Home > Arcata > Brian Willson at Northtown tonight

Brian Willson at Northtown tonight

Former Arcata resident S. Brian Willson will discuss his new book Blood on the Tracks at Northtown Books tonight at 7pm.

Willson lost both legs in when he was hit by a US munitions train during a peaceful protest blocking the tracks.

From the publisher:

“We are not worth more, they are not worth less.” This is the mantra of S. Brian Willson and the theme that runs throughout his compelling psycho-historical memoir. Willson’s story begins in small-town, rural America, where he grew up as a “Commie-hating, baseball-loving Baptist,” moves through life-changing experiences in Viet Nam, Nicaragua and elsewhere, and culminates with his commitment to a localized, sustainable lifestyle…

Losing his legs only strengthened Willson’s identity with millions of unnamed victims of U.S. policy around the world. He provides details of his travels to countries in Latin America and the Middle East and bears witness to the harm done to poor people as well as to the environment by the steamroller of U.S. imperialism. These heart-rending accounts are offered side by side with inspirational stories of nonviolent struggle and the survival of resilient communities.

  1. Hank Sims
    July 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I think you mean “Willson.” Unless you’re talking about the Beach Boy.

  2. July 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    No pet sounds intended. Thanks for the correction.

  3. Mike Dronkers
    July 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    They named a Beach Boy after the Giants pitcher?

  4. Ed
    July 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    I remember Willson’s heroic act to stop a munitions train in Concord. Reagan was sending arms to Central America to prop up the murderous Contras and lying about their so-called threat to us. Remember Ollie North? Reagan, the hero of the Republicans then gave arms to Iran to bargain for the release of hostages.

  5. skippy
    July 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Borrowing it’s name from Bob Dylan’s album and sharing the same title as another local author, Cecelia Holland, Blood On the Tracks explains why soldiers returning home suffer as damaged goods and collateral damage for the nation’s seemingly collective lack of conscience. Veteran and author Willson’s book defines PTSD as a distinctly American form of conscience– and his information is convincing and condemning.

    Others have said:
    “Brian Willson has been an activist… made it his business to see it all, to investigate with a lawyer’s eye for detail and undercurrent. He has stood upon prosthetic legs and journeyed to the hotspots of the world, listening to the peasants, the tortured, the maimed survivors. His book tells their stories. He is uniquely one of them, their spokesman… He is pedaling his arm-powered three-wheel cycle from Oregon to San Francisco, his ‘book tour.’ Brian avoids automobiles and airplanes, preferring to live simply. He is a purist, a pilgrim, an honorable man doing honorable work. His tales are amazing, eye-opening, and gut-wrenching. His method of telling them is crisp and clear, enlightening, uplifting, and utterly enjoyable. I have met many authors, but none so important as S. Brian Willson.”

    “…thinking about the words he had spoken that morning before one of those trains ripped his legs from his body, he said (to us), ‘…each train that gets by us is going to kill people, people like you and me and the question that I have to ask is: am I any more valuable than those people?’ 2500 years ago, the great Greek philosopher Diogenes carried a lamp in broad daylight searching ‘for an honest man.’ Blessed to have known S. Brian Willson for 30 years, I can say without equivocation, that had Diogenes met my friend, he could have put down his lamp and rested, having found what he was looking for.”

    You have the rare opportunity meeting the honest man at Northtown Books in Arcata tonight at 7pm. While some will be driving, kindly remember Mr. Willson pedaled from Oregon to Humboldt to share his story with us.

  6. Anonymous
    July 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    oh boy I can’t wait

  7. Eric Kirk
    July 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    It was known as the “White Train,” though I don’t remember if the train was actually white. My father wasn’t very surprised when it happened. He had recalled an incident in the late 60s or early 70s when Tom Hayden had organized a track sit-in and the train didn’t stop. Hayden came back to the Vietnam Day Committee HQ in San Francisco where my father met him and he was white as a sheet and told my father, “a few people almost got killed over there!” It stopped those demonstrations for awhile.

    I remember KGO discussing it and Michael Krassney, the liberal talk show host who had once graced the airwaves of KSAN as a commentator, called Brian “selfish” and “self-righteous” for not getting off the tracks. But my assumption at the time was that he had frozen up rather than deliberately getting himself run over.

    I remember seeing the photos in the paper. I couldn’t make him out very well, but the look of horror on his wife’s face told the story.

    My mother bought me a slightly gory t-shirt dedicated to the incident. I wore it a few times, but it required too much explaining which I wasn’t really prepared for at the age.

  8. Darwin
    July 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Lay down on the tracks, go play in traffic, run into a brick wall, abuse drug because it’s your right. All things that good proggies do to weed themselves out of the gene pool.

  9. Anonymous
    July 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    go Darwin

  10. July 5, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Thank you, Dante and Northtown for hosting Brian Willson.

    I wonder if Darwin and Anonymous know he was an officer in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.

    I wonder if they know he had a masters before heading to Vietnam.

    I wonder if they know he was co-captain of his high school baseball team, and played basketball as well.

    As he put it, after seeing what we were doing in Vietnam, he found himself wondering how normal American kids could be convinced to go 9,000 miles away to kill people because they were told they were our enemies. It was a dangerous question.

  11. anonymous
    July 5, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I went to his reading/signing tonight. Brian Willson is such a wonderful mixture of humility, self-confidence and insight. I came away determined to do more for humanity and our earth.

    Darwin, Mr. Willson was on the tracks because he had been to Nicaragua and seen what our munitions were doing to the civilians there. He had served in Viet Nam and had seen what our war did to civilians there. We killed 6,000,000 in southeast Asia – Laos, Camodia and Viet Nam. This was his way of saying, as an American, he could no longer stand by and do nothing. Doing nothing was the same as condoning the killing of innocents. Can you understand someone caring so much for others that he risked his life to stop the killing?

  12. July 6, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Anonymous 10:59,

    Yes, Brian Willson’s talk was inspiring. It was a bit disappointing to see how heavily the room skewed towards gray hair.

    I can’t understand why more young people didn’t attend. I think an hour in a room with Brian Willson could be enough to change the course of many young people’s lives — he has a clarity of vision linked to an extremely compassionate manner. Perhaps that’s the problem; compassion and clarity may not be as easy to comprehend as bluster, bling, boorishness and bullshit.

    Thanks, Heraldo, for giving the talk some last minute publicity. And thanks again, Dante and Northtown Books, for being a true local gem.

  13. Not A Native
    July 6, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Gray hairs indeed. But they didn’t mind or notice. Baby boomers simply expect to be the majority and focus of attention, as they have always been throughout their lives.

    The Viet Nam war ended long ago, way before today’s military age people were born. That war, and those who base their world views on their experiences of it are as uncompelling to the 35 and under crowd as WWI was to them.

    Not that wars have changed. Soldiers go to war today with the same enthusiasm and sense of purpose that Brian had in his time. While heartfelt, his reaction wasn’t unusual or unique. Feeling revulsion and shame at the sights of war commingles with the bravado of camaraderie. Brian spoke of his desire to be ‘one of the boys’ and sadness when he discovered he couldn’t.

    Once engaged, wars become unpopular only when victory seems elusive, or the death toll extends beyond a generation. Regrettably, Cheney was accurate when he commented that victory has many fathers, defeat is an orphan. BTW, that’s orignally attributed to JFK after the Bay of Pigs invasion.

  14. Anonymous
    July 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    It may have originally been authored by an associate of Mussolini, who in turn was the uncle of Sophia Loren. Life is just farkin weird.

  15. Eric Kirk
    July 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Yes, Brian Willson’s talk was inspiring. It was a bit disappointing to see how heavily the room skewed towards gray hair.

    That’s a perpetual issue. As Abbie Hoffman pointed out, the 60s were a freakish anomaly of history of the likes which may not happen again for centuries. Even then, the young activists were representative of a small percentage of young people. To get hundreds of thousands of young people to a. care enough to try something and b. believe they can actually make a difference, is an enormous undertaking. You have to appeal to more than the morality of the moment. You have to appeal to their imagination. You had figures like Rosa Parks, MLK, Herbert Marcuse, Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg, and Che Guevara to inspire, and you had a moment in which the “objective cultural conditions” were ripe.

    Oh, and you also have to hold the event while HSU students are in session.

  16. Darwin
    July 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Sorry Mitch, if he’s that smart, he should have known better. Getting yourself run over to prove a point is STUPID. The next time I disagree with someone maybe I’ll just go light myself on fire in the Arcata Plaza; yeah, that will sure show them the error of their ways. Feel strongly nobody listens to me above all others, why I’ll just throw a little tantrum and lie down on the train tracks. Damm fool is lucky he didn’t get himself killed.

  17. Anonymous
    July 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Darwin, aside from the fact that you’re a moran (the spelling is intentional so you’ll understand it), you also clearly missed the fact that the guy (a Ph.D., no less) who indeed burned himself in Tunisia set off a revolution that continues to sweep the Middle East. “Tantrum”? Are you serious? No, you’re not serious, because if you were you would have taken the time to learn the facts. As it is you have never learned a fact in your life, and it shows. Brian is not a fool, he’s a real American hero. And you’re lucky he’s in the gene pool, fool, because he protects even people as ignorant as you.

  18. Darwin
    July 11, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Your spelling reflects upon your abilities, not mine. If you think having a Ph.D. makes one a rocket scientist, guess again. I’ve known plenty who should have quit at junior college. Yes I’m serious, people who deliberately inflict damage on themselves have an illness and it doesn’t matter if it’s cutting your wrists with a razor or lying down on the train tracks. As for being lucky, it’s your lucky day punk. I’ve spent more time protecting and defending your right to spew whatever you wish to type, admire those who lack the sense not to play in traffic or lay down on the train tracks. One does not prove a point or stick around to finish the task through suicidal gestures.

  19. July 12, 2011 at 7:03 am


    Every Christian worships someone who committed suicide on behalf of humanity.

  20. Plain Jane
    July 12, 2011 at 7:09 am


  21. Not A Native
    July 12, 2011 at 8:49 am

    If you say so Mitch, but my understanding is that the theological interpretation isn’t suicide. Clearly, traditional attribution is that the authorities of the time were ‘killers’. That more than implies the death wasn’t voluntary.

    Since the Darwin poster name alludes to invoking a ‘natural process’, I suppose he’s also derisive of salmon who ‘commit suicide’. And there are many, many similar behaviors in nature. Obviously, our Darwin knows nothing about what Darwin actually wrote.

  22. July 12, 2011 at 9:37 am


    FWIW, the story is that Jesus could have escaped death at any point by yielding to the authorities. He was unwilling. That makes it suicide by cop.

    If that’s not enough, use logic: if you’re omnipotent, people can’t kill you without your permission. Therefore, if someone kills you, they did it with your permission. Therefore, they were assisting you in your suicide. QED. Sorry, Mel.

    In any event, the point is that throughout history human beings have always honored those who so love others that they are willing to sacrifice their life for them. Darwin can call such people stubborn fools if he wishes. He may be right, or he may misunderstand the nature of their actions.

    Willson impressed me. The book title and cover photo are unfortunate, but I guess it’s the route he has to take if he wants people to listen to what he has to say, which goes far, far beyond the incident that produces his readership.

  23. July 12, 2011 at 9:52 am


    Maybe you’ll get a kick out of this. The things people worry about.


  24. Not A Native
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