Truth and Lies

Our group, Writing War at Home, is starting a new series on lies, a topic we touched on in January and thought we should return to. The prompt was: “How is truth manipulated to serve the ends of war-making? Why would lies be thought to be necessary? Are lies ever justified? What is a lie, anyway? Are lies something political opponents tell? Does “our side” lie? Do we ourselves lie unwittingly? What is truth?”

Of course that is way too much for one prompt, which may be why we have come back to the topic. But for that day, the following was my response. (more…)

The Journey, Part Two

I am doing final editing of Seeking Quan Am and there were days – heck there were weeks and months – when I never thought I would be able to say that. It is making me humble and grateful. I’ve written acknowledgements to those who supported the life of this book, but now I want to acknowledge those authors who profoundly influenced this project, a list that constitutes the second part of The Journey in a Book List. Over the course of this project I have read or dipped into a small library of books, but there are a few that I just keep coming back to, for different reasons. (more…)

The Journey in a Book List, Part One

This post is written in response to my offer, in Book Seasons, to provide my book list. Rather than simply post a dry bibliography, I have made the list into a story.

Literally the first book I read about Vietnam was not about the war. I credit this with setting me on a more circuitous path than I would have taken if I had begun with what, by the time I started, had become the ‘war classics.’

So I began with To Vietnam With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur. I read this because John had bought it and he was about to leave for Hanoi where he would, some months later, invite me to visit. This book introduced me to people, to food, and to beauty, and it aroused my curiosity. I was going to need curiosity in the months and years that followed. (more…)

The War Against the Land

Many of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam saw it: the extraordinary beauty of the land they had come to destroy. They took note of the rich natural diversity, lush growth, and dazzling colors – and then called in napalm, dioxin-laden defoliants, and bombs so massive they lifted the tops of mountains. Such measures were “necessary,” it was said. Collateral damage. Acceptable loss. (more…)

Terrible Beauty

AP photo, published by CNN.

It was late in the afternoon of the day Notre Dame burned when my daughter called.

“This is your time period, isn’t it, Mom?”

“Well, mostly,” I answered, “apart from the 19th century Viollet le Duc restorations that, along with Victor Hugo’s novel, saved the building only that recently. One timeline has the building dating from the 13th century but it is actually far older. This building was begun inĀ  … ”

I was in defensive, art historian mode. (more…)

Writing War

A year ago I sat on a folding chair in an ordinary meeting room listening to poetry. The room had a table with the usual hospitality contributions – bottles of juices and water, crackers, a tray of vegetables and hummus. Another table held books for sale and a third a display of paper made from the pulped uniforms of veterans.

The event was a reading to celebrate the launch of Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ, a volume whose unassuming size gave little hint of the explosion of power within. Some of the poets were already friends – Vietnam veteran Jim Murphy, Iraq veterans Kevin Basl and Nate Lewis. Others were names I had known for decades but had never met. Jan Barry and W.D. Ehrhart I knew from their work in Winning Hearts and Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, published while the war was still raging. Dayl Wise, co-founder of Post-Traumatic Press, Walt Nygard, Everett Cox were names I picked up along the way and, listening to their poetry, glad of it. (more…)

Book Seasons

Photograph by Dede Hatch

I needed more room on the shelves that hold my books about Vietnam, about the war there, then and now. One by one I asked them – do you need to be here now? I am on a journey with this work and that journey keeps changing, sometimes before I have fully noticed. Holding onto anything that has become dead weight is senseless. If I were trekking to the Arctic it would be life-threatening. Perhaps that is true now as well. (more…)