Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family--a

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family--a Test of Will and Faith in World War I It is not surprising that the World War I experiences of Norman Thomas form a major part of Louisa Thomas new book This long lived peace advocate was, after all, the author s great grandfather and a six time Socialist presidential candidate Conscience does pay due attention to her forebear, but it also traces the parallel stories of his three brothers Two of them answered President Woodrow Wilson s call to war by becoming soldiers Norman and his brother Evan both became conscientious objectors This thoughtful group biography reveals how four members of one remarkable family coped with the moral complexities of responsibilities and beliefs An extraordinary microhistory of a conscientious period in American history


10 thoughts on “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family--a Test of Will and Faith in World War I

  1. says:

    Louisa Thomas writes of her Great Grandfather and periennal Socialist Party candidate for President Norman Thomas, and his three brothers responses to the first World War Norman and his brother Evan objected while Ralph and Arthur both served Norman Thomas wasn t an unfamiliar name to me, but I didn t realize he was an ordained Presbyterian Minister and establishment enough to have been a student and friend of sorts of Woodrow Wilson Pacifists may have thought the war was about profit but T Louisa Thomas writes of her Great Grandfather and periennal Socialist Party candidate for President Norman Thomas, and his three brothers responses to the first World War Norman and his brother Evan objected while Ralph and Arthur both served Norman Thomas wasn t an unfamiliar name to me, but I didn t realize he was an ordained Presbyterian Minister and establishment enough to have been a student and friend of sorts of Woodrow Wilson Pacifists may have thought the war was about profit but Thomas s book left me believing the country was in the hands of all these tortured Princton Presbyterian consciences Wilson and the Thomases all driven by their inner voice to do something.Book s an important contribution I think to understanding US response and entry into WW1 as we approach the 2014 centennial Also nice to see a subject placed in context of a family Not everyone comes to the same conclusions despite common education, experiences, and values


  2. says:

    This book is about conscientious objection and the anti war movement in America and, tangentially, in the U.K during World War I It s also about the socialist movement in America during that era If you are interested in these topics, as I am, you might find the book worth reading The presentation of President Wilson s leveraging of jingoism, racism, and xenophobia, and his suppression of speech in order to silence opposition to the war, is eye opening and shocking.However, the format is bi This book is about conscientious objection and the anti war movement in America and, tangentially, in the U.K during World War I It s also about the socialist movement in America during that era If you are interested in these topics, as I am, you might find the book worth reading The presentation of President Wilson s leveraging of jingoism, racism, and xenophobia, and his suppression of speech in order to silence opposition to the war, is eye opening and shocking.However, the format is biographical the subject is Norman Thomas, a pacifist and socialist who was apparently well known in mid century America and in this respect it isn t effective for me The author focuses on details of the subject s life that I don t find terribly interesting, and she passes quickly over subjects that I would be interested to readabout For example, she indicates that Thomas advocated racial justice however, it is not until she mentions, almost in passing and at the end of the book, a moving endorsement of Thomas by Martin Luther King, Jr., that one realizes the full extent of Thomas s commitment to that work And I still don t know in what, fully, that work consisted The author also takes what I find to be an unnecessarily harsh attitude toward the thoughts expressed in the correspondence that forms the foundation of the narrative she persistently highlights what she views as specious reasoning, indications of character flaws in her subjects, and even poor writing style This is, arguably, good scholarship, but here becomes for me distracting and irritating, inasmuch as her criticisms often aren t central to her own argument or to the story line She approaches the correspondence of Norman Thomas and his brother, Evan Thomas also a conscientious objector somewhat critically, but writes with tremendous admiration of their brother Ralph, who becomes a soldier and goes to fight in the war She also writes in much greater depth about Evan and Norman if Ralph is treated admiringly, as a naturally cheerful man of tremendous good humor, he is nevertheless a second string player But I can t help but feel that her true sympathies are with Ralph, and that he gets a free pass for expressing blood thirsty sentiments which though perhaps understandable for a very young man in the middle of a war feel appalling at this remove.Central to the narrative is the fact that the brothers in the family were each called by conscience to a different response to the war As she points out at the book s close, conscience can be used to justify any action, even heinous ones a group of right wing Germans that prefigured the Nazi party titled its newsletter Gewissen conscience But the book never grapples explicitly with the question of which brother did make the morally correct choice I don t think the book needs to or can answer the question conclusively but by rigorously avoiding judgment on any of the brothers, it feels wishy washy and, ultimately, lacking in the conscience and bravery that are its subject matter


  3. says:

    Louisa Thomas tells the story of the Thomas family focusing primarily on the oldest of four brothers, Norman, her great grandfather I enjoyed the book for several reasons First it was interesting to learn about the four brothers and the choices they made The two younger ones joined the military in World War I, one spent much of the war in prison for his refusal to join the military, and the other, while not liable for the draft, worked hard for the rights of conscience objectors In spite of Louisa Thomas tells the story of the Thomas family focusing primarily on the oldest of four brothers, Norman, her great grandfather I enjoyed the book for several reasons First it was interesting to learn about the four brothers and the choices they made The two younger ones joined the military in World War I, one spent much of the war in prison for his refusal to join the military, and the other, while not liable for the draft, worked hard for the rights of conscience objectors In spite of the differences the brothers remained close, mostly I m guessing because of the efforts of their mother Second, Thomas does a nice job of portraying the politics of the time The progressives who felt they could shape life if only they had enough government control, the arrogance of the political elite such as President Wilson who were sure they knew what was best for all Americans the intolerance of dissent once the US entered the war, and the fear of communism and radicalism after the war The last reason I enjoyed the book was the story of Norman Thomas and his relationship with the church Fed up with the inability or unwillingness of the church to take a stand against the war, Thomas becomes disillusioned with the church The author does a nice job of contrasting Thomas s understanding of Christianity with that of Billy Sunday and others who quickly became the cheerleaders for the US war effort Thomas s frustration with the church continued to grow, till he resigns as a pastor, joins the Socialist party and becomes involved in politics, all though I wonder if his heart was really in it Norman Thomas asked important and sometimes troubling questions about the church, politics, government the role of society, and individual faith Thomas sought to live life in a way which reflected his faith Unfortunately the church did little to support him in his efforts


  4. says:

    I was intrigued by the idea of four brothers, all raised within the same home, who chose such different paths when their country went to war I wanted to know by what process of decision making did they arrive at their own decision to either fight or object Both positions required courage in WWI America And though the book provided copious detail regarding their actions, and some quotes from letters the brothers had written to family members, I still did not come away from the book feeling t I was intrigued by the idea of four brothers, all raised within the same home, who chose such different paths when their country went to war I wanted to know by what process of decision making did they arrive at their own decision to either fight or object Both positions required courage in WWI America And though the book provided copious detail regarding their actions, and some quotes from letters the brothers had written to family members, I still did not come away from the book feeling that I absolutely understood what experiences and reflection had brought each brother to his final position This was certainly not for lack of trying on the part of the author, and it was that meticulous attention to extensive detail that ultimately stalled my interest in this book It was simply too much, and the reading became increasingly tedious I would recommend this book only to serious scholars of WWI history especially history of the home front or to descendants of the Thomas family as is the author


  5. says:

    I came across this title while reading another book on pacifists in England during WW I Having been a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War myself I was interested in reading Thomas book as well I think the title is a bit of a misnomer It refers to two pacifists and two soldiers But the two Thomas brothers who were soldiers in the War are not given anywhere near equal treatment The youngest Arthur is barely mentioned at all, in fact.That issue aside the author Louisa Thomas does a ve I came across this title while reading another book on pacifists in England during WW I Having been a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War myself I was interested in reading Thomas book as well I think the title is a bit of a misnomer It refers to two pacifists and two soldiers But the two Thomas brothers who were soldiers in the War are not given anywhere near equal treatment The youngest Arthur is barely mentioned at all, in fact.That issue aside the author Louisa Thomas does a very credible job at culling out info mainly via family letters but also through some of Norman Thomas writings of the way in which Norman and his brother Evan evolved into their opposition to the War What some reviewers found a tedious boring recitation of events I found to be a thorough and careful, albeit somewhat dry academic at times, analysis The author was skilled at putting Norman s evolution to anti militarism and Socialism in the context of his family upbringing, his religious training and beliefs,and his efforts to live and work according to the Social Gospel She also drew some thoughtful distinctions between Norman s anti militarist beliefs and those of his brother Evan The book also gave me a very good sense of the extent to which President Wilson and his cohorts struggled to stimulate public support for a war which the vast majority of Americans did not want to fight I came away seeing how much harder, if not even dangerous, it was for Norman, Evan, and other anti militarists pacifists to be true to their principles than it was for me and my generation in the late 1960 s I also learned about other anti militarists and organizations like the ACLU I wish the author had includedon the two soldier brothers and the mother s efforts to support her sons, respect their different life choices, and encourage family cohesion in such difficult times I would rate it as a 4.5 I see she has written another book on the wife of John Quincy Adams I like this one well enough to want to read that one as well


  6. says:

    Interesting in a lot of ways, but very dry I would ve loved to have seenlife on the page and less quoting from letters Perhaps it should ve focused solely on Norman s biography and saved just a chapter for his brothers and WW1 instead of the other way around.


  7. says:

    Good book ironic how closely it compares to the national landscape today Very interesting on how alot of the national movements happened during this period of unrest during WWI and beyond Fascinating history on the origins of the draft in America.


  8. says:

    great account of a couple of heroes i didn t know that much about.


  9. says:

    How does a pious young Presbyterian minister become a six time candidate for the Socialist party Such is the story of Conscience, the story of Norman Thomas and his younger brother Evan, who would go to seminary as conventional Presbyterians and emerge radicals whose faith found truer expression in political idealism than Christian worship The promised tension between brothers is wholly overstated, as Conscience concerns Norman and Evan s struggle to find a way to live as authentic Christians How does a pious young Presbyterian minister become a six time candidate for the Socialist party Such is the story of Conscience, the story of Norman Thomas and his younger brother Evan, who would go to seminary as conventional Presbyterians and emerge radicals whose faith found truer expression in political idealism than Christian worship The promised tension between brothers is wholly overstated, as Conscience concerns Norman and Evan s struggle to find a way to live as authentic Christians in a world of violence and poverty Unable to accept religious claims on their face, and deeply unhappy with the response of Christians in general to the problems of the world around them platitudes and minor alms for the poor, enthusiastic support for the horror of the Great War both grew further from Christianity andpolitically radical as the years wore on Although both eventually become ardent pacifists, to the discomfort of their family and institutions which bore them, in each political activism takes different forms Young Evan s zeal took hold early, his high, strident ideals are so resolute he can make no concessions anywhere, and develops something of a martyrdom complex as a conscientious objector Norman s own radicalism was slower to ripen as pastor of a church with a growing family, he sought to effect change through the political system rather than his brother s active protests.The piquancy of Conscience is how the brothers came to their respective positions, considering their very conventional background their family was stolidly middle class and the boys were elevated into the elite Princeton University and its social clubs through their own scholarship This was an era of tremendous social and political upheaval, a time in which comfortable politics as usual was giving way to demands for action by the populists and progressives Louisa Thomas well delivers a sense of the changing spirit of the times, its energy impacting the lives of all who are involved She draws largely on letters within the family, a feat made easy by merit of her being Norman Thomas s great granddaughter She is thus tender to her subjects, though it would be hard not to be considering their commitment to justice and peace Norman is especially sympathetic, not being quite so much the puritan, and torn between old loyalties to his mentor, Woodrow Wilson, who ran on an anti war campaign and then locked up people like Evan for protesting when he joined in and new expressions of old values Conscience is thus a fascinating look into the souls of two young men during one of the west s darkest moments


  10. says:

    A rare nonfiction read for me outside of work The premise intrigued me a family in which two brothers are pacifists and two join up to fight in WWI On that score, I found it a bit of a disappointment There s not really much family drama here, though it is heartening to see that the sharply divided family even the two pacifists were sharply divided on many issues managed to maintain their affection and respect for each other Primarily, though, the book is about the most famous of the bro A rare nonfiction read for me outside of work The premise intrigued me a family in which two brothers are pacifists and two join up to fight in WWI On that score, I found it a bit of a disappointment There s not really much family drama here, though it is heartening to see that the sharply divided family even the two pacifists were sharply divided on many issues managed to maintain their affection and respect for each other Primarily, though, the book is about the most famous of the brothers, Norman, the perennial Socialist candidate for president of the U.S from the 1920s through the 1940s and the author s great grandfather , with what amount to extended sidebars about his brothers It s not about Norman s socialism, though, but about the intellectual, religious, social, and political foundations of his pacifism during WWI And on that score, the book is a success We also get a pretty good picture of the larger elite antiwar movement, because Norman was such a joiner The author treats her subject with great respect, though not uncritically She treats Ethan, the other,radical, pacifist brother, with great affection but less respect for his views and actions All in all, it s a book that is both inspiring for the subjects moral courage and disheartening for how little impact they had Unfortunately, the book is marred with way too many typos Interesting coincidence I finished this book on Veterans Day, 2014, and at about 11 o clock in the morning, I read the following sentence At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year, peace was declared 238


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