David McReynolds obituary

US peace campaigner who encouraged conscientious objection and desertion during the Vietnam war

My friend David McReynolds, the US peace campaigner, who has died aged 88, was one of the principal organisers of the mass mobilisation against the war in Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s.

His anti-war campaigning began in earnest in the early 60s when he joined the staff of the War Resisters League, the US branch of War Resisters International (WRI). I got to know him over a period of many years when we were both on the international council and executive of WRI.

At the 1966 WRI triennial conference in Rome it was David’s advocacy, in my view, that was decisive in persuading WRI to prioritise opposition to the Vietnam war in its campaigning. WRI then produced and distributed tens of thousands of leaflets informing US servicemen of their right to conscientious objection and of other steps they could take to oppose the war, up to and including desertion. Some did desert and found refuge and political asylum in Sweden.

David was born in Los Angeles to Elizabeth Grace (nee Tallon), a nurse, and Charles McReynolds, an intelligence officer in the US air force. Brought up in a strict Baptist household, in 1951 he joined the Socialist Party USA and refused to be drafted to fight in Korea. He graduated in 1953 with a degree in social science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and in early 1956 moved to New York, where he became an executive director of the pacifist journal Liberation.

He was a regular contributor to that publication as well as to the Village Voice, and a collection of his essays was published in 1970 under the title We Have Been Invaded by the 21st Century. Having joined the WRI in 1960 he remained there as a staff member for more than 30 years, until his retirement in 1991. He twice stood for the US presidency on behalf of Socialist Party USA, in 1980 and 2000.

One of David’s other passions was photography, and a website showcases a selection of his more than 50,000 photos. He numbered among his close friends the poet Allen Ginsberg, the writer and actor Quentin Crisp, and the writer and peace activist Barbara Deming. In 2011 Martin Duberman published a joint biography of Deming and David entitled A Saving Remnant: the Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds.

David is survived by his brother, Martin, and sister, Elizabeth.

Michael Randle

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Reg Chrimes obituary
Other lives: Long-serving Labour councillor and committed educationist

Mike Chrimes

04, Oct, 2021 @3:32 PM

Article image
Chanie Rosenberg obituary
Other lives: Teacher, political activist and founding member of the Socialist Workers party

Talat Ahmed

07, Sep, 2021 @5:09 PM

Article image
Brenda Christie obituary
Other lives: Teacher and political activist with an adventurous spirit

Stuart Christie

18, Jul, 2019 @4:08 PM

Article image
Colin Barker obituary
Other lives: Advocate of solidarity and resistance in pursuit of a socialist society

Gareth Dale

14, Feb, 2019 @5:15 PM

Article image
Anthony Arblaster obituary
Other lives: Leftwing academic and writer who focused on the promotion of socialism and democracy

Steven Lukes

03, Jun, 2022 @2:37 PM

Article image
Ken Weller obituary
Other Lives: Libertarian socialist who was a member of the direct action group Spies for Peace

Chris Spannos

18, Feb, 2021 @6:10 PM

Article image
Brian Bennett obituary
Other lives: Insurance collector determined to build a better life for his family

Jack McKenna

15, Feb, 2022 @3:50 PM

Article image
Millie McCulloch obituary
Other lives: Activist and special educational needs teacher who was a fierce advocate of child-centred learning

John McCulloch

19, Sep, 2021 @4:27 PM

Article image
David Oldershaw obituary
Other lives: Social worker and local government stalwart whose work focused on the needs of families in Leicestershire

Tom Oldershaw

14, Nov, 2019 @5:25 PM

Article image
Benny Pollack obituary
Other lives: Exile from 1970s Chile who became a Liverpool University professor

Marcelo Pollack

07, Jun, 2020 @9:27 AM