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S. Brian Willson

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S. Brian Willson was born on U.S. Independence Day in 1941 to a conservative religious family in rural New York. A good student and athlete, he was conscripted into the military from graduate school in 1966 and by 1969 was commander of a USAF combat security unit in Viet Nam. A trained lawyer and criminologist, and one-time member of the Washington, D.C. Bar, he has been an advocate for prisoners, Viet Nam veterans, and impoverished people around the world striving for justice. As an activist, he has been a conscientious tax refuser, participated in water-only fasts and various civil (dis)obedience actions, and led delegations documenting U.S. aggressions in a number of countries.

As a result of a lengthy veterans' fast in 1986, he and the other fasters were identified as domestic terrorist suspects. One year later, on September 1, 1987, while engaging in a well publicized blockade protesting weapons shipments to El Salvador and Nicaragua, he was run over and nearly killed by a U.S. government munitions train accelerating to three times its 5 mph limit. He lost both legs below the knee and suffered a fractured skull requiring insertion of a permanent protective plate. He continues to walk his talk against U.S. domestic and foreign imperial policies on two prosthetic legs and a three-wheeled arm-powered handcycle, as he strives for right livelihood and a simpler lifestyle. His 1992 book, On Third World Legs, is out of print.

Check out S. Brian Willson on Democracy Now!
The Blood on the Tracks book tour continues- check out the event link to find out when S. Brian Willson will be near you.

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Blood on the Tracks: Life And Times of S. Brian Wilson
Author: S. Brian Willson
Introduction: Daniel Ellsberg
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-421-2
Published July 2011
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 536 Pages
Subjects: Biography, Politics-Activism, U.S. History

"We are not worth more, they are not worth less." This is the mantra of S. Brian Willson and the theme that runs throughout his compelling psycho-historical memoir. Willson's story begins in small-town, rural America, where he grew up as a "Commie-hating, baseball-loving Baptist," moves through life-changing experiences in Viet Nam, Nicaragua and elsewhere, and culminates with his commitment to a localized, sustainable lifestyle.

In telling his story, Willson provides numerous examples of the types of personal, risk-taking, nonviolent actions he and others have taken in attempts to educate and effect political change: tax refusal—which requires simplification of one's lifestyle; fasting—done publicly in strategic political and/or therapeutic spiritual contexts; and obstruction tactics—strategically placing one's body in the way of "business as usual." It was such actions that thrust Brian Willson into the public eye in the mid-’80s, first as a participant in a high-profile, water-only "Veterans Fast for Life" against the Contra war being waged by his government in Nicaragua. Then, on a fateful day in September 1987, the world watched in horror as Willson was run over by a U.S. government munitions train during a nonviolent blocking action in which he expected to be removed from the tracks and arrested.

Losing his legs only strengthened Willson's identity with millions of unnamed victims of U.S. policy around the world. He provides details of his travels to countries in Latin America and the Middle East and bears witness to the harm done to poor people as well as to the environment by the steamroller of U.S. imperialism. These heart-rending accounts are offered side by side with inspirational stories of nonviolent struggle and the survival of resilient communities.


"I was busted with Brian, but I never gave the ultimate as he gave. This book is about a patriot, the kind of patriot you don't find anymore, the kind of patriot who loves and believes in his country so much he surrendered his legs in telling his country it's wrong. Read this book." —Edward Asner, actor

"Brian Willson's courage, compassion, and commitment to fighting for freedom, and justice, and human rights is an inspiration to the rest of us and a lesson in how to handle Adjustments in our Plans." —Kris Kristofferson, actor, songwriter

"Brian Willson's courage, integrity, and dedication to peace and justice and to a sustainable society have been an inspiration to all of those who seek to change the course on which we are lurching towards destruction. His memoir should be read and pondered, and its lessons should be taken to heart by those who hope to create a more decent world." —Noam Chomsky

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What Others are Saying



bloodBlood on the Tracks: A Review
By Jeremy Kuzmarov
History News Network
February 26th, 2012

"...Willson’s journey from conservative Goldwater supporter to radical peace activist and environmentalist is incredibly inspiring and his memoir should be widely read. Over the past five decades he has encountered the range of human experience, including the barbarism of modern war, the arrogance of power, the banality of evil, as well as the courage of peace activists and dissenters and dignity of those struggling to survive against the odds. He himself appears to carry the weight of the American Century, with all its violence and destructiveness, on his back, and which has taken a profound psychological and physical toll on him.

Nevertheless, Willson has emerged strong and defiant and with a vision for the future. He is a wise and courageous man, and from him we have much to learn."

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bloodBlood on the Tracks: A Review
By Charlie Canning
Kyoto Journal

In some respects, S. Brian Willson’s Blood on the Tracks is similar to Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July. Both Kovic and Willson are Viet Nam Veterans who had to change their way of thinking once they’d discovered that the reality of the war had little to do with the ideals that had been used to sell it. But while Born on the Fourth of July is limited to Kovic’s Viet Nam War experience and its aftermath, Willson’s Blood on the Tracks takes a more encyclopedic approach to U.S. history.

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bloodWe Are Not Worth More, They Are Not Worth Less
The Odyssey Of S. Brian Willson

By Greg King
The Sun
March 2013

For several years during the last decade I gathered inspiration from a neighbor who often passed by my house on his bike. Actually he rode a “handcycle” — a tricycle he pedaled with his hands. His legs were gone below the knees, but with his arms he often cranked out hundreds of miles a week.

This old neighbor of mine is S. Brian Willson, a former U.S. Air Force officer. He served in Vietnam, but he didn’t lose his legs in the war. That happened on American soil.

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bloodBlood on the Tracks: A Review
By John Dear SJ
National Catholic Reporter
January 31st, 2012

Blood On the Tracks should be reviewed by The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and every other major paper in the nation. He should be featured on all the national TV programs. The churches should grapple with his extraordinary witness, his crucifixion for protesting our wars and weapons. But if that doesn't happen, at least every one of us who struggles for justice and peace should read and ponder Brian's life and witness.

I hope Blood On the Tracks will inspire others to follow Brian out of the "American Way Of Life" and into the new life of peace and nonviolence. We don't necessarily have to sit on train tracks, but like Brian, we do have to figure out what our responsibility is. Brian Willson shows us the way.

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bloodBlood on the Tracks: A Review
By Gar Smith
Berkeley Daily Planet
Tuesday July 12, 2011

It’s a good sign when the testimonials on the back of a 440-page autobiography include the likes of Noam Chomsky, Ed Asner and Martin Sheen. But that only hints at the praise directed at S. Brian Willson’s long-awaited memoir. The testimonials continue on the inside — for another seven pages — and include plaudits from Cindy Sheehan, William Blum, Kris Kristofferson, Norman Solomon, Peter Dale Scott, Cynthia McKinney and Country Joe McDonald.

bloodPeace Activist Brian Willson on Book Tour
By Kevin Fagan
SF Chronicle
July 15th, 2011

Gliding slowly along the back roads of the Bay Area this week is a white-haired man on a strange, low-slung tricycle powered by hand cranks. His two metal prosthetic legs poke out under his shorts to rest in stirrups, and he never musters more than 10 mph.


bloodStopping the Train, Stopping the System
By Ron Jacobs
July 15th, 2011

S. Brian Willson doesn't just acknowledge his and our complicity; he demands that we challenge it.  Even more, he demands that we work to end it.  As anyone knows, this is not an easy or necessarily desirable path.  Yet, in the moral universe of Willson, there is no alternative to certain destruction unless every U.S American confronts their role in maintaining the machinery of death and greed we call America.


bloodPeace Activist Rides to protesters' battleground
By Greta Mart
The Martinez Gazzette
July 14, 2011

To this day, Brian Willson questions why he so obediently – as an officer in the U.S. Air Force from 1966 to 1970 — went “9,000 miles from home to participate in destroying people and villages who I knew nothing about.”

More from S. Brian Willson...

  • On May 12th S. Brian Willson joined the Guantanamo Hunger Strike/Vigil. Quoted from the Press Release: "Seventy-one-year-old S. Brian Willson, a Viet Nam veteran member of Veterans For Peace, Portland Chapter 72, beginning Sunday, May 12 reduced his food intake by more than 85 percent, fasting on 300 calories a day in solidarity with the 130 uncharged Guantanamo prisoner hunger strikers now in deteriorating health, many of whom are being force-fed." To read more, click HERE.


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