An Ounce of Ordinary?

The most recently assigned reading material for this course, Since You Went Away, is a compilation of letters that were written [and saved over the years] by American women during World War II.  These women found many of the men in lives serving in the military and [likely] off to war during this period of time in American history, and letters became the primary means of communication between spouses, lovers, siblings, friends, or otherwise… Although one can easily see the struggles that the authors of these letters were experiencing during this difficult time, I [ironically] found this book to be the least personal out of all of the literature we have perused in the past three months.

I do not admit this lack of immediate connection with the material to imply that I do not sympathize—empathize, even—with these women.  Maybe it was simply a lack of depth—a true look into who these women were.  What were their real, raw thoughts on the war and its consumption of the lives of their beloved fathers, sons, husbands, brothers… After all, they were not able to indulge in their misery: they had to be strong and optimistic for the sake of their boys off to war.  I imagine that some of them traded their true desires to write about the relationship-robbing, nightmare-provoking horrors of war for a more comforting “Hi honey, everything is swell on the home front but I miss the sight of your wonderful face and cannot wait to be marry you and be Mrs. Whoeveryouare. Love, _______.” The ability of some of these women to maintain their composure and write so positively is admirable, to say the least.

I thought that maybe this book was just hard for me to relate to due to the out-dated choices of wording in many of the letters, so I set out to find something similar and a little more up to date. Enter, MilSpouse.com.  Apparently novel-length, hand-written attempts to keep a relationship [rocked with military service] alive are not so with the times.  Yes, romantic and family relationships are still sometimes supplemented through good old Federal mail [especially during Basic Training, or through the form of care packages during deployment]… but it seems as if military blogging really is the way to go these days. 

When I first visited this site—a site with multiple postings by multiple authors—I  could not help but notice the striking similarities between the first post on this site and the first letter published in Since You Went Away. Written by Lucille Mumm, the first letter in the book talked of the excitement she was experiencing in Honolulu [where her husband was currently stationed], she even went as far as saying “I’ve never had the opportunity, funds, or facilities, for party giving that I have here and I get such a kick out of it and will miss it all no end when the Army discards us.” (4)  The most recent post on MilSpouse.com, “Aloooohhaa,” posted on 23 March 2009 by Vivian Greentree, follows:

“Aloha! Mr. Wonderful and I are in sunny Hawaii right now. We have visited the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor and paid our respects to our brave servicemembers…I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had no idea how many military bases were on the island – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine. Now to see how Mr. Wonderful could get a tour here…”

It was hard to ignore the similar, light-hearted tone between two entries [one dated 26 November, 1941—the other, 23 March, 2009] written by spouses stationed with their husbands in Hawaii.  Although it was surprising [and welcome] to see these entries in front of much more serious and somber entries, I think that in both cases it helps to remind readers that these people are still just normal people trying to go about their lives and not let themselves be taken over by war, or the military.  Perhaps these happy-go-lucky spouses and family members should be praised for their ability to find an ounce of ordinary in a military-filled life.

Works cited

 Barrett Litoff, Judy and David C. Smith. Since You Went Away. Kansas: University Press, 1991.

Greentree, Vivian. “Aloooohhaa.” MilSpouse.com. 23 March 2009. Family*Self*Country. Visited 24 March,             2009. http://milspouse.wordpress.com/ >

Slaughter-House-Schizophrenia

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House-Five was a time-traveling account of what war can do for a person’s state of [for lack of a better term]… well… being. I was surprised to see that this novel did not receive the response that I thought it would from some other students in this course.  I personally found Vonnegut’s writing to be nothing short of genius. He dared to relay a lot of controversial thoughts to print that [until recently] I may not have even dared to think out loud. 

Anyways, down to business… the Army of Dude website led me to a link for a site that I may not have happened upon on my own: The Unlikely Short-Timer.  This anonymous soldier’s recent post, “Schizophrenic Head Bashing,” was certainly the most unadulterated version of a soldier’s mind on paper that I have come across thus far.  The language is… colorful… but if you can get past all the four letter uses for the letter f, maybe you can see why Vonnegut’s novel turned out the way it did.

“Schizophrenic Head Bashing” is a lengthy, written version of a confrontational conversation that occurs between the author of this blog and his better judgment. Unable to reach any sort of agreement [other than the mutual feelings that he is, in fact, screwed for life], this post is a back-and-forth attempt to justify the grave mistake of signing one’s life away and enlisting in the military.  As it turns out, it doesn’t end after “just putting in your four years.” Nearly every sentence of this choppy, cynical tangent is reminiscent of the derailed thought process in writing that Slaughter-House-Five turned out to be. I couldn’t be more impressed. 

One of the repetitive issues that this soldier brings up in his post is the concept of living a normal life again and going to college rather than going to war. His thoughts on the possibilities of that happening are optimistic:

“Well, hindsight is 20/20 they say. Remember how they all said you should try college first? Hmm. About that. Too late now. Now you went and put your name in the hat because you knew everything, and you were out to crusade and pick your share of cotton for the Greater Good. Where did it get you? Panic attacks? You don’t even remember 90% of your graduating class. Is that because there were just too many people, or were you blown up a bit too much?” (The Unlikely Soldier. Visited site: 23 March, 2009).

This particular part of his post made me think of Billy Pilgrim’s voluntary stay in the Veteran’s hospital while he was in his final year of Optometry school (Vonnegut. 126-42).  It was just a few years after the war, and Billy was there because he was [like the other veterans] “…alarmed by the outside world.” (127) From the sounds of it, the author of “Schizophrenic Head Bashing” is dealing with some of the same issues as poor Billy Pilgrim.  So it goes.

Works Cited

“Schizophrenic Head Bashing.” Theunlikelysoldier.blogspot.com. 2 March 2009. The Unlikely Short-          Timer. 23 March, 2009. http://theunlikelysoldier.blogspot.com/>

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughter-House-Five. New York: Delta, 1969. (pp. 126-42)

 

 

Here’s to You, World War II…

The most recent works of literature we have encountered in this course [Maus, Night, and Slaughter-house-five] have all helped us to further appreciate the stomach-turning acts of inhumanity that World War II was made of.  Art Spiegelman, Elie Weisel, and Kurt Vonnegut have left us with pleasant images forever burned in our minds to help carry on the legacy of such an abomination of mankind: Children burning alive in ditches. Families busted apart… “lucky” survivors… starvation.  Plunger-shaped extraterrestrials with an ability to see the purpose of life that would put any human being to shame, yet still lacking the ability to resist galaxy-deleting button pushing…

These three books did exactly what [I think] they were intended to do: Make no sense whatsoever out of something that was never intended to be made sense of.  After reading Maus, I was unable to free myself of the image of Vladek’s son Richiev and the other small children being poisoned to death as an alternative to being sent to die in the gas chambers (Spiegelman. 109).  At my convenience, it just so happened that I read this book the same week that I read the Death Investigation chapter of my Criminal Investigation textbook [I am a Criminal Justice major. Yay me.].  The cheerful excerpt from this chapter concerning suicide death by poisons follows, and I quote:

         “Usually, death does not occur rapidly, and victims may employ other methods of suicide to stop the excruciating pain.” (Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, and Taylor. 298).

That week was not one of sweet dreams, needless to say.  But, hey–this course is “Literary Responses to War and Peace.” In all fairness, I wasn’t expecting a fairytale.  I imagine that the only warm-fuzzy evoking page out of any of the assigned reading materials in this course is the sarcastic artwork on page 156 of Vonnegut’s novel: A tombstone carved to display the happy image of a baby angel and the words, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”

Now that I’ve brought up the topic of mind-debilitating imagery… that won’t go away… a recent post from one of my favorite milbloggers–Alex Horton–speaks of his inability to shake the image of a death of one of his fellow soldiers that happened two years ago.  His accounts are, perhaps, a little more inspiring… yet equally heavy hearted:

       “What happened next replays in my mind every single day. In an instant, a loving father and a good soldier lay dead on the ground, and the squad he so readily guided was a tangled mass of limbs in the back of the vehicle, turned sideways from the force of the blast… Yet the blast didn’t just end his life. For each of us that knew him, it was the defining moment of our lives when we became not only familar with death, but intimate with it.” (“A Man at Sunset.” Paragraph 5. Visited site: 21 March, 2009).

War seems to have an amazing ability to enter into the parts of our minds that we sometimes wish we could turn off.  There’s no need to open your eyes to see what it’s done to the way we view the world after the fact: Those images are conveniently carved everywhere in our minds that we don’t want them to be, for our lack of enjoyment later.

Works Cited

Horton, Alex. “A Man at Sunset.” armyofdude.blogspot.com. 12 March, 2009. Army of Dude. Visited 21    March, 2009. http://armyofdude.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default >

Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973. (pp. 109)

Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, and Taylor. Criminal Investigation. 10th Ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2009.                 (pp. 298)

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughter-House-Five. New York: Delta Publishing, 1969. (pp. 156)