Chris Lombardi

by Courage to Resist | "I Ain't Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America's Wars"

Podcast: Chris Lombardi’s new book “I Ain’t Marching Anymore…”

October 23, 2020

Chris Lombardi has been writing about war and peace for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in the Nation, the Philadelphia Inquirer, ABA Journal, and at whyy.org. She joins us to discuss her upcoming (Nov. 10, 2020) book, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars,” from the New Press. Order information here.

“It’s not about a matter of being a coward. In fact, like all non-violent action, it takes a lot of rigor.”

“[This] country was started by dissent, right? It’s started by people disagreeing with government. At the time, it was England. But, interestingly enough, in the early years, the Continental Army really believed in a sort of democratic situation. They wanted to elect their officers. They looked at their contracts and went, ‘Wait a minute, I’m only here for three years. Don’t tell me I have to keep fighting.'”

“Conscientious objectors, most people we talk to they think Vietnam. They think about civilian conscientious objectors who weren’t in the military at all. They don’t realize that in the military there are those who serve unarmed medics, or secure discharge after they change their minds; they don’t realize how long back this stuffs been going on. “

Photos of Chris Lombardi by photographer Kyle Cassidy

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Transcript

Chris Lombardi:
And it’s not about a matter of being a coward. In fact, like all non-violent action, it takes a lot of rigor.

Matthew Breems:
This is the Courage to Resist podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter-recruitment, draft resistance in the policies of empire. This episode features a guest in the 30 years of current, US military intervention in the Middle East. Our podcast guest is journalist, Chris Lombardi. Chris has been writing about war and peace for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in the nation, the Philadelphia Inquirer, ABA journal, and at whyy.org. She is with us today to talk about her upcoming book, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars”.

Matthew Breems:
Well, Chris, we’re here today discussing your upcoming book, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars”. It’s coming out November 10th, 2020. Why don’t we just get started by having you give us a brief overview of what this book is about?

Chris Lombardi:
It’s about people who’ve had some kind of experience with America’s military who chose to stand up against military policies. Mostly it’s about war. It’s kind of structured like a reverse funnel: it ends up very much focused on people opposing actual wars, but it started with a broader brush. I also cover people who are for opposing military policies. An example, most recently, is the guy, Adam deMarco, National Guardsman, who then testified to Congress about what they did at the capitol on June 1st. All the people that talk to me about this stuff often mentioned values of that “service attitude”; Army values, Navy values, stuff like selfless service, and integrity. The class doesn’t feel that those are being violated by their government. Often, it’s a battle by a war. Sometimes by behavior, like torture, or this kind of stuff.

Matthew Breems:
How did you come to a place where you were interested in this topic where you wanted to do such a comprehensive book about it?

Chris Lombardi:
Well, I started out wanting to write a book about the GI Rights Hotline, which is a hotline that’s run by a bunch of nonprofit organizations for people who are actually getting out of the military. I got involved in that because I was working for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. It’s an organization to help people who think … I was hired by the organization to edit a magazine, but I was answering the hotline going, “Oh, this is really interesting.” The people who were answering the hotline were Vietnam veterans and I had the theory that it’s … going to be anti-war veterans and it was soldiers and veterans. They kind of know what’s going on.

Chris Lombardi:
Then, I went to journalism school and I was interested in maybe writing a book about it. My professor, Sam Freedman, who runs the Book Seminar at Columbia said, “You know, why aren’t you blogging this? Why don’t you writing a narrative history of soldiers who dissent. And I was like, “Okay!” I knew it would be a big book, didn’t realize it was going to be 15 years book. So that was that.

Matthew Breems:
Just like that you decided to take on this massive project, this massive undertaking of studying American dissenters. This ended up being a 15-year project of research for you. Is that correct?

Chris Lombardi:
In research and writing. I wrote many drafts. I kind of ended up going from one publisher to another and it was a long process.

Matthew Breems:
What did that process look like for you? I mean, if it took 15 years, what did research in something like this? What did that look like? That whole process?

Chris Lombardi:
I was very lucky. I talked to the people that I worked with at CCCO and it got me started. I put out a call for people. Of course, when I wrote it, it was in the Bush administration and my original deadline on this was the ’08. It would have just been about history of the country up until ’08.

A lot has happened since then, so things kept changing. But by that point, I was doing some freelancing and had a name for myself that way. Research? That’s just the usual stuff that people do. Archives, a lot of amazing archives that I went to both online and in person, and I discovered things that I had no idea were there. You know, I went to the Hoover Institution and found out about these soldiers in Alaska, in Russia or Alaska, who were deployed in Russia in 1919, and a bunch of people who dissented that have no idea about that. So, you find some things in archives too. Then, the most recent stuff, I’ve been very lucky because I got a little bit of a rep from the activists who are representing people like Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner and then she talks to people.

Matthew Breems:
So, some contemporary profiles in dissenters that you were able to speak with firsthand? Well, Jeff Paterson, who started Courage to Resist was one of the big boosters of the Chelsea Manning support network, and without his work I would not have had a chance to learn minute by minute what’s happening with her.

Let’s talk about the book itself a little bit. I had a chance to look at it. Not surprisingly, the dissenters started right from the very beginning of our country and the Revolutionary War. What did it look like from day one for us, for dissenters in the American army?

Chris Lombardi:
Well, of course a country is started by dissent, right? It’s started by people disagreeing with government. At time, it was England. But, interestingly enough, in the early years, the Continental Army really believed in a sort of democratic situation. They wanted to elect their officers. They looked at their contracts and went, ‘Wait a minute, I’m only here for three years. Don’t tell me I have to keep fighting’. They kind of resisted almost initially. My favorite story from that, it’s not the story I start the book which is a very nice story about conscious objection, is the story of Matthew Lyon. He was in Canada because his troops were ordered to guard some farms in Canada, that were owned by some landowners and they went, “Nope! Nope! We’re going to leave.” They just left and they made him follow them and they all got court-martialed.

Matthew Breems:
One of the things that really stood out to me in your description of a lot of the early conflicts, Revolutionary War or War of 1812, was the pivotal role that the Quakers played in conscientious objection in the United States. Explain their role in even how it affects us in modern day, conscientious, objection, thoughts, and processes.

Chris Lombardi:
You know, it’s funny because I’m also writing a chapter about conscientious objection for a textbook with somebody and looking at the Quakers, from the very beginnings, when they got themselves clear about resisting conscription, it starts from the first communities that resisted slavery. When they got clear on that, they also got clear on not wanting to commit violence against authority. They sorted it out, they were actually pretty conservative, but by the time the Revolution came out they were very supportive of people who were just determined to enact their beliefs against violence. The way that they resist is very calm and very unbreakable and one of the first characters that I work with was a young man who was actually taken prisoner of conscientious at a British-run prison in Philadelphia, a prisoner of war. He got out because his family knew some Quakers who helped him get out. So, they simultaneously can negotiate with authorities and they can be a bedrock resistance to things they have determined un-Christian. They were sponsors of the organization that I work. Center on Conscience & War founded an inter-religious… there are peace churches and the Quakers are the most famous peace church.

Matthew Breems:
Well, the other things that stood out to me about some of the early American conflicts was some of the level of desertion in those conflicts, like the Mexican-American War saw a lot of deserters. Can you talk us through some of the conflicts throughout US history that had really high levels of desertion?

Chris Lombardi:
Well, the Mexican War was one of these wars where it was controversial from the start. They didn’t have any conscription so it was all volunteers. When you have volunteers who would realize that they’re in a seriously intolerable situation, they’re more likely to desert. There’s also the famous story of the St. Patrick’s Battalion that you have these Catholic troops who realized they’re in a Catholic country. So, the Mexicans said, “Come, fight for us,” and there’s a whole contingent of soldiers who defected to Mexicans, and they were called “San Patricios”. This is in the title because the desertion really is a sign that something’s wrong. It isn’t always a sign of dissent, but it’s a sign that something’s going on, or that this is not what the military authorities who started it meant to happen. So you can tell, in any war, if desertion is going up higher there’s something going on.

Matthew Breems:
Does the army keep any sort of statistics that you were able to find on desertion rates or dissenter rates in their ranks?

Chris Lombardi:
They do keep them. I can’t give you exact numbers on what’s going on right now. The military does not want to go to the trouble of prosecuting somebody for desertion. They will find other charges to do it instead.

Matthew Breems:
Right, because obviously it reflects badly on them if their own soldiers aren’t towing the propaganda behind whatever current conflict we find ourselves in.

Chris Lombardi:
And it’s more work than they want to do.

Matthew Breems:
And through your research, did you find that there was any common thread between soldiers that decided, ‘No, I can’t do this’. You know, whether they were deserting or whether they were objectors?

Chris Lombardi:
A lot of different, common threads. I have a couple of threads. One is the cost. This is about paying us enough or realizing that the cost is too much. There’s also the trauma. There’s a whole sense of understanding that this is painful for me and for the people that I’m doing this with and people understanding that, what we call “moral injury”. There’s desertion that’s mostly someone just unhappy with a unit, but there’s also desertion realizing that what’s going on in the war was wrong, or that command has behaved badly.

Chris Lombardi:
It’s often a mix. It’s almost always a mix.

Jeff Paterson:
Okay. I need to jump in here for a second. If you don’t already know me, I’m Jeff Paterson, the director of Courage to Resist, an organization dedicated to supporting the troops who refuse to fight. As a Marine, I publicly refused to fight in the 1991 Gulf War so this work is personal for me. These podcasts are possible only because of supporters like you. It’s your tax deductible donations that allow us to ensure our collective people’s history of resistance to war and empire is not lost. Please visit couragetoresist.org to make a donation today. There you’ll also find our entire podcast library going all the way back to 2007. Finally, like and follow us on Facebook at couragetoresist. Thanks for listening, and back to today’s episode.

Matthew Breems:
One particular story of a deserter that you feel is really a snapshot, or resonated with you, that you’d want to share?

Chris Lombardi:
I’m thinking about actually the Korean war, but Clarence Adams, who was drafted into the Korean War and captured. He ended up trying not to let himself be returned. He said he he would not go back to Jim Crow. When the Vietnam War happened, he did a broadcast from China to soldiers saying, “You know, maybe you don’t want to be fighting on behalf of the United States.” And, of course, some say he was brainwashed. He said, “Oh, I was brainwashed by the Americans. I was not brainwashed by the Chinese. He’s an interesting story about standing his ground for a very long time and then coming back to the United States. I always say that his survival living in Mississippi most of his life was his last dissent. He just wouldn’t talk to the committee on Un-American Activities and he said to them:. “No, this is not, I was not brainwashed.”

Chris Lombardi:
That was just around the Vietnam War started.

I also think about William Apess, from the war of 1812, who was African-American-Indian. He was recruited for this reason that all recruits do it, he needed a roof over his head. He had racist harassment when he was headed to Canada and finally he got out. After the war, ended up a preacher fighting for the Mashpee in Massachusetts, which is a tribe that was not even his. He became a big activist. His dissent against the military was mostly private. This dissent against government was before the Civil War. When the most recent stuff around the Mashpee happened, I thought, my God. William Apess would be really concerned about this.

Matthew Breems:
Do you think in general, the attitude towards conscientious objectors and war dissenters has changed in the American culture, or has it remained mostly the same?

Chris Lombardi:
Conscientious objectors, most people we talk to they think Vietnam. They think about civilian conscientious objectors who weren’t in the military at all. They don’t realize that in the military there are those who serve unarmed medics, or secure discharge after they change their minds; they don’t realize how long back this stuffs been going on. I’ve even talked to a couple of newer objectors who, within five years ago, realized that this was something they would like to apply to them. I didn’t know until I worked at CCCO that conscientious objectors are still going on because you’re in the military and can decide that they don’t believe in war, that the military allows for that. And that’s an interesting thing. People don’t know that it’s a living thing. It’s not a past thing. It’s not about a matter of being a coward. In fact, like all nonviolent action, it takes a lot of rigor.

Matthew Breems:
I think of dissenters, or conscientious objectors, during World War II, when the whole nation seemed like it was in favor of war. Once we had declared war, what a brave action it would be to go against that whole tide of culture pushing against what you feel you need to do in your own conscience and how much bravery that does take. Speaking of World War II, what were some stories of conscientious objectors and in that conflict?

Chris Lombardi:
Well, my favorite one is Bayard Rustin, of course, who’s kind of sui generis. He worked for a peace organization before World War II, and then he could have become a conscientious objector in one of those camps that was run there, but he said, “No, no, no. I have to resist the entire system.” He spent some time in prison, came back and, of course jump-started the civil rights movement.

The other story that I tell, of course, is Lew Ayres who had starred in a movie called “All Quiet on the Western Front”. It made him think about what he thought about war so when World War II happened what he had decided he was CO. He became a medic. He went to the Pacific. At one point he was there, but William Kunstler was there who later became lawyer for the 1960s anti-war movement. He often said, remembering, looking at Lew Ayers that day, he went, “That’s really interesting.” He knew about the movie. They were not resisting service in that civilians, of course, who instead went to the Civilian Public Service camps. They both were not in uniform who were in those camps. They did experiments. They did work on farms. They did whatever they could do, but they didn’t want to do nothing for war. The thing is that ever since I worked a lot of COs, the investigating officer always says, “What would you have done about Hitler?” That’s always the thing. If I mention to my mother that I’m on the board of the Center on Conscience and War, she goes, “But Hitler!”

Matthew Breems:
And what would a CO respond to that?

Chris Lombardi:
A CO says, “I don’t respond to theoreticals. Can’t tell you what I would’ve done then, I can tell you what I’d do now.”

Matthew Breems:
For someone who maybe wouldn’t take the time to read your book, what would be the main thing you would want them to know about dissenters, deserters, and objectors to our wars in America?

Chris Lombardi:
That these are people that are an important part of our discourse. Soldiers and veterans have understanding of how the government works and how society works in ways that we don’t. Their dissent is worth listening to.

Matthew Breems:
Well, Chris Lombardi, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Really looking forward to seeing your book out there in the public. Again, the book is, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars” It’s going to be due out to the general public, November 10th, 2020. Thank you so much, Chris, for taking the time to do this today.

Chris Lombardi:
Thank you so much. Take care.

Matthew Breems:
This podcast is a Courage to Resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breems, with special thanks to executive producers, Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information and to offer your support.