
The main character in Soldiers of Peace is Alfred H. Love, who was possessed of the idée fixe that the only way to peace before, during, and after the Civil War was to rebuild government and civil society on a Biblical model.
Reading the story of Love and the Universal Peace Union (UPU) he founded leads to an understanding of several strands of American civic culture and activism of 150 and more years ago that contribute substantially to perspectives we bring to peace and social change work today.
Curran’s evidence persuasively shows how doctrinal rigidity within the UPU and its secular twin, the American Peace Society, most likely lessened the positive things both groups could have accomplished. On the other hand, enough people, including Love as he aged, were able to get far enough ahead of their preconceptions to lay the groundwork for many of the progressive campaigns and organizations of the 20th century.
This review doesn’t do justice to Curran’s contribution to the untangling of the many threads that led to present-day activist consciousness, or his evidence regarding the practice of war tax refusal.
I don’t want to oversell the book; it probably won’t be much help to activists on the barricades on behalf of one or another immediate campaign. But for those whose street-fighting days are perhaps over, who have the luxury of trying to understand where we come from and where we might be going, it’s a treasure.
Ed Agro is a long-time peace activist whose autobiographical statement was published in Forbes.