Blessed are the Peacemakers

The church I attend in Knoxville pledges itself to a “just peace covenant.” One part of the statement is “to seek the elimination of the causes of war by building a world that is free of poverty, of oppression, and of the violation of human rights.” Click here to read the whole statement. What I particularly like about the covenant is that it defines peace as more than the absence of war, which is the definition you will find in most dictionaries. Not everyone who attends my church is a pacifist, but I believe everyone would agree that they try to live their lives in a way that promotes a culture of peace. Elise Boulding, a Quaker sociologist, defines a “peace culture” as: 

[A] culture that promotes peaceable diversity. Such a culture includes lifeways, patterns of belief, values, behavior, and accompanying institutional arrangements that provide mutual caring and well-being as well as an equality that includes appreciation of difference, stewardship, and equitable sharing of the earth’s resources among its members and with all living beings. It offers mutual security for identity as well as kinship with the living earth. There is no need for violence. In other words, peaceableness is an action concept, involving a constant shaping and reshaping of understandings, situations, and behaviors in a constantly changing lifeworld, to sustain well-being for all.

I love the idea of peaceableness as an “action concept.” Pacifism is too often equated with passivity. Living a life of peaceableness is proactive and deliberate. The peacemaker seeks not just an end to war and other hostilities, but an end to all the injustices in the world that make those hostilities possible. Here are a few favorite books of mine depicting people actively engaged in peaceableness.

  • McPhail, David. No! Roaring Brook, 2009.
  • The word “No” repeated three times is the only thing said in this otherwise wordless book that speaks of profound courage. On his way to mail a letter to the president, a young boy witnesses planes dropping fiery bombs from the sky, tanks attacking homes, and soldiers breaking down doors and beating people. When the boy confronts a bully at the mailbox, shouting “No!” to the bigger boy, the entire order of the universe is reversed. Walking back, he sees the soldiers bearing gifts, tanks plowing fields, and planes dropping down a bicycle, which the boy and the former bully use to ride together. A beautifully illustrated fable with a powerful message.

  • Meltzer, Milton. Ain’t Gonna Study War  No More: The Story of America’s Peace Seekers. Random House/Landmark, 2002.
  • Originally published in 1985, this updated edition offers an authoritative and readable history of the peace movement and nonviolent resistance in America. Meltzer raises interesting questions, such as how the early Christian church turned from pacifism position to just war doctrine. Meltzer also discusses the evolution of anti-war arguments and discusses various moral conflicts that split anti-war movements, such as abolitionism vs. peace.

  • O’Brien, Anne Sibley and Perry Edmond O’Brien. After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance. Ill. Anne Sibley O’Brien. Charlesbridge, 2009.
  • This book chronicles the history of nonviolent resistance through profiles of significant adherents from 1908 to 2003 including individuals such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, César Chávez, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Wangari Maathi and groups such as the student activists of Tiananmen Square and the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Disappeared) in Argentina. Illustrated with handsome black-and-white drawings. The authors have an excellent web site featuring downloadables and other extras.

  • Radunsky, Vladimir. Manneken Pis: A Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed On a War. Walker, 2002.
  • In Brussels, there is a bronze statue of little boy peeing called Manneken Pis. Several legends are associated with the statue and Radunsky offers his own entertaining take on it in this story about a distraught little boy who loses his parents in the midst of a raging battle Scared, sad, and needing to urinate, he climbs on a wall and pees on the combatants. They stop and stare, then break into laughter. Fear and anger turns into giggles and guffaws, and the war is quickly forgotten. The boy finds his parents, a legend begins, and, eventually, a statue is cast.

  • Suvanjieff, Ivan and Dawn Gifford Engle. Peace Jam: A Billion Simple Acts of Peace. Viking, 2008. 30-minute DVD included.
  • The PeaceJam Foundation utilizes Nobel Peace laureates to model for and motivate youth to improve our world. This book profiles how some of these figures work with young adults on issues related to human rights, peace, the environment, and equity. The book is a wonderful introduction to social activism, showing young people that they can make a difference in their world.

  • Winter, Jonah. Peaceful Heroes. Ill. Sean Addy. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2009.
  • This collective biography profiles peacemakers from ancient through contemporary times from all parts of the world. Better-known figures include Jesus, Gandhi, and King, while less well-known activists include Islamic leader Abdul Ghaffae Khan, who led a nonviolent protest against the brutal British colonizers of Pakistan, and  Paul Rusesabagina of Rwanda. The detailed portraits never deny the horrifying realities that the peace-seeking leaders are fighting against. The stunning illustrations nearly overwhelm Winter’s chatty, interactive text.  The stirring profiles are great introductions, but Winter offers no suggestions for further reading.  
Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 10:28 pm  Comments (2)  

A Sucker for a Good Dog Story

I’m an animal lover. Were it up to me, my home would be overrun with critters furry, feathered, and otherwise. Fortunately, my practical-minded wife helps me resist the impulse. Animal stories, however, are impossible to resist and dog stories are the most irresistable. Call me sentimental. Call me a sap. I’m a sucker for a good dog story.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of seeing Gary Paulsen at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Gary, of course, has hundreds of great dog stories. He told several in the course of his talk: the psychotic, seizure-prone dog who led trap runs; the fiercely competitive but hopelessly dumb lead sled dog who bareled through a crowd of spectators during Gary’s first try at the Iditarod; his beloved Cookie, who led Gary on future Iditarod runs. Gary also talked about his current bunch of geriatric dogs at home. He gets them by calling the shelter and telling them to send over the ones that are about to be destroyed. Is there anyone on Earth who loves dogs more than Gary Paulsen? Listening to all those great dog stories got me to thinking of some of my favorites.  

  • Booth, Martin. War Dog. McElderry, 1997. 
  • When Fred Parry is arrested for poaching, he makes the policeman promise to find Jet, his well-trained black Labrador, a good home. When no home is found for Jet, she is turned over to the army and trained for patrol work. She and her handler are wounded during the evacuation of France. After recovering from her wounds, Jet is retrained to find people wounded in bombings. She and her handler are later sent to Sicily where Jet finds a badly wounded Fred Parry, who is now a soldier. After the war, Parry and Jet are reunited. Jet lives out the remainder of her days comfortable and loved. It’s impossible not to sympathize with the many ordeals this heroic dog must endure. Sadly, this British import is out of print. If you are fortunate enough to have it in your library collection, keep it. If you see it in a used book store, grab it!

  • Harlow, Joan Hiatt. Star in the Storm. McElderry, 2000.
  • Kirkus Reviews said it best when it described this novel as “a dog story in the best tradition of the genre.” Along with all other dogs not herding sheep, Sirius, a Newfoundland, has been banned from the community. To save him from being shot, twelve-year-old Maggie hides him in the woods. When a passenger ship founders off the coast during a storm and Sirius’ swimming skills are needed for the rescue, Maggie risks her beloved dog’s life. This heartwarming adventure story is rich in historical detail and has a thrilling climax. See also Thunder from the Sea (McElderry, 2004), another excellent novel about a Newfoundland.

  • Kadohata, Cynthia. Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam. Atheneum, 2007.
  • This riveting, realistic story of America’s war in Vietnam uses the alternating viewpoints of an army dog named Cracker and her 17-year-old handler, Rick Hanski, who enlists to “whip the world” and avoid a routine job. In this heartfelt tale, Kadohata explores the close bond of the soldier-dog team, relating how it detects booby traps and mines, finds the enemy, rescues POWs, and returns home to a heroes’ welcome.


  • Lee, Ingrid. Dog Lost. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2008. 
  • When Mackenzie’s father wins a pit bull puppy in a card game, he gives her to his son. Raised by an angry, alcoholic father, Cash is the one bright in the boy’s life. When Cash tries to defend Mackenzie from one of his father’s rages, he abandons the dog on the streets. Cash survives well until she’s captured by a teenager who is part of a dog-fighting ring. After escaping, her performs heroic deeds, dispelling local concern about the viciousness of pit bulls. All the while, boy and dog search for one another. The ending predictable, but this simply told story is moving and gripping.

  • Martin, Ann M. A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray. Scholastic, 2005.
  • From the comfort of her new home, a dog recounts the she spent 10 years mostly as a stray. Squirrel describes the circumstances of her birth, and conveys sadness and grief upon the disappearance of her mother, separation from her brother, and fear when fighting mean, starving dogs. The animal perspective is convincing. Squirrel has experienced many harrowing and sad events in her life that may shock softer hearted readers. See also Everything for a Dog (Feiwel & Friends, 2009), a parallel story about Squirrel’s brother, Bone.

  • Paulsen, Gary. Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers. Harcourt, 1998.
  • Nobody tells a dog story better than Gary Paulsen and he has written several excellent ones over the years, but he is in top form in this affectionate, heartwarming tribute to his sled dog, Cookie. Paulsen previously introduced Cookie in Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod (Harcourt, 1994). There is plenty of action and adventure here, too, as Paulsen recounts his exciting experiences running the Iditarod. The book is illustrated with warm, charming paintings by Ruth Wright Paulsen. This book may be nostalgic and sentimental, but it is completely irresistable.
Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 12:06 am  Comments (1)  

When Nonfiction Becomes Too “Creative”

On February 22nd, the Associated Press reported that Charles Pellegrino, author of Last Train from Hiroshima told The New York Times that he was “likely duped” by Joseph Fuoco, a key source who claimed he flew on Necessary Evil, one of the Enola Gay’s escort planes for the bombing of Hiroshima. Fuoco, who died in 2008,  claimed he was a last-minute replacement for flight engineer James R. Corliss. The family of Corliss, who died in 1999, produced evidence that he was on the plane. In a statement issued by publisher Henry Holt, Pellegrino said that since learning of his error that his ”only concern has been to get the history right, in other words, to make sure that flight engineer James R. Corliss takes his rightful seat on that plane.” Stephen Rubin, Holt president and publisher, announced that a revised edition would be released that would eliminate all references to Fuoco and include an author’s note. To make the corrections, Holt said Pellegrino is interviewing the family of Corliss and surviving service men from the mission. The changes would affect fewer than five pages of text and one illustration.

A press release issued by the Veterans of the 509th Composite Group cites further factual errors: 

“Pellegrino falsely claims that a radiation accident took place in the Tinian Island assembly shed containing the Hiroshima-mission atomic bomb (nicknamed ‘Little Boy’) on the evening of August 4th that resulted in the death of a young (unnamed) civilian scientist. Author Pellegrino speculates this might explain why ‘even Tibbets became sick at the time of the Hiroshima mission, and was bed-ridden on Tinian during the Nagasaki mission.’ Enola Gay Navigator Major Theodore J. Van Kirk vehemently denies that claim. ”Tibbets was never sick during the Hiroshima mission and was never bed-ridden during the Nagasaki mission. This is utterly preposterous.’

In his book, author Pellegrino claims Los Alamos scientist Luis Alvarez participated in the final assembly of the Little Boy atomic bomb. He states that a portion of the uranium assembly had ‘surged long enough to reduce the weapon’s efficiency’ to the point of it acting like a ‘dud’ when dropped on Hiroshima. Nothing could have been further from the truth. According to a Los Alamos document in the National Archives, all of the uranium and the four initiators had been inserted into Little Boy on July 30th (five days before the falsely alleged August 4th accident) and ‘no further handling of these parts was necessary.’ While the nuclear components were not touched again, the bomb casing was opened after that date only to install fresh batteries just before it was rolled out of the assembly building on August 5th and placed inside the Enola Gay.

Retired scientist Richard Malenfant devoted most of his long Los Alamos career studying not only the Little Boy atomic bomb, but its effects on the residents of Hiroshima. Referring to what he had read, Malenfant wrote ”The observations regarding Little Boy and the Hiroshima mission are ridiculous fabrications and attempts to revise history. They don’t even make interesting science fiction. The radiation effects described in the book are generally not factual.’ He added, ‘There is no merit in Pellegrino’s work.’

Mr. Pellegrino claims in his book that a person named Joseph Fuoco flew on a B-29 escort plane, named Necessary Evil that was to take photographs of the Hiroshima explosion. He writes that Fuoco, at the last minute, was ‘transferred from his beloved, battle-hardened plane Bad Penny’ and replaced Flight Engineer Sgt. James R. Corliss aboard Necessary Evil by orders of Colonel Costalati.

The official records containing the names of the over 1,800 members of the 509th Composite Group show that no person named Joseph Fuoco was ever a part of the 509th much less on the airplane. There is no record of a ‘Colonel Costalati’ being present on Tinian in connection with the 509th nor does the name Joseph Fuoco appear on the Bad Penny crew lists. Any last minute crew changes on Necessary Evil would have been recommended to Colonel Tibbets by the Airplane Commander Capt. George W. Marquardt, whom author Pellegrino also misspelled ‘Marquart’ throughout this book.”

Holt has now announced it will cease printing and shipping copies because of further questions about Pellegrino’s sources. A Holt spokesperson stated that there were questions whether the Reverend John MacQuitty, a priest quoted in the book, and another priest, a Father Mattias, named by Pellegrino, actually existed. The publisher also has questions about the legitimacy of Pellegrino’s doctoral degree. The publisher is offering refunds to retailers and wholesalers for the book. The company printed approximately 18,000 copies of the book.

How could this happen? Pellegrino’s credibility as a researcher has been questioned before. He is either appallingly inept or pathologically dishonest. In this case, it is apparently the latter. Pellegrino’s first response to the scandal was that he was duped by Fuoco. Some simple fact-checking on Pellegrino’s part would have revealed that what Fuoco told him was false. Holt’s statement that Pellegrino was interviewing surviving members of the mission to make the corrections is laughable. Why didn’t Pellegrino do that in the first place as part of his research? Now that further factual errors and fabrications have come to light, Pellegrino claim that he is the victim of a fraudulent source carries no weight.

What responsibility does the publisher have for this mess? How far should a publisher go in fact-checking and verifying an author’s sources? Given Pellegrino’s past credibility problems, should there have been greater diligence in double-checking facts and sources in the editorial process?

Reviews were universal in praising the book. Writing for The New York Times, Dwight Garner praised the book as “sober and authoritative.” In The Washington Post, Joseph Kannon called the book “the most powerful and detailed [account] I have ever read.” A starred review in Publisher’s Weekly states: “Pellegrino dissects the complex political and military strategies that went into the atomic detonations and the untold suffering heaped on countless Japanese civilians, weaving all of the book’s many elements into a wise, informed protest against any further use of these terrible weapons.” In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls the book: “Enormously painful to read, but absolutely essential to do so.”  The review outlets cannot be blamed for being duped. When a reviewer receives a nonfiction book from reputable publisher like Holt, he or she should be able to reasonably assume that the author is reliable and that the content has been properly vetted in the editorial process.

The argument can be made that reviewers of nonfiction books should have to be experts on the subject matter so that factual errors and questionable sources can be more easily identified.  It would be possible to do this for reviews that appear in scholarly journals, but it would be much more difficult for publications like Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly. Reviewers for those publications are typically librarians who can easily verify information if they suspect factual errors or questionable sources but mostly likely lack the specialized content knowledge to recognize the problems.

It is interesting to see wh0 contributed the blurbs of praise for the book jacket. None of them are historians or authors who have written about nuclear weapons. One blurb is by Bill Schutt, a bat biologist with the American Museum of Natural History and author of  a book about blood-feeding creatures called Dark Banquet. Schutt hails Pellegrino’s book as a “definitive account” that “sets the record straight about what actually happened.” Is a bat biologist qualified to praise the book as a “definitive account” of the Hiroshima bombing? Apparently not. Other blurb contributors include a NOAA ocean explorer, the founder and president of something called Droycon Bioconcepts, and motion picture director and producer James Cameron.

According to his web site, Pellegrino, who identifies himself as a “forensic archaeologist,” has been a “scientific consultant” to Cameron for the past 12 years. Cameron had optioned the book as part of developing a film about the Hiroshima bombing.

This is not the first time that there have been problems like this with nonfiction books and it certainly will not be the last. I purchased Last Train from Hiroshima at my local independent bookstore before the stories about Pellegrino’s dishonesty broke.  As an author of a book about the development and use of the first atomic bombs, I am interested in reading anything published on the subject. I have not gotten around to reading the book. I could return it to my bookstore for a refund, but I’m thinking I may hold on to it. When I do presentations about nonfiction writing, I can use it as an example of what NOT to do.

Published in: on March 2, 2010 at 10:59 am  Comments (1)