Loney, James. CAPTIVITY: 118 days in Iraq and the struggle for a world without war. 2011. Alfred A. Knopf. Canada.

“None of us can know the measure of our lives. None of us can know what our actions might seed.”

James Loney was a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, (CPT), a group that believes that pacifists should be willing to risk their lives for their principles. A commitment that has taken him and many others to dangerous conflicts in Palestine, Iraq and 1st Nations lands in Canada. The story of his captivity in 2005–6 by a small group determined to revenge the deaths of innocent members of their families by USA military in Iraq is harrowing and disturbing – as all such accounts are. His account of his captivity, along with that of three other CPT members is painful and at times, difficult to read; not only because of the circumstances of his experience, but because of his excruciatingly honest response to the ordeal.

What makes this book different from other captivity accounts is that Loney, a self–described social justice Catholic, retains his commitment to non–violence throughout and after his ordeal. He challenges himself constantly, questioning his own integrity and the reasons and emotional basis for his actions and thoughts. He challenges our ideas about what we think are appropriate actions and behaviour for peace activists & pacifists in our common struggle for a ´world without war´. He makes me think that I take too much time learning and talking about violence and not doing enough to change our ways. Is it sufficient enough to know as he writes? “Every war needs a cloak. Every war needs something to surround it and protect and dignify it, something to conceal that it is really a rotten stinking corpse.”

CPT was founded in response to a challenge to Mennonites (a pacifist Christian community – they operate 10,000 Villages Fair Trade stores) by one of their own; Ron Sider called on them to get out of their isolationist pacifism and their easy chairs. “There can be many other responses; this powerful memoir challenges us to reflect on what we can do that would give meaning and purpose to our professed beliefs, what do we do that reflects a deep and sustained commitment to peace.

Loney questions himself and the appalling injustice of war as he takes us to the end of his 118 day ordeal. His rescue by a UK–USA commando squad came after the one USA captive was killed and the military believed the British captive and two Canadians soon would be. Amazingly, the rescue was accomplished without any further deaths. But the end does not take away the questioning; it becomes more intense as he faces the irony of his eventual release and his surprise at the reaction of military personnel, police, government officials and politicians. He goes home to his loving partner, family and friends and his work of providing a home for those in need carrying a trauma that others can only imagine.

His British fellow captive, Norman, a retired scientist, explains how he felt that he was not doing enough to live his beliefs before he joined CPT. As he says, he was concerned that he´d been “a cheap peacemaker.” He was too comfortable. He, too, forces us to question our commitment to peace. Their capture and rescue challenge us to seek and create new paths to peace; maybe CPT, maybe another way, but it hard to forget this book and Loney´s passion for peace; by questioning himself he opens us all to self–examination and renewal. For me it is a call for thoughtful and difficult action.

After his rescue Loney wrote these words in his journal, “…there is only human freedom. We were created to give life, not to take it. Our freedom begins when we live in accord with this purpose.”

Filed under Book Reviews, James Loney