New publication of James M. Skelly

MAR 24. 2017  nyomtatási kép

Inspired in part by his lawsuit against the US Secretary of Defense while serving as an active duty military officer, in this book James Skelly explores and critiques the dominant conceptual bases for self and identity. Arguing that our use of language in the construction of identities is unwitting, unreflective, and has engendered horrific consequences for tens of millions of human beings, Skelly shows that we need to overcome sectarian modes of thinking and engage in much deeper forms of solidarity with others.

This book offers not only an academic reflection on the concept of identity but one that delves into the nature of the self and identity by drawing on Skelly's concrete experience of attempting to present a self-identity opposed to war in the face of the political, psychological, religious, and legal arguments put forth in a year-long battle by the United States government to prove that he did not qualify as a conscientious objector. One consequence is that Skelly argues that in order to create a new and more pacific human sensibility we must help ourselves and others to gain sovereignty over our social worlds and the definition of 'who we are'. This will necessitate a broad educational project that arms individuals with the tools necessary to insure that the definitions and categorizations to which we are subject in the construction of traditional notions of 'identity' can be resisted and ultimately transcended.


James M. Skelly is director of the Centre on Critical Thinking, which he founded, and a faculty member at the Institute for Social and European Studies in Kőszeg, Hungary. He served as the director of the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies and professor of peace studies at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, and has held teaching posts and lectured in countries throughout the world.

As a young U.S. military officer, his refusal to serve in Vietnam led to his federal lawsuit, Skelly v. Laird, against the United States Secretary of Defense, which helped to redefine the criteria for in-service conscientious objection. During this period, he worked actively against the war in South East Asia through several groups which he helped to found including the Concerned Officers' Movement. Following his honorable discharge, he worked with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and other entertainment industry figures, as the advance man and political coordinator for the "FTA" show which was designed to encourage U.S. soldiers and sailors to freely express their opposition to continuation of the war in Southeast Asia.


In this book, Jim Skelly illuminates the inherently perilous nature of identity, especially national identities. Drawing on his own research and personal experiences, including his lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of Defense, he makes a compelling case for resisting the identities that other individuals and institutions try to impose upon us—an insight that has particular relevance in an age of ever increasing surveillance by governments and corporations.

Daniel Ellsberg, activist and former military analyst, and author of Papers on the War, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, and Risk, Ambiguity and Decision

This is a rich and thoughtful assembly of reflections on the author's experiences as a questioning younger person and his reach into a remarkable array of relevant literature for answers. The trip Skelly takes us on is like sailing from one compelling island to another in an effort to find just the right place to anchor. The result is a wonderful journey into the meaning of words, the meaning of life, and the meaning of meaning. A rare and special gathering of sanity.

Kai Erikson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of sociology and American studies, Yale University, and author of Wayward Puritans, Everything in its Path, and A New Species of Trouble, among others

When a book is about the dangers of imposing 'identity', it may seem perverse to say its author, true to his Irish roots, is a born story-teller. But he is, and it's why Jim Skelly's book is such a treat. Between the well-informed academic passages, it throbs with the heart-breaking stories of real lives—not least the remarkable story of Skelly's own escape from the prison of military service.

Nicholas Humphrey, emeritus professor of psychology, London School of Economics, and author of Consciousness Regained, A History of the Mind, and Soul Dust, among others