Memoir as History

Resister: A Story of Protest and Prison During the Vietnam War, by Bruce Dancis (Cornell University Press)

Bruce Dancis was at the heart of the anti-draft movement at Cornell University during the war in Vietnam—and Cornell was one of the hot spots of that resistance. This memoir tells the story of those times in remarkable detail: recounting not just what happened, but how things happened, not just the moments of exhilaration, but also the difficult struggles and dialogues within the movement. As a man of principle, he recalls his ethical wrestling at that time without becoming pompous.

I was in grade school during the war in Vietnam, so I have a strange sort of nostalgia for that period. I wasn’t really old enough to be a part of the war resistance movement, and I didn’t actually know that much about it, but I was convinced of its rightness and wished I could contribute to it. My nostalgia is a sort of sidelines thing, a longing not for what I once did, but for a time I just missed participating in. As a result, I’m always glad to find memoirs from the period, particularly ones like this that combine narration and reflection so effectively.

Because of the level of detail, this isn’t a quick read, but its thoroughness adds considerably to its value. Dancis did extensive research, among his own papers, in traditional academic venues, and via interviews before he wrote this book, so it’s a particularly precise memoir that reads as history as well as personal story. If you’re a reader like me, who tends to “graze” from several books at once, this makes an excellent addition to the pile, a book to turn to when the truths of fiction don’t seem quite true enough.

One Reply to “Memoir as History”

  1. Thanks for this review. As a fellow “grade school during Viet Nam” baby boomer, I resonate with what you’re saying about nostalgia for a time when you wished you could contribute, but your age kept you on the sidelines. I think there are 10s of 1000s of us who could say the same.

    Keep sharing your thoughts, for all of us! -Sarah White

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