Quaker Universalist Voice

Speaking truth in the global public square…

On reading Matthew Sweet’s Operation Chaos

Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters Who Fought the CIA, the Brainwashers, and Themselves, by Matthew Sweet1 (Pan Macmillan 2018)

Matthew Sweet’s Operation Chaos is the compiled story of six U.S. misfit deserters from the Vietnam War who were clandestinely transported to Sweden.

"Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters Who Fought the CIA, the Brainwashers, and Themselves," by Matthew Sweet (2018) The book is a study of young men in a struggle between loyalty and dissent in a chaotic time, all while being observed, influenced, and controlled by an array of infiltrators from the C.I.A., KGB, and other spy agencies during and after their journey.

The story is about the courage needed to make and carry out personal decisions while recognizing the courage of others to follow their government into war. “It may take guts to go, but it takes balls to say no.”

These were people groping in the fog of war and politics to identify and manage their lives. It is a modern universal challenge for young men of all nations and, increasingly, for young women.

Today, we have a growing infrastructure for wealthy people, allowing them to acquire passports from many countries to aid their movement around the globe.2 This permits easier transition in the face of government solicitations to military service.

For the poor, on the other hand, we are developing a harder moral infrastructure for transition across borders through immigration structures, both legal and illegal. Without guidance so far, the middle class is left to fend for itself.

"Battling PTSD<" by Marines from Arlington, VA, United States


For Quakers, this book includes a morality tale. It moves the reader to recognize the failure of the 21st century Quaker community and others to establish infrastructure for the counseling and support of all Quakers faced with difficult decisions regarding involvement with loyalty to their country.


In the 20th century, Quakers built enduring infrastructures for engaging in relief service in Europe (American Friends Service https://www.afsc.org/) and in advocacy in the U.S. Congress (Friends Committee on National Legislation). More recently, Quakers have been growing infrastructure for aiding global community development (Right Sharing of World Resources https://www.rswr.org/) and rehabilitation of wasted warriors (Quaker House-Fayetteville).

Today there are seeds of such infrastructure in the structure and service provided by Quaker House-Fayetteville in their exploration of services for domestic abuse, PTSD, and moral injury.3

All these rehabilitation services suggest hope that it is possible to be human again and regain lives after being wild beasts. The transition is not easy for soldiers in past wars and current wars.

The management of young men and women in support of their conscious choices is a universal challenge. Each generation is in the same human condition in different contexts. This is a universal condition and challenge for the Quaker community.


  • What is the Quaker responsibility for infrastructure to serve youth in their choices of conscience regarding military service for nations or other groups?
  • How do we educate Quaker youth about military choices of conscience?


Notes & Image Sources

1Matthew Sweet is a journalist and broadcaster, he presents Night Waves and Freethinking on BBC Radio 3, and is the summer presenter of The Film Programme on Radio Four. He is the author of The West End Front, Inventing the Victorians, and Shepperton Babylon: The Lost Worlds of British Cinema, which he adapted as a film for BBC Four.

2 See “Millionaires Are Fleeing. Maybe You Should, To,” by R. Sharma, New York Times (6/4/2018).

Image: “Battling PTSD,” by Marines from Arlington, VA, United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

3 See Counseling on the Quaker House – Fayetteville website, and also “Study Published on the Unmet Needs of Soldiers,” by quakerhouse_78lcth on the Quaker House Blog (3/19/2018).


Thank you for raising these questions. I did some investigating for the youth of my Friends Meeting and found that the organizations that supported Vietnam war draft resisters do not have current materials for young people, since there has not been a draft in some years. One organization told me that they are starting to receive inquiries like mine. Friends General Conference does have a free publication for high school First Day School (Sunday school) classes: Raising Conscientious Objector Consciousness among Our Youth
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