Book: An American Requiem

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An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us

Author: James Carroll
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

In this dramatic, intimate, and tragic memoir, James Carroll recovers a time that none of us will ever forget—a time when parents could no longer understand their sons and daughters and when young people could no longer recognize the country they had been raised to love. The wounds inflicted in that time have never fully healed, but healing is something that Carroll accomplishes in telling his family’s remarkable story.

The Carroll family stood at the center of all the conflicts swirling around the Vietnam War. Lieutenant General Joseph F. Carroll was the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency through most of the war, a former FBI man who helped choose bombing targets but distrusted his fellow generals who wanted to use the Bomb. His wife, Mary, was a devoted friend of Francis Cardinal Spellman, the hawkish military vicar, yet she felt sympathy for antiwar priests and tried to balance her devotion to her husband with love for her sons. This shattering history takes its shape from the choices made by three of the five Carroll sons. Dennis, marked by fierce conscience, became a draft fugitive and exile. Brian, deeply loyal, joined the FBI and was assigned to track down draft resisters and Catholic radicals. James, wanting to fulfill the dream his father had embraced and then abandoned, became a Roman Catholic priest. But he quickly aligned himself with the very Catholic radicals and draft resisters who were one brother’s target and another brother’s support.

While the war in Southeast Asia raged and the streets of America exploded with protest, Joe and Mary saw the precious world of their own family, centered on a gracious house on Generals’ Row, collapse. None of the Carrolls would ever be the same.


James Carroll, now a columnist with The Boston Globe, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest to the intense pride of his family, especially his father who had studied for the priesthood but had dropped that vocation to become eventually a leading military officer in Vietnam. However when he preached his first sermon, before his family and colleagues of his father, Carroll felt impelled to express disapproval of the war. This was taken as an act of filial disloyalty causing an enormous breach between father and son. Each was a man of principle, each convinced that he was right and the other wrong. Carroll made the breach complete when he left the priesthood to marry. This is his poignant account of a divide that reflected wider American society.

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