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Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson Paperback – August 1, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This whopping epic (published by Oakland's feisty PM Press) tells the story of a Vietnam-era soldier who entered the war as a red-blooded small-town recruit and emerged as a die-hard dissident, driven to expose and oppose not only warfare in general but also the US' unique role in spreading military terror around the world." —Berkeley Daily Planet (July 12, 2011)


"Blood On the Tracks is the story of one man's attempt to change the direction of that machine (America) or, failing in that, preventing it from working at all." —www.counterpunch.org (July 18, 2011)


"[Willson's] 440-page book traces his journey from high school baseball star in Ashville, N.Y., to Air Force captain in Vietnam to antiwar figure - and on to today, when he says his most important message is that 'we have to all live more simply, because our lifestyle in America is totally unsustainable.'" —San Francisco Chronicle (July 18, 2011)


"One lesson (from the book) is the importance of  'finding your own tracks and taking a stand there.' . . . Brian did so by taking this action 'in person:' using the most powerful symbol at his disposal, his vulnerable, resilient, determined, and spirited body." —www.WagingNonviolence.org (September 2011)


"Blood on the Tracks reveals a thoughtful, reflective man who does not shy away from facing difficult truths about what we have made of our world." —Peace News, UK (November 25, 2011)

About the Author

S. Brian Willson is a Vietnam veteran and nonviolent pacifist. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Daniel Ellsberg is a former U.S. military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers. He lives in San Francisco.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 500 pages
  • Publisher: PM Press; First Edition edition (August 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1604864214
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604864212
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #837,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By G. King on July 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
When I first bought Brian Willson's book I expected an engaging story of an interesting life of a Vietnam vet who became a peace activist. You know: there are a lot of such stories. But very shortly into the book I realized this is no formulaic memoir. Brian is perhaps best remembered as the veteran who was run over by a train while blocking transportation of munitions in Concord, California on Sep. 1, 1987. The weapons were destined for U.S. wars in Central America. Brian lost both legs in the attack, during which the train conductors were ordered by superiors to triple the legal speed of a train in that area and, more importantly, not to stop for anyone sitting on the tracks. It was a targeted attack against a man whose life had metamorphosed from an All American, "communist hating" young adult, to a captain in the Air Force, to a man who witnessed first hand the intentional targeting by U.S.-led fighter jets of unarmed families in rural villages, to an Air Force veteran who, upon return to the U.S. actively opposed the war even while still in the service. Throughout the book Brian is attempting to answer the question: How was the government able to convince him, a decent person, that he should pick up his life and travel 9,000 miles to a land he's almost never heard of and kill people he'd never met? To answer the question we meet a who's who of philosophers, activists, government officials, community members, and others whom Brian knew personally or mined as a reader. The book includes too many italicized words and exclamation points that Brian uses for emphasis, when no emphasis is needed, as the material is so compelling. This is one of the best books ever produced on 20th Century America, I can't recommend it highly enough.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Kroll on June 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is not an easy book to read, but that is because its author never flinches from the truth, whether about America's brutal war record in Vietnam or his own complicity in that Imperial War, and that of all Americans of a certain age -- just as all Americans share the horror we are bringing to Afghan and Iraqi and Pakistani villages today. S. Brian Willson, the 4th of July gung-ho American boy, had already begun to question the lessons of "patriotism" with which we so proudly indoctrinate our children, especially our boy children, when, as an officer in Vietnam, he looked down at the dead eyes of a Vietnamese villager clutching her three bullet-ridden children, burnt beyond recognition by Napalm, and understood viscerally the fundamental center of Christ's teachings. As he took in the horror, he writes, "She was not alive. But at the moment her eyes met mine, it felt like a lightning bolt jolted through my entire being... `She is my family,' I said..."
Nearly twenty years later, I stood just behind Brian on a California train track in a well-publicized effort to block munitions trains carrying American weapons to kill other poor villagers in El Salvador and Nicaragua, thinking about the words he had spoken that morning, before one of those trains ripped his legs from his body. He said, "...each train that... gets by us is going to kill people, people like you and me.. And the question that I have to ask on these tracks is: am I any more valuable than those people?"
2500 years ago, the great Greek philosopher Diogenes is said to have carried a lamp in broad daylight searching "for an honest man." Blessed to have known S. Brian Willson for 30 years, I can say without equivocation, that had Diogenes met my friend, he could have put down his lamp and rested, having found what he was looking for.

Michael A. Kroll
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Piscitello on September 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
First, understand that I couldn't put this book down; once I'd started reading it, I read it during every free moment. And although it's labeled a "memoire" (and that it is), because of the broad range of activities in which Willson has been engaged, it is far more than simple biography. As the subtitle states: "The Life and TIMES of S. Brian Willson".

From his idyllic upbringing in rural, conservative New York state, to the Mekong Delta; from his soujourn working in America's prisons to his struggles against Ronald Reagan's terrorist organizations in 1980s Central America, Willson's memoire bears witness to the horrors of American civilization at the end of the twentieth century. Weaving into his personal narrative themes of civil rights, American culture, American foreign policy, and the overarching broad history of humanity, Willson teaches his readers not only the history of Viet Nam and its defense against foreign invaders (the French; the Americans), but also gives them overviews of the contemporary situations in such places as Colombia, Central America, Cuba, Haiti (where Willson -- along with fellow members of a veteran's peace group -- met with Haiti's democratically-elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide just months before his US-backed ouster), Iraq, Palestine, and more.

Willson's writing is conversational and engaging; his subject matter far-ranging and encyclopedic. This book is far more than the story of a Viet Nam War veteran turned peace activist, it's the story of a brave human being who stood up for human dignity and nearly paid with his life for having done so.

Read it and weep for humanity. I did.
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