Reviewed by John Kiriako
This is an eminently readable first-person account of a daily fight for peace during what is arguably the most militarily active period of the past two generations. First, the reader should know what the book is NOT. It is not anti-military. (In fact, Fager specifies that the message is “YES to the troops, NO to the war.”) It is not a “woe-is-me” complaint about why the peace movement is not having more of an impact while the country is fighting two wars simultaneously.
Instead, Paper Trail is a celebration of peace, of personal action in the pursuit of peace, of community, and of commitment. The book is surprisingly comprehensive and well-organized. Fager, the director of the peace group Quaker House from 2001 to 2012, includes chapters that incorporate the group’s newsletters, personal accounts of war resisters, op-eds that he wrote for the well-informed Fayetteville Observer, book reviews, essays, commentary on issues of violence and domestic abuse in military families, presentations, a deep look at torture and Iraq, and issues for future consideration. There’s even a chapter of short stories.
Fager’s introduction to the peace movement came as a junior staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His first published article, in 1966, described a “Dilemma for Dr. King.” It urged the country’s most revered civil rights leader to speak out against the Vietnam War. King did so, and a relationship was cemented, as was a life of writing and peace action.
The reader cannot help but like Fager. His tone is consistently conversational and heartfelt. His arguments are logical and unapologetic. And his personal demeanor through the years and across the issues is caring and unafraid. He is not reticent in the least to tackle difficult and polarizing issues. (Think torture, domestic abuse, even government meddling in Quaker House affairs.) He does so in a way that is both forgiving and persistent.
Fager spends the most time on the issue of torture, asking questions that nobody in the mainstream media has the guts to ask: What are the chances that those responsible for torture in the U.S. “war on terror” will escape punishment? Pretty good, actually. Why did the government not heed the advice of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili that the torture techniques employed by the military and CIA “fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world”?
The bottom line is that torture helps to recruit new terrorists and sympathizers. It endangers our national security.
Fager asks another question, so far ignored in the public discourse. Why have no other countries filed charges of crimes against humanity against U.S. civilian, military, and intelligence leaders who created and implemented the torture program? Certainly, these former U.S. officials travel abroad and would be susceptible to an arrest warrant, a la Augusto Pinochet. Why hasn’t this happened? Not all is lost, though. Fager documents the rise of the “Torture Accountability Movement” in 2008, a movement that, regrettably, seems to have slowed under the “progressive” Barack Obama.
Another equally important issue on which Fager spends a good amount of time is the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. What makes his argument so compelling is not a typical litany of errors made and laws violated by the U.S. Instead, it is the human cost. What happens to our soldiers who are traumatized by what they saw, or were forced to do, in Iraq? How do they deal with the physical and emotional damage inflicted by war? And, just as important, what are the costs to the Iraqi people?
I have saved a copy of Paper Trail for my personal library. It is a reference. It is a lesson. It is a conversation about war, peace, and society. It is also a chronicle of a life well-spent.
*Chuck Fager, Paper Trail: Writings from the Front Line of Peace Action, Quaker House/Fort Bragg, 2001-2012 (Durham, North Carolina: Kimo Press, 2013), 502 pp. $19.95.