S. Brian Willson spoke at the Sanctuary for Independent Media last Friday night supporting the recent publication of his book “Blood on the Tracks.” The title of the book refers to the horrific incident on September 1, 1987 when he was run over by a munitions train whose operators, on that day, were ordered not to stop for the protest demonstrators who had been blocking the tracks for the past several months.
Like thousands of young men from his generation he was a “good boy,” followed the rules, believed what he was taught and prospered in the system. While serving as a 27-year-old naval officer in Vietnam in the late ’60s he experienced his first doubts when sent to assess the success of bombing missions. He realized that pilots were bombing civilians, mostly children, in fishing villages with the dead then added to the enemy “body count” to shore up the political story back in the US. His realization that he was part of, and complicit in, a “genocide machine” started him on a passage of resistance and self discovery that continues to this day. His activities and discoveries along the way are the subject of his book.
It was difficult to find a publisher for his book as most felt it was too broadly focused. Similarly his talk at the Sanctuary was a expansive discussion of seminal events in his life, the history of imperial atrocities over the last 5,000 years, sustainability and the oil economy, his experiences as a tax resistor, his abandonment of law practice, work as a prisoner advocate and very personal observations on living a slower and quieter life.
It is a complete disservice to think of him only as a protestor who lost his legs. He spent a small portion of his talk on that event. However, the metaphor of a monolithic, mindlessly obedient, unstoppable force crushing an individual perfectly matched his condemnation of unfettered, powerful, vertically organized political systems that plunder and exploit the world and murder at will – all out of sight and far away.
His sustainable model for human society is based on local, horizontal, connected groups. Less driven by the acquisition of power and possessions, using less and moving more slowly. S. Brian Willson showed a striking calmness, powerful conviction and total absence of bitterness – but he continues his journey to find peace.
Review by Paul Jossman
Photographs by Jonathan Flanders