War Stories

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 in¬† … ”

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…)

The Ken Burns Effect

Marines marching in Da Nang, 1965. Associated Press, via PBS

Even after the passage of 50 years time, it is hard to imagine anyone except Ken Burns who would have dared to take on a documentary about the Vietnam War. Love him or hate him, he has stature and respect and a resum√© that means that, if nothing else, he cannot be ignored. Already, before it has aired, partisans of the extremes of opinion the culture has carried for all this time, are condemning it for not doing what it has expressly set out not to do – bring the issue to resolution. (more…)

Memorial Stories

Like the great majority of the American population, I have no one in my family who died in military service. Generations of my ancestors served in conflicts from the Civil War to World War II, but no one died in combat. Five years ago I knew only one man who had been killed in Vietnam. The grief of war was an abstract thing to me. I understood Memorial Day, meaning I knew the difference between it and Veterans Day and the Fourth of July, but it still felt like a day of observance that belonged to other people. (more…)

Assumptions

table-and-wine-glassI had dinner recently with someone I had known from my neighborhood for several years. She wanted to get us away from our construction chaos, give us a very welcome break. I have known her only as kind and community-minded. She makes a point of greeting new neighbors, signing them up for the listserv, and inviting them to the picnic. She offers to help and she does. She is a few years older than I am. She carries memories. (more…)

“Thank you for your service”

thank-you-for-your-serviceA few years ago, Mark and I were sitting with a friend in a Panera restaurant having coffee and talking. Suddenly a man I call the Panera Stranger thrust his hand at Mark and said, “Thank you for your service!” Mark mumbled something, I was paralyzed, and we were all – including, most likely, the Stranger, left feeling awkward and uncomfortable. (more…)

Chautauqua, Day 1, Evening

fdr4Well, it’s only the evening of the first day and I am already unglued. Eight years ago today, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood in the amphitheater at Chautauqua, the place I was sitting, to deliver what came to be known as the “I Hate War” speech. Tonight the program interspersed anthems and hymns with recorded segments of that speech. (more…)