Here’s a book I wish I’d had in the run-up and early years of the US invasion of Iraq.  There was rumbling and grumbling from the senior officer corps, and later from some intelligence/ interrogation personnel but with very few exceptions they waited until they were no longer active duty to make their complaints explicit.  Why weren’t more men and women, in this country that prides itself on independence and taking-crap from no one, willing to stand up and publicly say what they believed?  Why no resignations on principle?  Of course it’s hard.  Of course it takes courage.  Of course benefits, friends and income will be lost, but for some people, some times, those things are second tier values when confronted with terrible events which they are beings asked to be part of.

Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times, by Eyal Press takes a look at four people who risked much to act on what they believed, and against those who were asking, in some cases ordering, them to do otherwise.

Set out in the form of case studies, Press looks at a Swiss Police commander who broke Swiss law to help Jews escape from Austria in 1938, a Serb in the 1990s who saved Croats by lying about their ethnicity,  an Israeli soldier who refused to serve in the Occupied Territories, and a whistle blower against a giant U.S. financial firm.  Woven into these accounts are references to Thoreau, Hume, Adam Smith and to Press himself, whose own father stood in conscience against fear, and whom Press wrote about in Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict that Divided America.

Haven’t read it yet, but am going to soon.  Anyone to join me?

Reviewed by Louisa Thomas in the New York Times Book Review, Sunday March 11.

Thomas’ own book Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — a Test of Will and Faith in WW I, a family history which includes most famously Norman Thomas, WW I pacifist and well known American socialist.