Some people are called to stand up and say “Hell, No” to war, despite the personal cost. Set against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s, this remarkable memoir details the author’s experience as a conscript in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Jerry Gioglio relates with compelling honesty his struggles to understand and embody his working-class , Catholic upbringing while responding to civil rights challenges, the military draft, and the dehumanizing aspects of military training.
Gioglio recalls his childhood in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a remarkably diverse area ethnically and racially, and his youthful introduction to the ubiquity of prejudice in all its forms. His working-class family was deeply Roman Catholic, and he imbibed the faith’s social justice teachings, especially under the charismatic tutelage of the Rev. Louis Anthony Leyh. Leyh’s lessons prepared the author “for a lifetime of varied social justice struggles” that lay ahead.
Gioglio had to draw deeply from this fount of moral strength when he was drafted into the Army in 1968, destined to be deployed to Vietnam. He was reluctant to declare himself a conscientious objector since it committed him to opposing all wars. So he subjected himself to basic training as well as advanced infantry training, experiences he described as humiliating and dehumanizing. He was stunned to learn how susceptible he was to military indoctrination as well as his capacity for violence, a predicament depicted by the author with candor and intelligence:
“This was the level of success they were having. Everything I learned previously at school and in church had almost been wallpapered over. More than ever, I knew I would have to be on guard to prevent the resurrection of the homicidal beast lurking within. It is a disturbing realization, still shocking some five decades later.”
He eventually declared himself a conscientious objector after he completed his training, and he furnishes an edifying account of that legal process as well as of the world of GI activists who took a stand against the war.
This insightful book is relevant to all present and future civilians and members of armed forces throughout the world grappling with the very real questions of personal morality when it comes to involvement in making war … and building peace.