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

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