It’s time to up the ante. I live in a country that has now been at war for more than a quarter of my lifetime. Children who are in 4th grade right now have never lived a day in this country without being at war. The thing that most needs to be written about is precisely the thing I don’t want to look at. Too bad. Duty calls.
What I’ve read so far is modest: The Killing Zone by Frederick Downs, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff, The Barracks Thief by Tobias Wolff, and The Pugilist at Rest by Thom Jones. That’s mostly fiction and it’s all Vietnam. As for Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve read a memoir called The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell (not recommended), a few short stories by Benjamin Percy that allude to the war on terror, and a few excerpts from Doug Stanton’s Horse Soldiers.
I’ve ordered the first season of Generation Kill (TV drama, Iraq) on Netflix. This will probably give me nightmares, as the old Tour of Duty show (Vietnam) did when I was a kid. I don’t care. I’m going to watch it anyway. I’ll also commit to watching Democracy Now’s headlines at least 4x per week. Add to that an hour-long National Geographic documentary on Iraq and I’m set for digital media. For now.
For reading, I’ve got The Tunnels of Cu Chi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate, Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, Oral History Narratives: Vietnam Veterans from Appalchia, In the Pharoah’s Army by Tobias Wolff, and Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (as soon as Dad’s done with it). I have a few more books on my list but I don’t own them yet. I’m looking for books that are authentic, but books that tell a good story first and foremost. What matters here is the emotion and spirit of the war experience, not so much the dates and times. I need the language, the pacing, the possibilities, the beauty, and the pain. I need enough to write with authority and to imagine with precision. But I also need enough to inspire newly imagined narratives that evoke a worthwhile theme.
Why, exactly? I’m not entirely sure yet. But that’s part of the process. Here goes everything…