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Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family--A Test of Will Andfaith in World War Iby Louisa Thomas
Synopses & Reviews
Norman Thomas and his brothers' upbringing prepared them for a life of service-but their calls to conscience threatened to tear them apart
Conscience is Louisa Thomas's beautifully written account of the remarkable Thomas brothers at the turn of the twentieth century. At a time of trial, each brother struggled to understand his obligation to his country, family, and faith. Centered around the story of the eldest, Norman Thomas (later the six-time Socialist candidate for president), the book explores the difficult decisions the four brothers faced with the advent of World War I. Sons of a Presbyterian minister and grandsons of missionaries, they shared a rigorous moral upbringing, a Princeton education, and a faith in the era's spirit of hope.
Two became soldiers. Ralph enlisted right away, heeding President Woodrow Wilson's call to fight for freedom. A captain in the Army Corps of Engineers, he was ultimately wounded in France. Arthur, the youngest, was less certain about the righteousness of the cause but sensitive to his obligation as a citizen-and like so many men eager to have a chance to prove himself. The other two were pacifists. Evan became a conscientious objector, protesting conscription; when the truce was signed on November 11, 1918, he was in solitary confinement. Norman left his ministry in the tenements of East Harlem, New York, and began down the course he would follow for the rest of his life, fighting for civil liberties, social justice, and greater equality, and against violence as a method of change. Conscience reveals the tension among responsibilities, beliefs, and desires, between ideas and actions-and, sometimes, between brothers.
Conscience moves from the gothic buildings of Princeton to the tenements of New York City, from the West Wing of the White House to the battlefields of France, tracking how four young men navigated a period of great uncertainty and upheaval. A Thomas family member herself (Norman was Louisa's great grandfather), Thomas proposes that there is something we might recover from the brothers' debates about conscience: a way of talking about personal liberty and social obligation, about being true to oneself and to one another.
It was a time of testing and uncertainty. Even before World War I, there was a sense that country was changing. As Louisa Thomas reveals in Conscience, for the Thomas brothers, the struggle did not only take place on the battlefields. It was within themselves. Sons of a Presbyterian minister and grandsons of missionaries, the brothers shared a rigorous moral code, Princeton educations, and a faith in the era’s spirit of hope. Their upbringing prepared them for a life of service, but the war challenged their notions of citizenship, faith, and freedom and threatened to tear their family apart. Centered around the life of the oldest, Norman Thomas, Conscience tells the story of four brothers, and the choices they made.
When the United States entered the Great War, Ralph Thomas enlisted right away, heeding President Woodrow Wilson’s call to fight for freedom. A captain in the Army Corps of Engineers, he would be wounded in France. Arthur, the youngest, was less certain about the righteousness of the cause but was sensitive to his obligation as a citizen—and like so many men eager to have a chance to prove himself. Evan became a conscientious objector, protesting conscription; when the truce was signed on November 11, 1918, he was in solitary confinement. Norman Thomas was a Presbyterian minister when the war began. Before the United States entered the war, he became a pacifist, and by the time it was over, he was a Socialist. He would go on to run for President six times on the Socialist ticket. The Thomas brothers argued about what was possible and what was principled, what was right and what was wrong—and they told each other to have courage. .
Conscience moves from the gothic buildings of Princeton to the tenements of New York City, from the West Wing of the White House to the battlefields of France, tracking four young men navigating upheaval. In telling the story of their journeys, Thomas recovers a way of talking about personal liberty and social obligation, about being true to oneself and to one another.
About the Author
Louisa Thomas has written for the New York Times Book Review, Newsweek, Vogue, and other publications. She lives in New York. Norman Thomas was her great-grandfather.
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History and Social Science » Military » World War I