Author to talk about her books on war resisters
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rosalie G. Riegle just published two books about people who have resisted wars since World War II. She will speak at Taylor Books Tuesday, beginning at 7 p.m.
Vanderbilt University Press published "Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family and Community" in October, which features her interviews with religiously motivated war resisters from a broad spectrum of jobs and careers, including law, religion, farming, engineering, teaching, publishing and the military.
Because of their actions, including refusing to be drafted and occupying nuclear bases, many ended up spending time in prison.
"Since 2004, I was able to interview 173 people from the Second World War up to the Iraq War. I also learned it is probably a lot easier for educated middle-class people in prison than it is for poor people."
Earlier this month, Cascade Books published Riegle's "Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace."
More than 65 peace activists contributed personal oral narratives about their acts of civil disobedience in anti-war protests and about sometimes serving time in jail for "Crossing the Line."
"I had known people who did civil disobedience to curb U.S. militarism. But I didn't know much about what happened after they were arrested," Riegle said during a telephone interview last week.
"I was, and I am, a Catholic Worker, a Christian who believes in serving the poor and living with the poor in a community.
"Lots of the people I interviewed for 'Crossing the Line' were Catholic Workers who see the non-violent Jesus. Their faith supports them.
"Jesus and Mohandas Gandhi are people who give them the courage to act as they do," Riegle said.
Riegle earned a Ph.D. in English language and literature from the University of Michigan. She taught English at Saginaw Valley State University from 1969 to 2003 and co-founded two Catholic Worker houses in Saginaw, Mich.
Back in 1968, Riegle met Dorothy Day, the activist who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. In 2006, Riegle published "Dorothy Day: Portraits by Those Who Knew Her."
In "Doing Time For Peace," Robert Ellsburg talks about his experiences in a Colorado jail.
Ellsburg's father is Daniel Ellsburg, a former U.S. military analyst who released the historic and previously classified Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Robert Ellsburg became a war resister like his father.
"Being in jail had been such a total removal from the recognizable world. You didn't see the outside or know if it was day or night. There was no color, no natural light, no fresh air, no plants or grass, no furniture, no windows, no pictures on the wall, no women, no anything," he said.
Camilo Mejia, a staff sergeant in the Florida National Guard convicted of desertion and sentenced to a year in prison, also spoke to Riegle.
"I didn't go back [to serve in Iraq] because we were committing crimes, because we were torturing people and killing civilians," Mejia said in the last interview featured in "Doing Time For Peace."
"Mejia was the first of the Iraq soldiers who refused to redeploy to Iraq." Riegle said. "He just couldn't take anymore. He said, 'I knew it was wrong all along, but I was afraid of what would happen and afraid of what people would think of me.'"
Mejia said, "We are trained to be obedient. Other people who I spoke with would talk about their fear and how that first act of getting arrested unmitigated the fear. They weren't afraid anymore."
Riegle also interviewed Kathy Kelly and Ed Kinane, who were in Baghdad during the 'shock and awe' bombing in March 2003. "They described what it was like to be in a city when our own Marines were bombing it.
"Both of my new books are heavily illustrated. I think the pictures show these people are like all of us. They are unusual only in their courage and their commitments. They are not unusual in other ways."
While writing "Doing Time for Peace," Riegle spoke to children of war resisters.
"'What is it like when your dad goes to jail and misses your college graduation because he was in prison?' I asked them.
"I met the wife of a college professor who goes to prison quite regularly, spending maybe a month in jail each time. His children were small and his wife said, 'Next time I'll go to jail. And you get the kids.'"
Riegle interviewed the three activist children of former priest Phil Berrigan, a strong opponent of the Vietnam War who spent more than 11 years in prison himself.
Riegle criticizes today's press.
"Why don't we have the press that we had during the Vietnam War? That is something people wonder about. The media has changed so much, in part because of the Internet.
"Today, we talk to the choir. We talk to people who agree with us," Riegle said.
"Why don't we have thousands of protesters now? There were huge protests during the Vietnam War and huge protests before the Iraq war.
"But they still bombed Iraq. I think a lot of people got discouraged. But the people I spoke to aren't discouraged."
Taylor Books is located in downtown Charleston at 226 Capitol St.Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.