The Uncomfortable Whiteness of Contemporary War Literature

October 17, 2017 | 34 8 min read

When, in the August 2015 issue of Harper’s, book critic Sam Sacks critiqued the state of contemporary war fiction in a review called “First Person Shooters,” the subtitle made his position clear: “What’s missing in contemporary war fiction.” Pay attention to that last bit. Sacks wasn’t asking a question, he was writing a prescription: Escape the “cul-de-sac of personal experience” or risk “settling into the patterns of complacency that smoothed the path to the Terror Wars in the first place.”  However, if he had punctuated with a question mark, the answer would have been less hyperbolic, and a bit obvious: diversity.

This problem is not fresh to contemporary war literature. In the Spring 1997 issue of African American Review, Jeff Loeb cited alarming statistics from Sandra Wittman’s 1989 bibliography Writing About Vietnam: African-Americans accounted for just six of nearly 600 novels, four poetry collections, and four of almost 400 memoirs written about the Vietnam War. To sum up, African-Americans wrote roughly one percent of Vietnam’s literary record.  By contrast, African-Americans made up 12.6 percent of the American force in Vietnam between 1965 and 1969[1].

coverNot much has changed since Wittman and Loeb first sounded the alarms. LaSalle University’s collection of Vietnam War multimedia—LaSalle and Texas Tech possess the most comprehensive collections I’m aware of—lists 8,053 entries, but categorizes only six under the subject matter search “African American Veteran Biography.” Just two are memoirs you can hold in your hands. Multimedia and Loeb’s essay comprise the rest of the entries. I used to think that the reason I could only point out one Vietnam book by a African-American vet—the poetry collection Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa—was due to my ignorance of what I imagined to be a wealth of African-American-produced war literature. The truth has proven far more uncomfortable.

In his critique, Sam Sacks can be forgiven for another thinly-veiled jab at MFA-produced writing and its effect on the literature of The Forever War, versus focusing on its lack of diversity. He’s a critic after all, forever tilting at the windmill of The Secret Sauce. Hell, I laud him for paying attention in the first place. Forever War literature rarely appears in widely circulated book reviews. [2] Nonetheless, the subject of identity is important ground to tread in any consideration of contemporary war literature; especially now, as identity-related brushfires have sprung up across the country.

coverA little research reveals that the genre came of age against a backdrop of identity-related controversy. Twelve years after Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, Toni Morrison’s Beloved was up against Philip Roth and some guy named Larry for the 1987 National Book Award. When Paco’s Story, Larry Heinemann’s Vietnam War novel, was announced, the literati were flabbergasted. Michiko Kakutani began her column the next day with the breathless “What happened?” and 48 authors signed a letter in The New York Times Book Review that alleged something short of racism on the part of the National Book Award judges for passing Morrison over in favor of the white Larry Heinemann.[3]

While its rare successes have been far less contentious, contemporary war literature since Vietnam hasn’t changed too much: mostly white and male. Under the categorization “Books: History: Military: Afghan War: Memoir,” Amazon spit a list of 177 back at me, a number which decreased by a handful after I ruled out the puzzling inclusions of The Letters of Virginia Woolf and a book by the 19th-century Frenchman Stendhal. So far as I could tell, there were 10 authors of color.[4] Peruse the virtual stacks for a book about The Forever War, and the odds are solid that what ends up in your checkout cart will have been written by a white guy or gal.

coverExpanding an identity-based evaluation of contemporary war literature to gender provides some cause for optimism. But for every Rule Number Two, Heidi Squier Kraft’s Iraq memoir, there are a dozen memoirs, novels, and collections by male veterans. It’s a trend that extends to even the essays and reviews that consider war literature. In consult with Rutgers University Professor of English and retired Army Lt. Col. Peter Molin, I assembled a list of 17. It isn’t all-inclusive, but women have written only a fraction of them, and fewer of those women were veterans. If there is an empirical evaluation of readily available contemporary war writing, critical or creative, it’s hard to argue that it is not largely written by men.

In my experience, you have to go looking for work by women veterans, and all indications point to literary writers who are taking their time to perfect their craft through shorter work. An essay by Katherine Schifani, an Air Force veteran of Iraq, won literary journal The Iowa Review’s 2014 Jeff Sharlet Prize, and Marine Corps veteran Teresa Fazio’s short story “Float” won Consequence Magazine’s 2016 Fiction Prize. I know of at least five women veterans who are at work on their service-related memoirs, and most are around a decade removed from their time in the military. I look forward to the day I open their well-wrought books.

coverThe lack of women’s veteran narratives might have something to do with what’s considered a “traditional” war story: the old blood-and-guts combat book. And despite women having engaged in combat during The Forever War, combat job specialties—infantry and special operations, namely— remained closed to women until 2016. Earlier this year, Task & Purpose broke the news that a woman was due to report to the storied 75th Ranger Regiment as the first female special operator in the history of the U.S. Department of Defense. It’s simply a matter of time until women like her pen memoirs of their war experiences; until an armchair historian thrills to the tales of a female Navy SEAL a la Chris Kyle’s American Sniper.

By contrast, plenty of Americans of color have served in combat specialties during The Forever War. So while the combat exclusion might explain the lack of women’s books, the reasoning falls short with regards to the lack of diverse narratives. As of 2015, the Department of Defense was 41 percent non-white. Expecting to see author demographics fall cleanly in line with such a statistic is a tad simple, but it’s fair to ask why so few veterans of color publish books.

Drew Pham, a Vietnamese American Army officer and Afghanistan combat vet, believes it’s a matter of “privilege and access.” In an email exchange, he wrote, “the arts are a luxury. If you aren’t raised with much exposure to that world, it seems like the distant domain of the social elite.” He noted that unlike many of his fellow officers, he “needed the Army to attend college.” In other words, if college is just something you do along your way to a commission in the service, then you might have come from a place that could afford to expose you to the arts. Conversely, if the only way you’re going to college is because you got a military scholarship, you come from a background of necessity. And while all writers, myself included, tend to think of our work as “necessary,”Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy is a pyramid for a reason.

Pham, now clear of the military and an editor of the online journal The Wrath-Bearing Tree, went on to say that the remedy is representation:

If marginal[ized] people don’t see themselves represented, then the literary world seems inaccessible to them. For my part, seeing another Vietnamese-American writer like Viet Thanh Nguyen win the Pulitzer made me think that I could make a life out of writing fiction. The veteran writing community is small and tight-knit, and as a community we have to make a concerted effort to lift up marginalized voices rather than reproduce the biases—however unintentional—that dominate society.

Mary Doyle, on the other hand, was told to “reflect the angst of being black” by her white MFA workshop cohorts, as she put it in a phone interview. “I couldn’t relate,” Doyle said, citing that trying to adopt the feedback gave her an inauthentic feeling. She ended up leaving her MFA program for financial reasons, but noted that her awareness of how she fit into white expectations of a black author began then. A black woman who enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1979, Doyle served 17 years in military public affairs before embarking on a 21-year-and-counting career as an Army civilian employee. During that time, she’s co-authored the memoirs of two black women veterans, and written a series of mystery novels featuring a black protagonist named Master Sgt. Lauren Harper. Doyle threw in the towel with mainstream publication after being pushed by agents and editors to better reflect “The Black Experience” in her writing, and now self-publishes.

Doyle seemed as puzzled as I over the lack of diversity in contemporary war literature. However, she was also quick to point out that the current political moment is

bound to generate words on the page in one way or another from people of color. I also think it will be the kind of thing publishers will find in their comfort zone…the racial divide, the conflict that comes from speaking out in the voice of the other. It’s what they always want and what they expect. So hopefully, the lack of diversity we see in military writing will get an injection of new voices…now that racism, white supremacy and all the other topics that go along with that are so prevalent…again.

This makes sense to me, a layman when it comes to the murky world of what books get published. But my gut warns me that even timely subject matter might not be enough. In 2015, Lee & Low, “the largest publisher of multicultural children’s books in the United States” according to their website, conducted a survey of the publishing industry based on data from eight review journals and 34 publishers. Including their own staff, Lee & Low sent out 13,237 surveys, and 3,415 returned complete. The data: 79 percent white, 88 percent straight, 92 percent non-disabled, 78 percent women. I’d like to have seen more data on the books published by some of the surveyed publishers just to get that last nail in the coffin, but selection bias seems firmly at play when it comes to race and books. And if it is, the odds will ever be against the veteran writer of color so long as the publishing industry continues to look like this.

coverUntil conditions change, we’ll have to widen our gaze and do a little digging.  Brian Castner, a veteran and author of two books of war nonfiction, noted that Ralph Ellison and Alex Haley both served in WWII, but neither wrote about their military experiences outright[5]. For a more contemporary example, he noted Wes Moore, a black Army veteran and author of the bestselling The Other Wes Moore, and I was surprised to learn that Pulitzer Prize-winner Gregory Pardlo was once a Marine Corps Reservist. None would argue any of these black writers should have written military-themed books. But it won’t stop me from wishing they had.

covercovercoverA high school English teacher who can afford one Vietnam book on the syllabus will fall back on the familiar, not the obscure. It will be The Things They Carried, not Dien Cai Dau; A Rumor of War, and not the oral history of black Vietnam veterans, Bloods. What we read is what we buy; the bought books make the lists, and before long, the canon conceives itself. And until the canon becomes more inclusive, its narrative will remain singular and simplistic.

Facing issues of class and race, it becomes clear that there are no bromides to remedy The Forever War’s literary lack of diversity. But one can hope that as Pham and Doyle indicated, increased consciousness in tandem with current events might spur a growing production of gender-, race-, and ethnically-diversified voices within the military writing community. One can hope that we might draw lessons from the Vietnam War’s legacy of near-erasure of non-white experiences; that the growth of veterans writing workshops and anthologies will represent to future generations a more complete picture of The Forever War.

The grim reality is that The Forever War shows no indication of ending anytime soon, a fact that Sacks chooses rather niftily to ignore when concluding his thesis against a backdrop comprised of the literature of previous wars. The war my generation began has become the next generation’s to conclude. If there is a perverse truth to the current state of affairs in contemporary war literature, it is this: there appears to be plenty of time left on the clock for the canon to grow.

 

[1] According to the 2004 version of The Oxford Companion to Military History

[2] I am aware of only two other well-heeled critical surveys: George Packer’s “Home Fires” in The New Yorker and Michiko Kakutani’s “Home Costs of the Forever Wars, Enough to Fill A Bookshelf.” Kakutani was one of the few book critics to regularly review contemporary war books.

[3] Professor Joseph Darda’s essay in Contemporary Literature, “The Ethnicization of Veteran America: Larry Larry Heinemann, Toni Morrison, and Military Whiteness After Vietnam,” made me aware of the controversy.

[4] The Amazon results included works by non-U.S. authors.

[5] Ellison’s early drafts of The Invisible Man prominently figured the recovered journal of a dead Merchant Marine named Leroy.  Ellison, like Jack Kerouac, served in the Merchant Marine during World War Two.

Image Credit: Army.mil.

is a graduate of the University of Alaska MFA in Creative Writing, the recipient of a 2017 Alaska Literary Award, and the creative director for the state's only veteran-civilian writing workshop, Danger Close Alaska. This essay represents neither official policy nor position, and for more of that, visit his website: matthewkomatsu.com.

34 comments:

  1. Bullshit. Plenty of vet writers of color are self-publishing their experiences on Amazon- did you even try to search there? Is that a tragedy, that they don’t have “official approval” to publish? Maybe they don’t feel the need for some neurotic upper-middle class people to give their work a stamp of approval. Ever think about that? Maybe they hate and loath what MFAs represent. I do. The MFA world belongs to neurotic upperclass people under 30, and the rich who support them (either parents or foundations). Thats why “vets of color”, and vets in general- enlisted veterans -fuck zeroes- don’t show up in MFA writing. Opinion not wanted, not desired. Too much pose, perfection and lying pretention of living without inconsistency is required to get into an MFA, and if you didn’t go to an Ivy League school Ivy League literary agents can’t connect, so New York publishing is also out of the question.

    I completely reject this article. Veteran writers of color exist, you just think its slumming to read their stuff.

  2. How could you have misread the article that badly?

    Yeah, I hate to break it to you – self-publishing on Amazon is not publishing. It’s vanity. Good for them for getting their story out there, but it’s not “approved” by the culture class. That’s *not* a good thing, which is what Komatsu is pointing out.

    The problem with contemporary war lit is that readers, academics, publishers are going with the tried and true – a white man’s wartime experience. In MFA programs, instead of a black woman’s veteran experience, her fellow students want the “BLACK perspective,” which isn’t the story she wanted to tell.

    So yeah – blame the MFAs and blame publishers. They’re not enabling these stories to be adequately told through the “mainstream” publishing industry.

    And credit Amazon, I suppose, since they’re at least an avenue to explore.

    I question if you even skimmed this article – you took it 180 degrees from the actual point. I think you were prepared to be triggered and you were.

  3. Seriously, I have to say again your comment makes NO sense. I’m quite sure you don’t know what the writer is arguing.

  4. Diverse does not always mean good…The Things They Carried is a masterpiece, Bloods is a great book, but it does not come close to The Things They Carried or Dispatches for that matter.

    And Dien Cai Dau, come on…not even in the same category.

  5. First, adults aren’t “triggered.” Only kids are. Adults fill up with disgust at middleclass hypocrisy until they can’t hold back and it pours forth as invective. Huge difference. I admit to this second thing, proudly.

    “Cultural class” = people who don’t fight wars, but who are often the kids of the people who profit from them. Fuck the cultural class. My contention with the article is that it assumes that the acceptance by the upper middle class world of fake art and culture has ANY bearing on ANYTHING involving the arts. Inviting a bunch of blue collar minorities into an MFA class to soothe the middle class soul is a disgusting urge on its face. The careful world of official art; you may have it. My anger with this article is the presumption at all that someone would want acceptance in the insipid world in question. And I’m not even a veteran; I’m just an artist. My anger is at the war against the authentic individual waged by official literature.

    Also, Mary Doyle is self-published; is she a vanity author? Leaves of Grass was self-published too. Was Sylvia Beech a vanity publisher?

  6. Also, I reject the notion that any white person can walk into the world described and be accepted. That’s a two-ton load of horse shit, and everyone reading this knows it; if you don’t know that in your bones you must truly be of the middle class.

  7. “My anger with this article is the presumption at all that someone would want acceptance in the insipid world in question.”

    Oh – on THAT I totally agree with you 100 percent.

    The entire concept of war literature is disgusting. It’s a circlejerk of ennui with guns.

    I see what you’re saying now. Komatsu is arguing that these “other voices” should be invited into the “cultural elite.” And you’re saying the “cultural elite” is not worth being invited into.

    I think you agree with Komatsu as far the marginalization, but you have different “solutions.” That makes sense.

    Yes, Amazon self-publishing is vanity. It’s Twitter with more words.

  8. “Inviting a bunch of blue collar minorities into an MFA class to soothe the middle class soul is a disgusting urge on its face. ”

    That’s a good line.

    “Also, I reject the notion that any white person can walk into the world described and be accepted.”

    If you’re white in an MFA program and you write stories of middle class angst, as long as you can write a decent sentence, you will be perfectly accepted.

  9. NSR-

    Ok- I think we are closer than I first thought we were.

    War literature does suck. Like pretty much anything written by Americans in the last forty years; we’re not a cultural literary powerhouse anymore. There are good novels about war, but they 1) can’t be defined as “war novels,” 2) just aren’t written by Americans anymore.

    But there are some good ones:

    Ernst Jüngers’ Storm of Steel is a good war novel. Got some truth in there.
    Late Mishima, and his suicide, considered as performance art. I never thought so until I went to Japan awhile back, then I realized just how fantastic the public spectacle was.
    The Bhagavad Gita.
    James Longstreet’s memoir on the Civil War.

    “If you’re white in an MFA program and you write stories of middle class angst, as long as you can write a decent sentence, you will be perfectly accepted.”

    Ok, I accept that.

    “Yes, Amazon self-publishing is vanity. It’s Twitter with more words.”

    Haha, you’re right! I was being facetious. As one who knows, Amazon self-publishing sucks; there’s no talent hiding out there. None. In fact, I would say that if you want to perform an experiment to watch depression spread through your own soul, try self-publishing and keep a journal of how your life is going. Yeesh; my life is much better now that I’m off that shit. Amazon self-publishing is emotionally coordinate to shooting amateur couples porn with your own girlfriend, and uploading it to Pornhub Community. Not for the faint of heart, or those not addicted to pain pills.

  10. Black, brown, white. War is the death of imagination, I think Adrienne Rich said it, but feel free to correct me. I may be way off point, but is it not bad enough that young black men are jailed and executed in horrendous numbers compared to white men. And that they are executed at All? Who gives a fuck about war memoirs (which are mostly ghost written). Be proud that you resist the ghost written memoir bullshit and please continue to reject war, although I realise the tragedy of the lack of any position that pays other than the war machine. America is truly broken.

  11. Bowen Bergdahl, white, walked away from an abusive and dysfunctional army unit. Rectal mouth Trump horrendously thinks he should be shot for desertion, despite Bergdahl being held in captivity for years. Shot! U.S.A. is a fucked up country if they cannot correct problems within the leadership of the military. Bergdahl should be lauded for bravery. My heart is broken.

  12. Berghdahl put men at risk to go find him.

    It’s the definition of desertion. Shot? No. Held up as a hero? Hell no.

    The rest of your points I’m on board with.

  13. The mention of the firestorm of criticism that greeted Larry Heinemann’s National Book Award for PACO’S STORY brings back painful and angering memories. I was an editor at Penguin Books at the time and we were slated to bring out Larry’s novel in paperback; we had already reissued his first novel, the strongly autobiographical novel CLOSE QUARTERS. We were so sure that BELOVED or SABBATH’S THEATER would win that I was not even invited to the dinner. The joy that we felt the next day at the award was quickly doused by the horrible accusations of racism that emerged from every literary sector, chiefly from the Times and MIchiko Kakutani, who would not shut up about it and who at no time would entertain the thought that PACO’S STORY was a great book that might deserve the award. Well, neither the daily Times nor the Sunday Review had assigned to book for review, so maybe the paper was feeling a mite . . . defensive.

    What is so infuriating and unfair about all this is that yeah, Larry Heinemann is a white guy all right, the idea that his award was some exercise of white privilege on his behalf is simply ludicrous. What Larry is a a working class guy from Chicago with no connections at all who just got swept up in the draft and send off to the jungles of Vietnam to fight our senseless war as a combat grunt. How dumb is that? He grew up so far from the MFA Industrial Complex that he couldn’t see it with binoculars. And he got pilloried for having the temerity to write a great book about the experience and winning an award for it. Reasonable minds can disagree about the relative merits of BELOVED and PACO’S STORY, but the shitfire and disrespect that rained down on Larry was every flavor of ugly. I’m still not over it.

    For the record, Larry’s hardcover editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux was Patricia Strachan, just about the best fiction editor I know of.

  14. Funny about Larry Heinemann – because now it would go the other way. “Yellow Birds” gets Kakutani hot and bothered and it was terrible and derivative.

  15. When Machiko Kakutani pans a book my interest is always piqued. Conversely, when she praises a book my soul closes on that work like a Rilke-flower at midnight. The NYTimes is just a lifestyle magazine anymore; 36 hours in a rich person’s life. The literary tastes therein reflect it.

  16. Well Kutakani is gone. I will miss her. The NYT book review is clearly pushing for VIDA approval or something because the reviews are weak. Re war: I will say again, i must press the point – Bowe Bergdahl revolted against the inanity of the U.S. Military war machine and its hideous leaders, and its murderous ways. I have worked for police for 30 years as a dispatcher across Canada, and the promotions go to the highest bully, so i have some idea of the rewarding of bullies. And yet i still love and defend cops. To plead guilty was the only way for Bowe and his family to avoid harassment. No one gives a shit about the endless mitigating factors. Like as if the guy wanted to be a prisoner. There is no compassion. Bowe, by walking off base, away from his racist and juvenile fellow military, and away from his fucked up “superiors”, illustrated and independence of spirit I hope i could attain and maintain. Meanwhile American Sniper is the hero. Alrighty then.

  17. Mishima suicide not performance art. Good god. I see why “The Devil” is your handle, and i am a fucking atheist.

  18. Thank you for this, Matthew Komatsu! Important points, accurate analysis, backed by solid, extensive data and literature review. I think the underrepresentation of authors of color in war lit is also part of a larger problem in mainstream publishing wherein authors of color are channeled into writing novels and memoirs that feature race/ethnicity, where difference is foregrounded, along with recognizable tropes of culture and community. War lit is considered general (white) fiction, not Latino/a or Asian or African American fiction specifically even though as you astutely point out DoD is now 40% people of color. Writers quickly learn that if they want to be published, to write to these expectations. There are fantastic works in African-American and Latinx fiction and memoir, for e.g., but writers of color should not be limited or precluded from writing within other categories. The problem becomes a Catch 22 or self-fulfilling prophecy because readers come to expect what the market gives them, and then publishers claim they are catering to demand, but perhaps this is more of a problem of marketing and imagination. Let us hope that things begin to change. Essays like yours will help to do that. Thank you for this. And while I am at it, what the hell is wrong with “The Devil.” Please! With that kind of venom, one has to wonder what kind of problem the nameless harbors. The argument about self-published books is wrong as well, I just checked Amazon and could find only one of two in the top 100 War Lit category that are not anglo authors.

  19. I thought American Sniper had a kernel of greatness, but missed the mark at the end. To re-create it as a great work of art, instead of the brain-dead rube work that it is, I’d have inserted a paragraph near the end similar to this:

    “I don’t reallly give a damn about Iraq, or America, or anyone or anything. I killed those 900 people for me, because I enjoyed it. And I learned nothing about life for having done it.”

    Boom! Truth! But unfortunately I wasn’t the ghost writer on that one, so all we have is a weird pack of sadomasochistic self-deceptions about how liberals betrayed him by not allowing him to kill another 700 Arabs in order to teach them the beauty of democracy. As it is, a gruesome recounting.

    Bergdahl could have saved a lot of time, trouble and money by just showing up to formation nude one morning, what? Instead of heading off base like that, which he must have done in a psychotic state. It recalls that scene in the Brothers Karamazov where the middle brother recounts Christ forcing his mouth against a lepers; “He would only have done so in a maniac state,” the brother says, or something to that effect. “Is madness holy?”

    I was going to say no, but upon reviewing what I just wrote, I realize I should change my position. So, was Bergdahl making a cognizable political point when he deserted? I dont think so. As far as he was not trying to make a point I respect him. Was he psychotic when he did so? Probably. Did the madness of war make this, apparently decent man, insane so that he did this? Apparently. So I will not pass judgement upon him, for society kills even the strongest and best.

    Mishima thought his suicide was performance art; and a bunch of other things. If you’re interested, I recommend the Paul Schraeder bio Mishima: A Life in Four Acts. Its a classic, and quite possibly the best author bio film ever made. Has an awesome soundtrack by Phil Glass. The movie does a better job explaining an unexplainable act that it really could be expected to.

  20. Lisa Sanchez-

    We’re too far apart to have a meaningful conversation about this. You want a more inclusive professional managerial class, and see literature as a tool for achieving this, and marketing as a means of wielding literature to achieve this end.

    I see literature as a tool to free myself from what you seek to perfect. Even the most woke yuppie is still a yuppie.

  21. “I just checked Amazon and could find only one of two in the top 100 War Lit category that are not anglo authors.”

    More proof that anglo authors will sell themselves out for .25 of a “royalty.”

  22. Thanks Devil for providing context. Sorry for the f-bomb, note to self: do not have wine when responding! NSR thanks for your comments as well.

  23. H!

    I think you should consider reconsidering your position re: Mr Devil. Mishima’s suicide was definitely intended as a highly refined aesthetic spectacle… but people don’t mention, often enough, just how badly botched the performance was (not enough rehearsal, eh?).

    Re: “War” Novels (someone clarify this for me, please: a “war” is legally fought between at least *two* armies, right? Not between the world’s biggest techno-fascist juggernaut and coffee-colored shepherds defending oil fields with pitchforks and muskets): I’d think that such a novel written from the POV of one of a War’s *owners* would be enlightening. The people in charge; the people who profit the most: why isn’t anyone writing specifically about them? I guess that information is harder to come by…

    My father was in the Korean War, refused to shoot at his non-white brothers, and got himself a psychiatric discharge (though not before siring a now-60-something half sister I’ve never met). Years later (c.1980), he moved to Liberia, where the government confiscated his Korea-War-era rifle, as it was the most powerful weapon in the country, at the time. I’m sure that certain PTB have made sure the various militias have gotten better sui-genocidal toys to play with since then.

    We all know that “War” is bad but how many of us know what it’s for (beyond a cyclical thinning of the herd)…?

  24. Steve what a sad story about your dad. War is not some big screen adaptation of a ghost written book, it is real people and real tragedy. But as humans, we will never get this. My heart goes out to you and your lost sister. I guess i can’t really comment about Mishima other than the disheartening concept of suicide and honour (i know he was depressed too). Botched, oh yes, imagine the pain. I am presently reading the great Anne Applebaum’s “Stalin’s War on Ukraine”. Gotta stay informed. What a world. Yes war, unh, good god y’all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’. Thinning the herd, as you say, with genocide thrown in. It’s mostly unprovoked invasion, where the little guy from some small poor town is taught to hate and kill. And the U.S. and England get rich selling weapons. “Defense budget” I think they call it. Anyway, all the best to everyone who posted.

  25. H!

    Actually, my father was lucky to be discharged instead of going to prison… he was lucky to get out of the army without becoming a murderer (and having to live with that forever). He became a militant Hippie, essentially, and an Artist (painter). And, from a distance, there’s a certain black comedy (no pun intended) in his attempting to escape the ills of American society by moving to “the motherland”… and ending up in a Liberian village under the jurisdiction of a militia of literal cannibals. Laugh

  26. @The Devil (we finally meet)

    You mean my *father*. My (paternal) grandfather was an undertaker who made his fortune on the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. At the age of 50-ish, as a prominent “colored” businessman in 1930 or so, he married a 19-year-old quadroon beauty (from an island off the coast down in the creole South) who later bore my movie-star-handsome father.

    In Liberia (where gov soldiers stole his fancy van at rifle-point), my father painted hundreds of portraits, people in the village, but had to hide these portraits in a secret cellar because the people who sat for the portraits often returned to demand the pictures “back,” as totems, for mystical reasons). When he returned to The States, after realizing that he’d dedicated half of the ’60s and all of the ’70s to a fantasy that had been stage-managed by the same (general) people who gave us the FBI’s Cointelpro, he finally became, by realizing that UNITY between All Serfs (all colors) was the real goal, a dangerous radical. But a little too late. I mean, I could have told him that when I was a *kid*, if he’d listened…. (laugh)

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