2008/02/08

A story in Michael Yon's blog

Danger Close - Chapter One is a story that begins with a confrontation between two young and polite soldiers and a very large and very unreasonably hostile anti-war protester. The confrontation goes on for several pages, with the two young soldiers just trying to enjoy themselves by doing what young men do everywhere, trying to hook up with the ladies in the bar, and the soldiers display the absolute best of manners by trying to avoid a fight with the belligerent, hostile protester. But the protester persists in making himself more and more obnoxious. Curiously, the reader has no idea what the protesters motivation is. The protester doesn't even go to the extent of revealing his ignorance by making wild accusations against the soldiers. The bouncer in the bar doesn't remove the hostile person or tell him to go home, but intervenes just enough to show that he is there.

I of course cannot claim to know whether or not the story was true, but I most certainly was bothered by these elements of the story. First of all because I took part in a fairly large march/demonstration just a few weeks back and I'd say that we were about half and half male and female. A large percentage of the males were much too old to go around picking fights in bars and quite a few were veterans. So it seems to me that the percentage of the peace movement that's going to go around being belligerent towards soldiers in bars would be vanishingly small.

Besides, we're fully aware that former soldiers from the Vietnam era felt very hurt and abandoned and shafted when they got back home. Their fathers from World War II and Korea were greeted with parades and celebrations and when they had settled in, picked up good jobs without difficulty. When the Vietnam vets got home, they were greeted with indifference and then unemployment. In fact, according to some vets, they were actually spat upon by war protesters. The movie Sir, No Sir! features the author of the above-referenced study spending a fair amount of time examining this myth. As with many urban legends, spitting was always reported to have occurred in the next town over or at the other airport or to a friend of a friend. The researcher in the movie was unable to locate any returning veterans who reported a first-hand experience with having been spat upon.

Having taken part in protests against the Iraq War from the very beginning (Sept 2002), I can testify that as a military veteran myself (PN3(Ret), USN, 1991-2001), I've run into absolutely zero prejudice against the military. Peaceniks have, from the very beginning, sought out veterans to be their allies. The very names of the organizations Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War testify eloquently to that fact. The VFP and IVAW have sought from the very beginning of the peace movement to be in the forefront of each protest, precisely to tell Americans that the peace movement is not anti-military.

As I said, I didn't read past the first few pages of this book, but on the theory that the first story in the book is meant to provide foreshadowing to the rest, I'm guessing that the peace movement as a whole is consistently represented here as a hostile, implacable and utterly inexplicable force that seeks to repeat history with a reprise of the "Dolchstosslegende" (Stab in the back legend) that der Fuhrer made so popular.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

With due respect, are you sure "Danger Close" is the book you are referring to?

I most certainly was bothered by these elements of the story

The elements you say bothered you have nothing to do with this chapter or book and seem imagined by you:

As I said, I didn't read past the first few pages of this book, but on the theory that the first story in the book is meant to provide foreshadowing to the rest, I'm guessing that the peace movement as a whole is consistently represented here as a hostile, implacable and utterly inexplicable force that seeks to repeat history...

Your theory about foreshadowing is correct, but your guess is wrong because it not based on anything Yon wrote: it is you that described the guy who confronted Yon as a "beligerent hostile protester".

Yon never said that.

In Chapter One Yon writes that the guy told him he was in the Army Reserves.

He said that he was in the Army Reserves. I was not impressed, but attempted conciliation by asking: “Are you a sergeant or something?” My question was not well conceived, nor apparently did he want to lighten the conversation.

His anger-level soared and he replied: “Are you fucking with me?! You know I’m not a sergeant major!”

“No,” I answered. “I asked if you are a sergeant, not a sergeant major.


"Danger Close" is a true story set in the 1980s and earlier. It is Yon's memoir which proves to be coming-of-age story of a fiercely unique sort. Yon's mother died when he was only seven, and that irreparable loss, combined with the neglect that he later suffered at the hands of his father and the refuge he found with his grandparents and his friends, creates the emotional anchor of the book. Yon handles such a complex combination of subject matter in a free-form, associative style, juxtaposing scenes of intensive weapons training, for example, with stories of life lessons he learned from his grandfather. The result is winningly rough around the edges: Danger Close is exuberant and thoughtful, tender and violent, and, for the most part, it works. Writing, for Yon, like joining the Army, was about having "demons to slay. Big, mean demons that haunted and chased me. I was going to kill them."

As someone who did serve in the Military, I think you would be fascinated by Yon's story. I encourage you to buy the book and read it in it's entirety.

Rich said...

I did a quick reading of those first couple of pages and was interpreting them in light of "What's the author trying to say?" "What is the symbolic meaning of the characters?" and came up with, as you say, a meaning that's not entirely accurate.