The DVD for The Good War And Those Who Refused To Fight It is more comprehensive than just that documentary. It has extensive special features, including a guide to draft-dodging – you know, in case the “draft” is ever instituted again…when we desperately need several hundred thousand more soldiers in…Libya? Actually, with all the special features, I find the DVD a little much – maybe as cumbersome as its very long title.
That being said, the documentary itself is really interesting, if short. Less than an hour long, on a DVD that contains more than three hours worth of material, The Good War is the story of conscientious objectors (COs) in World War II. That is a fascinating subject, mostly because it’s World War II. COs could object to Vietnam on moral grounds. They could object to Iraq and Afghanistan on the grounds that the United States should NOT be in those wars. But World War II? This is Hitler we’re talking about. It really was the “Good War”.
That’s the premise that makes the documentary interesting – when a cause is so obviously justified, how can some people object? How can some people refuse to fight? Well the answer really is obvious, stemming from the philosophy of Gandhi and other pacifists. The idea that while I may be willing to die for a cause, I am not willing to kill for one. The interviews with the surviving World War II COs are eye-opening, and the treatment they received in prison during the war brutal.
There are some terrifically interesting tidbits in the film – how the COs managed to help integrate the US prison system while incarcerated. How they volunteered for dreadful, inhumane medical experiments from jail (partly to prove that they were as tough as any soldier, having been called sissies in the press over their decision not to participate in the war). And there is a story about film star Lew Ayres (All Quiet On The Western Front), a pacifist who refused to fight and reported to a CPS camp when he couldn’t be guaranteed a non-combatant role in the army.
All of these stories interested me, but none was dealt with in depth. I would really have liked to learn more about each of the men interviewed for the documentary. Or their later lives – one of them (David Dellinger) was part of the Chicago Seven, arrested for their anti-war protests during the Vietnam era at the Democratic national convention in 1968. But their activities after World War II are rattled off as a postscript to the film, and little depth is achieved there either.
A fascinating subject, to be sure, but pretty scant for such an extensive DVD release. The Good War And Those Who Refused To Fight It comes to DVD March 29th from First Run Features.