Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Real Blood

“This wasn’t a game or an exercise or a movie; these were real soldiers with real blood and real families waiting back home. What had I done wrong?”
(Craig M. Mullaney, The Unforgiving Minute)

When war is not felt, it cannot be avoided. If I learned anything from the survivors of Hiroshima, it is this. After the atomic bomb was dropped, the world was treated to visions of power (the mushroom cloud) and might (the devastated landscape). Pictures and video of what happened to the people – of what a living creature looks like without a face – these were confiscated because of their potentially incendiary nature. In other words, if we could see them, then we might feel them.  And if we had to grapple with, and even take responsibility for, such suffering, we might lose our taste for war. 

This is why the narratives from the “well-written war” are so important (New York Times, 2/7/10). If our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are willing to speak from their nightmares and publicly wrestle their ghosts, we should be listening. These men and women risked their lives; they risked limbs, senses, “ability.” If they no longer believe in a war they would have died for, we need to know what they thought war was, and what turned out not to be true. We owe it to them to understand this. We owe it to our children to feel it.

It seems to me the answer is in the word: absurd.

“The civil affairs officer, Lt Jackson, stares

at his missing hands, which make 

no sense to him, no sense at all, to wave

these absurd stumps held in the air

where just a moment before he'd blown bubbles

out the Humvee window…”

(Brian Turner, Here, Bullet)


Christian Peet said...

Reiko, one of the most moving books I've encountered is Army Interrogator & Arabic linguist Joshua Casteel's _Letters from Abu Ghraib_ (Essay Press, 2008), a collection of emails written by Casteel and sent to friends and family between 2005-2006. I blogged at length about it, and about it's importance in the genre of "document," at the following link. HIGHLY recommended:


Christian Peet said...

and here's a link that works:


reiko rizzuto said...

thank you. i will take a look, and look at your blog on it too!

Susan said...

hey r,

love the new website :o) also, i had to smile big when i saw the brian turner poem--he is amazing, isn't he? your post on the war(s) also . . . very powerful.

i serve as the faculty advisor to the longwood student veterans group (the only lesbian in a 300 mile radius that does that!), and i help them navigate the complex process of, not college so much . . . but coming home . . . if such a thing truly happens. it is a gig that is both heartbreaking and utterly infuriating, and as i enter the third year (really?) of doing it, i often ask myself, what the fudge-cracker are you doin, scout? then i have a soldier-student in workshop writing about his hesitation on the battlefield, after his buddy's sudden death--talking while chewing, holding cookies in one hand and sighting as an A-gunner on top of a Husky, he turned and offered my student part of his MRE and was gone--and my student hesitated, looking at the men on the rooftops of the buildings that surrounded the convoy, looking for the man who killed his friend. He doesn't return fire. He can't be sure, absolutely sure, so he stops, gathers up the pieces of his friend, puts them in the Husky, and the convoy continues on its way.

He's half caucasian and half Korean, but his buddies at school don't know this, and the ones who throw around racist jibes burn under his gaze, while he smiles . . . laughing at them, though, not with them.

We are torn, and I stay.

We're at www.longwoodstudentveterans.org


Susan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
reiko rizzuto said...

Thank you, Susan. I am glad for the work you are doing. Did you read the original story in the New York Times I linked? The anecdote Nathaniel Fick told, of the conversation with the graduate student admissions officer (‘You mean, will I climb your clock tower and pick people off with a hunting rifle?’), must have a special resonance for you.

Be well.