During the Civil War, the Press of the American Unitarian Association—the fledging publishing house founded in 1854 that grew into Beacon Press—published a tract called A Soldier's Companion.
This handy booklet, intended to supply Union soldiers with solace and inspiration, included hymns, anthems, poems, and practical instructions. Some 57,000 were distributed, free of charge, during the course of the war.
Amid songs and hymns about freedom and temperance were allusions linking the American Revolution—the patriotic fight for independence from England—with freedom for all mankind. References to abolition and the dreaded fugitive slave laws were scattered throughout the booklet. The poem “Wipe out, O God! The Nation’s Sin,” for example, warned, “There is no liberty for them / Who make their brethren slave.” Songs like “Arouse, New England Sons” invoked,“Free! While the very homes you’ve made / Beside your fathers’ graves/ Are pillaged, if ye dare to aid / The panting, flying slave?” Luminaries such as Harriet Beecher Stowe altered classics to fit the cause; her lyrics to “America, the Beautiful” included the lines “Let Freedom’s banner wave / Till there be not a slave.” A Soldier’s Companion also contained practical advice to men in the field. Soldiers were warned, for example, to “sleep as much as you can,” avoid “all use of ardent spirits,” and “wear flannel all over in all weathers.” (From A Brief History of Beacon Press by Susan Wilson.)
In the years since, many Beacon Press books have examined the issues faced by soldiers at war and upon their return home.
My River Home: A Journey from the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico
by Marcus Eriksen
During the course of the war in Iraq, many veterans have become increasingly disillusioned, and increasingly vocal. Many began seeing the war as damaging for the country, and especially for the men and women fighting overseas. In My River Home, Marcus Eriksen, a veteran of the Gulf War, charts his personal shift from proud Marine to self-destructive veteran to engaged activist protesting the injustices of the Iraq War with Veterans for Peace. Eriksen made sense of this transition only after a fascinating adventure traveling through the heart of America, down the entire length of the great Mississippi River on a homemade raft.
The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
by Helen Benedict
More American women have fought and died in Iraq than in any war since World War Two, yet as soldiers they are still painfully alone. In Iraq, only one in ten troops is a woman, and she often serves in a unit with few other women or none at all. This isolation, along with the military's deep-seated hostility toward women, causes problems that many female soldiers find as hard to cope with as war itself: degradation, sexual persecution by their comrades, and loneliness, instead of the camaraderie that every soldier depends on for comfort and survival. As one female soldier said, "I ended up waging my own war against an enemy dressed in the same uniform as mine."
In The Lonely Soldier, Benedict tells the stories of five women who fought in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. She follows them from their childhoods to their enlistments, then takes them through their training, to war and home again, all the while setting the war's events in context.
Love in Condition Yellow: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage
by Sophia Raday
Berkeley peace activist Sophia Raday never imagined she would fall in love with an Oakland police officer and major in the Army Reserve, much less marry one. Barrett is loving and loyal, but in his world a threat lies around every corner, and so he asks Sophia to stay in Condition Yellow—always aware that her life may be in danger soon. Sophia's heart-wrenching yet humorous narrative about coming to a new understanding of peace and partnership gives hope for healing the deep divisions in our country, from the front lines of a most unusual union.
As the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Aidan Delgado was in the process of enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserve. Two years later, he arrived in Iraq with the 320th Military Police Company. As he witnessed firsthand the brutality of the occupation and the abuse of unarmed Iraqis, Delgado came to believe that war was immoral and ran counter to his Buddhist principles. He turned in his weapon and began the long process of securing conscientious objector status. His book is urgent reading for anyone who cares about American ideals overseas, and for all those who understand why peace is patriotic.
In the early 1970s, Penny Coleman married Daniel, a young Vietnam veteran and fellow photographer. Soon, Daniel became deeply troubled, falling victim to multiple addictions and becoming strangely insecure. He suffered from what we now call posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After Coleman left him, he committed suicide.
Struggling to understand Daniel's experience, Coleman began investigating the history of PTSD; she found clear cases of the disorder as far back as the Civil War. In Flashback, Coleman deftly weaves psychology and military, political, oral, and cultural history to trace the experience of PTSD in the military up through the Vietnam War. She then focuses on Vietnam to show why this war in particular led to such a high number of PTSD cases, many of which ended tragically in suicide. Like the soldiers listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, these men are casualties of war.
With record numbers of American soldiers returning from the Middle East already suffering from PTSD, Flashback provides a necessary lesson on the real tragedy of battle for soldiers and their families, something that continues long after the war ends.