Wednesday, August 04, 2004

So I've just had a fun weekend in NYC with my old Montana buddies Trevor Toland, Richard Greenfield (and on Monday, Caeli Wolfson): cruising record and book stores, eating a lot, drinking a lot, and talking constantly. We're heading to Ithaca this morning. But it's hard to concentrate on fun because Emily and I have just learned that Bogie the Boston Terrier has some kind of tumor on his back and it has to be removed, pronto. I'm more worried about the surgery right now than I am about the tumor—it's so terrible to take this totally innocent, speechless being to a place where he's going to be deliberately injured and not be able to explain what's happening to him. It feels pretty awful. I'm trying to practice positive visualization: we have an excellent veterinary surgeon on hand and I think the prognosis is pretty good. Oy.

Trying to process what I think of the Boeing-financed, Defense Department-sanctioned Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. It seems good that these veterans be given access to greater means of verbal expression; perhaps it will help some of them deal with the trauma they've been through and prevent them from taking that trauma out on spouses and strangers. But the provenance of the program and even its title suggest that the "wartime experience" is being detached and reified into an object that a) has nothing to do with civilian life (civilian "time") or the decisions made by civilians and b) is morally neutral. I don't have a lot of faith that Andrew Hudgins will be working to instill a critical attitude toward the soldiers' experiences; I have no real basis for an opinion on how Bobbie Ann Mason teaches, but I do wonder how you can teach "war writing" on a military base without it becoming just one more tool in the Defense Department arsenal. That is, the direct good done by giving the soldiers writing as a kind of safety valve does indirect evil by making them into more flexible weapons of war, less likely to malfunction or go haywire after use. Of course language is tricksy and a soldier or marine who really gets the bug for writing has a good chance of encountering there experiences in the estranged way experience enters poetry, and thus begin to actually think about what they've undergone and been part of. It certainly sounds like these soldiers, who have undergone horrific trauma—ghastly injuries, seeing comrades killed, and worst of all, killing others—are hungry to be understood—which is the next-door neighbor of the hunger to understand. And maybe we the civilians will read their stories and ourselves understand better our terrible responsibility for what has happened and is happening.

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