Wondering what to read for Veterans Day? Try this round table sponsored by Boston Review, in response to the essay “War is Betrayal” by Chris Hedges. The responses are from three veterans, a Texas professor of history, and mio — I was honored to be invited. Check out some bracing prose, including
- Phillip Carter: “War is hell, to be sure, but it is also an incredibly complex endeavor that registers the gamut of human emotions and experiences: the inhumanity of killing without justification; the conflicted act of killing for a just cause or in the name of self-defense; the fear and courage of soldiers and civilians…”
- Roy Scranton: “From Here to Eternity” is Hedges’s most puzzling reference. Dedicated to the United States Army, Jones’s novel is a painstaking homage to Army life and the men who live it.”
- Texas prof Joyce Wadler gets in the gender of it all: “Rather than a tale of class conflict—of wealthy men manipulating the poor or disadvantaged for their benefit—our continued romanticization of war, as Hedges only insinuates, reflects our culture’s warped views of masculinity.”
It’s a proper Veterans Day read, and I hope you check it out. As one of the Review editors wrote afterward:
We need more nuanced discussion of the role of veterans, soldiers, and the military in American society, and less of both the denunciation (a la Hedges) and the adulation (SEAL Team 6, etc.).
I hadn’t thought Hedges was denouncing anything but war: he offered fascinating testimonials by a number of soldiers and vets, some of whom I know. But like many others, I felt his framing of war fever (via the Iliad, etc.) and the poverty draft didn’t convey somethingI know he and I share: an appreciation and admiration of their military identities.
So I tried in my contribution to do so, and to explain better to other civilians how dissent can flow directly from the same values they learned in boot camp. I also tried to explain why trauma so often feels key to the discussion.
Whether it’s Jessica Goodell in the mortuary, Millard being told “‘If these fucking Hadjis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen,” or Aidan Delgado creating The Sutras of Abu Ghraib, to tell the story of soldier-dissenters is to witness a process of horrible experiences being transmuted into something positive. In her landmark book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman calls the process “survivor mission”:
These survivors . . . transform the meaning of their personal tragedy by making it the basis for social action. While there is no way to compensate for an atrocity, there is a way to transcend it, by making it a gift to others.
Above is a photo of two that have long been giving this gift: Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, and VVAW icon Ward Reilly.
And because he’s my avatar in full measure, I want to end this post with the words of the military academy graduate who gave my book its title. There are so many ways to serve, Phil Ochs reminds us.
Our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom & they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try
Here is a land full of power and glory Beauty that words cannot recall Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom Her glory shall rest on us all
I’ll explain in a bit, likely by tomorrow, why the long hiatus and what’s going on with UCPress. And by tonight I’ll have written another blog. though I think this counts for, on the day I still call Armistice Day.