Though Abraham Johannes Muste is best remembered today as one of the leading activists against America's involvement in Vietnam, this was merely the culmination of a long career fighting for causes defined by the events of the century. An intellectually precocious young man who emigrated with his family to America from the Netherlands while still a child, he was a successful minister until America's entry into the First World War led him to focus on activism rather than his pastorate. After the war he shifted his attention towards labor organization and education, culminating in a failed attempt to establish a working-class party during the Great Depression. Returning to his pacifist roots on the eve of the Second World War, he broadened his activism after the conflict to include anti-nuclear protests and civil rights advocacy before he spent his final years campaigning against the Vietnam War, inspiring a new generation of activists in the process.
Muste spent much of his life not just fighting for his beliefs but writing about them as well. This is best reflected in Leilah Danielson's excellent biography of him, which at its core is a study of his ideas about activism and how they motivated his campaigns. This allows her to chart the development of his views, from those of a young Dutch Reformed minister to his subsequent embrace of Christian Socialism, his flirtation with Marxism-Leninism, and his constant commitment to pacifism. In doing so, Danielson places Muste with the context of the developing ideas of his time, showing how he was influenced by Gandhian concepts of nonviolence and how, in turn, he sought to pass along those ideas in adapted form to both the antiwar movement at home and to the national liberation movements in Africa. While acknowledging the limits of Muste's influence, she nonetheless shows how he was at the forefront of radical change throughout his lifetime. For anyone who wishes to understand his role in these movements and his legacy for us today, this is the book to read.