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In Flanders Fields

I bought StreetWise today from Roarke E Moody, the vendor I know best.  Moody is a Vietnam vet, and a poet, and for the Memorial Day issue of the paper he wrote,

Naked-eyed toy soldiers take few shortcuts through hell.  We all had our own piece of hell.  In this mess of a war, in this distant land, it does not matter what you are fighting for…a patch of dirt, a piece of tail, war whores trapped in hell.

We were all there through the monsoons, through the doom and gloom–one and all, and all in one–we were there.

Pressing on, past the limit of human behavior.  We took no short cuts through hell.  War, what is it good for?!

On any night in America, there are 150,000 homeless veterans, mostly from the Vietnam war.  People I know who work with the homeless guess we are about to start seeing the first big wave of Iraqi veterans land in our streets.  They say there’s a five-year spiral from the end of deployment to when a vet suffering from PTSD exhausts family and personal resources and ends up homeless.

I am not a blanket pacifist, but there are few occasions in five millennia of recorded history that seem to merit the slaughter of our youth, the concomitant rape of women, the destruction of homes and families.

I buy a poppy every May.  One of my brothers is a Vietnam vet, a Marine, my husband served in the Second World War, my uncles in Korea and in the Second World War, my great uncles in World War I, my great-grandfather in the Civil War, and on back to King Philip’s War.  Until this current useless tragedy in the Middle East, my family, out of duty, out of adventure, out of necessity, has served in every war our country has fought.

My upcoming novel, Body Work, deals in part with an Iraqi vet suffering from PTSD.  I can’t bear the thought that we sent all these young people to war, for no reason other than the egos of the Halliburton-Cheney-Rumsfeld Neocon crowd, and that we bring them home terribly damaged in body and mind and pay no heed to them.  I can’t fix it, I can’t end it, I can only bear witness to it.

I sometimes march with the Sisters from the Eighth Day Center for Justice, who hold a peace vigil every Tuesday morning at the Federal Building on Jackson and Dearborn in Chicago.  We prayed that Barack’s election would bring a swift end to our fighting in Iraq and Vietnam, and it is another heartbreak that it hasn’t.

Meanwhile, in Flanders Fields the poppies continue to grow.

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  • Well said, Sara. My heart just breaks when I think of the senselessness (is that a word?) of it all. We’ve dug a hole so deep that I’m not sure we’ll ever crawl out. I’m ashamed that this country hasn’t taken responsibility for these veterans. I still have hope that it will change. I’m not giving up on Barack Obama, yet. He got in over his head, though…of that I’m sure.

    In my opinion, Cheney and Rumsfeld should have been thrown in prison years ago. I don’t know how they can live with themselves.

  • Sara, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Really, it made my day. Somehow, though I have been to your website before, I missed that you have a blog. Now I see that you have another book coming soon which makes me very happy since I only have four of your earlier books left to read. The first one I read was Fire Sale, for a reading group and I have been a fan ever since.

    I am not a blanket pacifist either but I am quite certain that war solves nothing except to make a few individuals richer. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the witness you bear.

  • Shirley

    The military-industrial complex that the late President Eisenhower warned about is powerful, but President Obama can learn to say “NO” to them, too. I am disappointed that he hasn’t pulled out of Afghanistan by now.

  • I agree with you. It’s dreadful that this war has taken so many lives – American as well as Canadian and many other nations – to say nothing of Afghans who have died or been grievously injured, all in the name of big oil. The fact that we were all dragged into it under false pretenses makes it even more disgusting.

    My ancestors, too, have a long history of fighting for what they believed in. My father fought in WWII, his grandfather fought in your Civil War, and his great-uncle died in that same war. My mother’s father fought in WWI and was wounded on Vimy Ridge. Those were ‘honourable’ wars – the men were fighting for something they truly believed in. The war in Afghanistan is different.

    I truly believe we were lied to and manipulated into this war, and feel that the previous administration should be brought to task for it, but I also know that in the real world, this won’t happen. I feel sorry for President Obama – he has inherited a heavy burden.

    *climbing down from soapbox now*

  • We can’t fix it or end it, so what can we do? I hope we can work towards figuring out real, practical ways (even if they work slowly) of making people think about what they hear, question it, rather than swallowing sound bites or repeating talking points that allow them to vent their anger or frustration rather than thinking about the problems at hand. What can we do for veterans now? The same we should do for all — consider their needs. I’ve recently being learning about problem solving courts, courts that take on cases for special issues like mental health and drugs. They also include veterans courts. The more social services that take into consideration complex causes, the better.

  • This week two Australian soldiers came home in coffins.

    A personal tragedy for the families, unbearably sad, even at a distance to read about the funeral, the words spoken, the assurances from politicians that they were heroes. Even more devastating to know that Wilfred Owen’s words, written during the “Great War”, the “war to end all wars” should still ring so true:

    “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.”

    With our much smaller force commitment the numbers of our dead, wounded and damaged don’t compare in magnitude to either the USA or UK losses, but we share the sense of complete despair about finding a way out of the reckless adventure our previous government committed us to.

    During the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival I heard one of the most intelligent analyses of how very very badly the west has approached the “war” on terror, along with alternative strategies proposed by Reza Aslan, author of “How to win a cosmic war” http://www.rezaaslan.com/cosmicwar.html
    His is just one of many voices that need to be listened to, and soon.

    I look forward to reading Body Work, Sara. More evidence (were any needed!) that crime genre is THE way to write about the world we live in and you’re the person to do it.

  • PM Newton, thanks for including Owen’s poem–written shortly before the Armistice, and shortly before he himself was killed, if I remember correctly. We in the northern hemisphere tend to overlook the sacrifices Australia and New Zealand have made in all the wars of the last century. And thanks for the link the Reza Aslan’s book. His name is a new one to me. Cheryl K, I’m totally with you on Cheney and Rumsfeld.

  • genny from jersey

    Sara, Moody’s piece in “Streetwise” reminds me of my cousin’s response to his time in Vietnam. He was one of the original artist that helped start the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. A number of his pieces are on display there. Unfortunately he is no longer with us.

    About one of his pieces he wrote:

    “The figure I draw is the depersonalized soldier, the soldier within, who has suppressed the emotion of the community of war. To me it is impossible to see war as anything but an old habit of thinking, an old frame of mind and an old male political maneuver.

    The physical act of war contains many ingredients: the personality of heroism, horror, a strange glamour, destruction, and desolation. I have internalized the experience of the physical act of war and transformed it into the metaphorical gestures of the human form. The living becomes a brutalized icon.”

    I don’t know if you’ve visited the museum. For those of us the lived through those years, it’s an experience that is difficult to describe.

  • Genny, I didn’t know about this museum. I’ll go this week. And I’m sorry you lost your cousin; his sounds like such an important voice.

  • In between blinking away tears at this I am so impressed and happy to see how many brave people there are who dare bear witness to their experiences as soldiers in all these wars. That’s courage.

  • Shirley

    Sara, Do you have a publication date for “Body Work” yet?

  • Shirley, the publication date for Body Work is August 31. I’ve just put up my US tour schedule: http://www.saraparetsky.com/events/
    And shortly I’ll be having a contest for an early copy of the book.
    Thanks for your interest

  • genny from jersey

    Oh no, I’m so disappointed–nothing on the east coast. Last year we had such a great time at your Bethesda stop. Any chance that you’ll be adding any additional dates?

  • Yes!! Minneapolis…September 2nd…I am SO THERE! I am still really disappointed that I couldn’t make it to Chicago last year. If I bring Hardball with me would you autograph it, too, please?

  • My tour is complicated this year by the High Holy Days and by labor day. It would have been better if Putnam could have delayed publication until I got back from Japan, but there’s no ideal universe, and the August 31 pub date made the most sense to them. I haven’t been east with a book since 2003, so I’ll have to figure out something! But, Genny, as a consolation prize, here’s your paragraph:

    My best materials engineer, Genny Winne, did the analysis. Winne says that she’s prepared to testify on both those points, and she doesn’t say that unless she thinks her results are unimpeachable.”

  • Ohmygosh! – you’ll be in Coeur D’Alene in October! We were just discussing with the in-laws about going on a vacation there….. in Aug/Sept. Wonder if I can talk them into holding off until October.
    Probably not. Sigh.

  • genny from jersey

    Sara, thanks for the preview. Can’t wait! I just have to figure out how to get a signed copy this time.

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