How to Get From Bravery to Victory: A former war correspondent sees the civil rights movement as a kind of military campaign-and helps us envision how to win the current war for democracy.

AuthorDickerson, Debra
PositionThomas E. Ricks' "Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968"

Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968

by Thomas E. Ricks

Macmillan, 448 pp.

Where did they find the courage? What makes someone who is hated, hunted, and hounded by their country intentionally bring down more of the same, or worse, on their head? Their community's? The whites of the civil rights movement, what made them walk away from their privileged lives to tramp through southern fields of strange fruit, asking the oppressed to court more abuse, while wondering if each day would be their much-less-privileged last? For many of us with the survivor's guilt of having been unable or unwilling to participate or who never experienced Jim Crow, this question is the distillation of all the books, movies, statues, and Black History Months: How did they find the courage?

Thomas Ricks, the veteran war correspondent, Pulitzer Prize winner, and prolific and best-selling author, has a different question in his new book, Waging a Good War. How did they win--like, specifically? In only about 13 years, the movement made an actual democracy of America in which nearly all those eligible could vote. But 60 years later, unreconstructed Republicans have reversed much of those gains and aren't nearly done with their anti-democratic blitzkrieg. So how, Ricks wondered, do we identify and replicate the tactics and strategies forged at Dixie lunch counters that changed the world? Ricks shows us how to get from bravery to victory over today's peculiar institution, the modern GOP.

My question is wide-eyed with reverence, his squinty-eyed with purpose. Yet their answers are the same. Dismayed with America's fervid re-embrace of voter suppression and the racial gerrymander, Ricks immersed himself in the movement that defeated structural tyranny once, he says, and found himself "calling on my own experiences as a war correspondent to interpret what I was reading. I saw the overall strategic thinking that went into the Movement, and the field tactics that flowed from that strategy. Problems I was familiar with from covering military operations in Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and from writing books about World War II and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were all addressed in careful, systematic ways by those in the civil rights movement--recruiting, training, planning, logistics, communications, and more. I began to see the Movement as a kind of war--that is, a series of campaigns on carefully chosen ground that...

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