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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

A True War Story

If I haven’t told you a thousand times already, if you care anything about writing, if you care anything about humanity, read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The older I get the more convinced I am that this may be the most important book ever written.

Here we go, “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it.”

Okay, I’m taking a break here. I need to catch my breath. You too, breath in deeply, “If a story seems moral, do not believe it.”

Onwards, “If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. Listen to Rat Kiley. Cooze, he says. He does not say bitch. He certainly does not say woman, or girl. He says cooze. Then he spits and stares…”

Later he writes, “Often in a true war story there is not even a point, or else the point doesn’t hit you until twenty years later, in your sleep, and you wake up and shake your wife and start telling the story to her, except when you get tot the end you’ve forgotten the point again. And then for a long time you lie there watching the story happen in your head. You listen to your wife’s breathing. The war’s over. You close your eyes. You smile and think, Christ, what’s the point?”

Maybe this is why I get more convinced as I get older. The point hadn’t hit me until now and even now I don’t know what the point is, but I listen to my wife’s breathing, and I have never been to war, but I want to shake her, wake her up and tell her the story.

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