Through nothing more than profound good luck I was born into a country at peace. I missed the years of both great wars. I didn’t have a husband or child who expressed any interest in voluntarily joining the military and serving in places like Afghanistan. Each Remembrance Day, I can only pray for those who did (or didn’t) choose that life.
Because of my own ethnic background and heightened awareness of all things Ukrainian, I have been watching the actions of Russia’s Putin with horror and revulsion. Prime Minister Harper’s deployment of CF-18s to the area to assist NATO is a sign that we are cautiously starting to put our money where our mouth is.
No one, including me wants a war. In the big picture, there are no winners of one. Yet how on earth do you stop a despot? That answer is being pondered by greater minds than mine, and I hope further armed conflict can be avoided.
So, why do I have war on my mind? Hilary’s upcoming trip to Vietnam and Cambodia reminded me of a book that, among hundreds, has waited patiently on my bookshelf to be read. Tim O?Brien’s The Things They Carried is his fictional account of his stint in the Vietnam War. The book jacket says it ?matters not only to the reader interested in Vietnam, but to anyone interested in the craft of writing as well.? I bought her a second-hand copy for the flight and at long last began reading my own.
The accolades for this 1990 book are numerous and well earned. I defy anyone to read it and remain unmoved. You will laugh, cry, and be forever changed. O?Brien’s sensitive yet brutal telling of the ?real? story is unparalleled. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. His skill, insight, and courage are enviable.
This series of connected stories draws us into the humid jungle, into the filth, the dangers, the tricks of the mind. The title story instructs in unforgettable detail. On the Rainy River tells how O?Brien spent six days eyeing the Canadian border as he wrestled with the idea of becoming a draft dodger. These are not the life choices a twenty-one year old should have to face. The Man I Killed may offer an explanation for PTSD.
There are the contradictions: profound loneliness versus company camaraderie; the desire for self-preservation versus the pain of taking the life of another.
Technology and armaments have changed the face of war since Vietnam or O?Brien’s novel. But I doubt that basic human nature has. Isn’t it as traumatic to the human soul to take a life in 2014? Isn’t it as devastating to families? Or a country’s bottom line?
Neither you nor I have anything to say about what happens next in Ukraine. Reading a book like this helps us understand what is truly at stake. It lets us be clear about the true price of freedom, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites..