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sunday, june 27, 2010

Echoes of War by Sebastian Junger
We met at a party. He's the fiance of an acquaintance of mine. Recently engaged.  Although they've known one another some eight or nine years it is a love only recently blossomed. But back a bit, he signed up with the military for a year's assignment. When he did so, it was his understanding that, assuming he made it through the year, thereafter he would be able to choose where he was to be stationed . . . any place in the world. Sounded good.

His training base was in Idaho. After a few months he was shipped out on a year's assignment to Korea. Made it through the year. Returned to Idaho. But instead of being given a choice he was returned to Korea for another year's assignment. He was 'needed' there.

When the Korean stint was up, he returned to Idaho. He thought then of picking Hawaii until they made the choice for him, Afghanistan. One year. He made it through, but, by his account, returned a changed man. But back.

Maybe Hawaii now, he thought, but again he was returned to Afghanistan, a hell hole where men are forced to see and do things they never conceived they'd see or do, for as he had done, he said, most had signed up to see the world.

And here he was. Back. A disabled American veteran. As he told it, dropped back into everyday society. No counseling. No preparation. Just wing it. His dad had warned him . . . his dad had served in Viet Nam., "Don't do it. Don't sign up." 

"Ah, Pop. It's a different time now. I'm different. My luck is different. I'm off to enjoy the world."

We talked about War, Sebastian Junger's reality-based book about fear, killing, and love among those stationed in the Korengal Valley on the border of Pakistan. And although by his own report, this bright, articulate young man did not talk about his experiences in Afghanistan, we talked.

My uncle who, as they say, had 'seen action' in WWII, came back with the same attitude. As did those returning from the war in Korea. What good might it serve? Who would understand?

Still, a few of those returning from Korea did make clear their observation that kids could also be the enemy and the question of personal privacy there became a non-issue. A soldier settled for the availability of none.

And then in the only lengthy conversation I ever had with a veteran who had served in Viet Nam, the man explained that the killing and brutality there had left him unable to ever bond again to anyone beyond his buddies. Yes. This gorgeous hunk of a man, articulate and bright, explained that he had not, as had so many returning from Viet Nam, dropped out to live out his life on a motorcycle . . . not yet. Nonetheless he was different, changed. For instance he said he no longer could relate on any long term basis to a woman. For him it would forever be only one night stands after which he would not return or simply passed the woman on to a buddy. A man of integrity. He told it like it was in a timely, unadorned manner. Heart-rending.

But back to the man who had served in Afghanistan. Because I had read Junger's book, I was able to participate in a way in this conversation between us that I had not anticipated and had entered into with fear and trepidtion. But what took me a-back the most was the almost eerie way in which this rather sophisticated thinker not only reflected the ideas presented by Junger in War, but did so in both a similar chonology and idiom. He, too, moved from fear, to killing, to love. He, too, spoke of moving beyond fear, destroying the unseen and then living with the thought of having done so . . . of risking all for the life of a buddy . . . and of the highs . . . and lows.

So on the theory that if they did so it might both reduce the readiness of a populace to send troops to war and make the welcoming back of returning military one of greater understanding, I asked him if he thought it would be a good idea if all Americans were to read Junger's documentary, War. For instance, as he had never really talked in depth with those close to him about his experiences in war, did he think it would be a good idea if they did. He did.

I guess this returning veteran of the war in Afghanistan would also prefer less of a disconnect in American thinking between the idea of becoming and that of being a soldier.

I owe this man. He has put down his life for his buddies. One of them may have been a distant relative, an artist, a doctor, or just a guy too young to be other than . . . where the fighting is worst, as in the Korengal Valley . . . there are no military women there . . . someone's son. Perhaps he's someone you know.

And as with all returning military whom our country has sent out do its 'work', I owe it to this man to welcome him with open arms.

And I join him in his belief we should not be in there. We do not belong there. This is a war we should not be fighting.

Roberta in Po-Town, Humbled
10:47 am edt          Comments

friday, june 11, 2010

Roy Interview re: Jolt: a rural noir on SellingBooks.com
Whoopee! My first interview about Jolt: a rural noir will be released on http://SellingBooks.com around 6 a.m. CDT on 6/13/10. Do take a peek and send the link along to your friends.

RMR in Po-Town
11:14 pm edt          Comments

sunday, june 6, 2010

On writing and war and peace and Sebastian Junger's book, War
For anyone interested in learning more of the roots of war, I'd recommend Sebastian Junger's book, War.  For me, to read it was to learn. Not necessarily what I'd expected. Just possibly, more. And clearer.

Many of the conclusions Junger has come to have been out there for years. According to Junger, the Army Research Branch came up with some of them as early as 1943 and published its findings in The American Soldier: Combat and It's Aftermath. Also there were the observations and insights of Jack Belden, an American correspondent who wrote about World War II combat in a book with the similar name,  The American Soldier.

I picked up War gingerly, doubtful I would have the courage to read it, but intrigued by the notion that Junger, a New York Times videojournalist, had himself spent the better part of fifteen months in the Korengal, videotaping combat and the conditions of war in Afghanistan in this, the farthest and most difficult to defend American outpost.

Korengal Outpost or KOP, as it is familiarly called, is located just west of the border of Pakistan in the Korengal Valley. It is there that the Taliban and Al Quaida may quietly (or loudly) slip (or burst) across the peaks from Pakistan, visiting death and distruction upon the American troops assigned to the area.

But just being in Korengal Valley is enough of a trial. Its sides rise at a sixty degree and higher slope. Shale and rock cover its sides and prevent the growth of vegetation. Above them, a pine forest runs the ridge.

Cold in winter and incredibly hot in summer, the group of about thirty men in Battle Company endure near impossible living conditions. And each is one willing to fight to the death to save a buddy. So using that as the working definition of the term buddy . . . willing to die for the other . . . in Battle Company, they are all buddies; any one of them is willing to risk his life to save any other company member. It is a brotherhood born of living so long so close to dying at any moment, that wives, girlfriends, and home, per force, slip from any soldier's concern to permit only the moment and Company survival to remain meaningful.

War is divided into three sections: Fear, Killing, and Love. I made it through Fear. I had thought I might. But when it came to Killing, over the course of several days I peeked into the section a small bit at a time until I determined I would be able to weather the challenge to read it. After that, the section on Love came easily.

What made reading War doable was Junger's factual approach to it. Written in the present tense he tells:What he sees. What they say. What he asks. What they do How they survive. If they survive. And then his observations on the events and the dialogue. But by the time he got he arrives at an observation or conclusion, I had stood in his shoes, seen through his eyes, learned through his experience. A marvelous writer he is. Objective, honest, willing to admit his vulnerabilities. An author to admire. A book to read.

War is a topic I have considered muchly over the years. WWII, the Korean War, the Viet Nam war, the Seven Days War, the first Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, the current Iraq War. The Israelis, the Palestinians. Turkey. Iran and North Korea, toying with the notion of nuclear weapons. The Congo. The endless parade of loss of life in Africa. And with them, the blurring of the lines between rape and AIDS and war and starvation and drought and tsunamis and earthquakes and warlords and druglords. But always the question remains: War. What is it? How does it perpetuate itself?

Sebastian Junger can take you a long way to understanding both the question and the answer. The inhumane side. The human side. Except be prepared: The closer one moves to the front line and the longer one stays there, the more likely the line between humane and inhumane will blur.

And the last man to blame is the one who pulls the trigger. No, it was not he who decided where to aim the gun. That had been decided long before and, usually, far away, by some noble cause, some high-flying goal, some question of money, some eager politicians, some group hungry for power and control, but never, no never, by the man with the gun.  And by the time he got there, it was too late. He had no choice. It was either them or a buddy. And a buddy is never an option. Not on the front. Not in combat. Not in war.

Roberta in Po-Town, On writing and war and peace
8:42 pm edt          Comments

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