Book Review – For the People: A Documentary History of the Struggle for Peace and Justice in the United States

For the People: A Documentary History of the Struggle for Peace and Justice in the United States, edited by Charles F. Howlettt and Robbie Lieberman, Charlotte, NC, Information Age Publishing, 2009, 351 pp., US $39.09 (paperback), US $73.09 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1-60752-305-5 (paperback.)

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Editors note: This review is one in a series co-published by the Global Campaign for Peace Education and In Factis Pax: Journal of Peace Education and Social Justice toward promoting peace education scholarship. These reviews are of Information Age Publishing’s Peace Education series. Established in 2006 by Founding Editors Ian Harris and Edward Brantmeier, IAP’s peace education series offers diverse perspectives on peace education theory, research, curriculum development and practice. It is the only series focused on peace education offered by any major publisher. Click here to learn more about this important series.

For the People is a book on the struggle and efforts for peace and justice in US history from pre-colonial times to the present. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction of history with primary source documents and some questions for readers, especially for students to discuss various issues in each historical document. There are also photographs on various issues for peace and justice. The list of references on the most important works in US peace history is useful for students and readers to research more.

The contents consist of a ‘Foreword’ by Larry Wittner, an ‘Introduction’, ‘Early forms of peace and justice from precolonial times to the creation of a new nation (Chapter 1), ‘The organized movement and the search for justice in antebellum America’ (Chapter 2), ‘Standing up for the oppressed in an age of expansion’ (Chapter 3), ‘Early 20th century peace efforts and a “modern” movement’ (Chapter 4), ‘Radical pacifism and economic and racial justice’ (Chapter 5), ‘Nonviolent direct action for equality and disarmament’ (Chapter 6), ‘Protesting imperialism, promoting democracy’ (Chapter 7), ‘ A broad agenda’ (Chapter 8), and a ‘Conclusion’, followed by ‘Photos’ and ‘References’. The content includes not only peace movements but also struggles for human rights, such as the rights of African Americans, Native Americans, working people, women, Immigrants, and so forth. Movements to deal with issues on the environment and sustainable development are also introduced as well as the importance of peace education, which makes the book comprehensive to the study of peace and justice.

It is pointed out in the ‘Introduction’ that ‘movements for peace and justice still receive little attention in secondary schools and college survey courses’ (xxi). Not only students but also many American and international readers will learn more about the American struggle and efforts for peace and justice for the first time by reading this book. Movements for peace and justice are often not reported in the media and also such a history is not well-written in school textbooks in many countries. Therefore, it is eye-opening and encouraging for readers in the US and abroad to know more about the American people’s efforts for peace and justice. The book should be read abroad because there are different ideas on various issues such as nuclear weapons in different countries. For example, most Japanese people may not know that many Americans have also been working hard for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is encouraging for Japanese people to know more about this, as they may then feel greater solidarity with American people.

In the book, an emphasis is put on non-violent and peaceful ways to deal with issues for peace and justice. Many readers could learn much from these alternative ways to deal with issues without using force. The book also shows not only the importance of individual efforts for peace and justice but also the power of action by united peoples. Concerned citizens can learn what to do and how to deal concretely with various social and political issues from this book.

Though an excellent and thought-provoking book, it would additionally be beneficial if other peace leaders, such as Barbara Reynolds (1915 – 1990), could be introduced in the next edition of the book. Reynolds and her family sailed the ship “Phoenix” to protest against hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean in 1958. Reynolds’ husband, Dr. Earle Reynolds as captain, was put under arrest. Her family was influenced by a yacht called “The Golden Rule” in which four Quakers had tried to protest the American hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean, but they were arrested, which is introduced in the book For the People. Subsequently, Barbara Reynolds founded the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima on August 7th, 1965, to provide a place where people from many nations can meet, share their experiences, and reflect on peace. Thus, her work is worthy of inclusion in this fine text. Additionally, the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College in Ohio is also noteworthy because it was founded in 1975 as well by Barbara Reynolds. The inclusion of Reynolds would provide an added gender dimension to the work, as well as discussion of how Americans have influenced peace movements in the US and abroad.

It would also be beneficial if the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA) could be introduced in the book. This is because, according to its website, the PJSA “serves as a professional association for scholars in the field of peace and conflict studies. PJSA is dedicated to bringing together academics, educators, and activists to explore alternatives to violence and share visions and strategies for peacebuilding, social justice, and social change.” The inclusion of PJSA will expand the study into the present as this society actively engages in contemporary social movements to address the peace and social justice issues of today.

In conclusion, the book is very good for many readers across the world, especially students studying Social Studies and American History as well as those studying Peace and Conflict Studies. It would also be a positive contribution to the global field of Peace Studies if the book could be translated into many languages.

Kazuyo Yamane
Ritsumeikan University
[email protected]

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