18 Famous US Veterans Who Became Anti-War Activists

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

For as long as there have been wars, there have been people opposed to war. The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes put a comic spin on the idea back in 411 B.C. with his “Lysistrata,” in which the women of Athens and Sparta mutually agree to withhold sexual favors from their husbands until the men negotiate a peace in the Peloponnesian War. 

In medieval England, groups of nobles sometimes protested against impending military actions for selfish reasons – because they didn’t want to be taxed for the purposes of raising an army, or because they didn’t want the serfs who tilled their fields to be drafted into service.

Across the centuries, anti-war activity has taken many forms: the formation of groups promoting peace; speeches and editorials; evocative works of fiction depicting the horrors and ultimate pointlessness of war; and of course demonstrations, from small-scale sit-ins at draft offices to marches flooding the streets in Washington D.C. and elsewhere with hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Anti-war sentiment grew in America between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, with the formation of numerous “peace societies,” as noted intellectuals like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote tracts against war. Perennial socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was arrested for espionage after making a fiery anti-war speech in 1918.

One of the most powerful anti-war novels ever written was “All Quiet on the Western Front” by the German author Erich Maria Remarque, who had been conscripted into the Imperial German Army during World War I and later wrote vividly about the horrors of war and its aftermath among returning soldiers. (A new film version of the book is up for nine Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards.) It may well qualify as one of  the most accurate war movies ever made.

Like Remarque, many of the most passionate and effective anti-war protesters over the years have been those who served in the armed forces, experiencing war first-hand.

To compile a list of 18 American veterans who turned against war, 24/7 Tempo consulted sources including the New York Times, Britannica, Wikipedia, American Progress, Veterans for Peace, and The Conversation. For as long as our nation has existed, countless men and women who have served in the armed forces have become vocal anti-war activists, so this list is far from comprehensive. We have included both people who are better-known for their non-military accomplishments and those whose fame derives primarily from their resistance to war. While the veterans on this list cover a period of almost 200 years, the majority of them are known for their opposition to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. (See these horrifying images of the Iraq War.)

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