I am left with the corpse, the living dead man…the angry lonely man, the bitter man with the nightmares, the murder man, the man who cries in the shower.
In one big bang they have taken it all from me, in one clean sweep, and now I am in this place around all the others like me, and though I keep trying not to feel sorry for myself, I want to cry. There is no shortcut around this thing. It is too soon to die even for a man who has died once already.
--Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic
As promised, my Top Five summer books. With any luck, I'll finish the list before June 21, 2007.
As you probably remember, Born on the Fourth of July
by Ron Kovic was made into a movie with Tom Cruise, back before he was crazy. I mean, crazy in love with Katie Holmes. Or crazy in love with the idea of being crazy in love with Katie Holmes.
Anyway, the movie was good and deserved all its awards, but the book is phenomenal, riveting, heart-rending, and more important now than ever.
Kovic's tale is a true one, of how he was paralyzed from the chest down from his wounds in the Vietnam War. He describes the ghastly, inhuman conditions of the VA hospital (they saved bits of food to give the rats so the rodents wouldn't chew on the soldiers' feet), then the despair of realizing he would only have the use of half his body, a fate that often seemed much worse than death:
This end was no beginning. It was starting to become very clear that there would be no change in his condition, no reconciliation with the half of his body that seemed so utterly lost forever. He was in the rain, trapped, and there was no one. It was ugly and cold and final.
He eventually protested the war with many of his former comrades as part of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He was spit upon, beaten, even arrested.
Eventually Kovic found a measure of peace by chronicling his journey from hell to healing. Fourth of July
was originally published in 1976, but it was re-released in 2005 with a new forward addressing the War in Iraq. He draws many parallels between our current Administration and the ignorant fools who waged the Vietnam conflict. The saddest and yet most obvious conclusion is that those waging the War in Iraq learned absolutely nothing from the mistakes of the past, since after all, none of them actually took part in that other war:
[T]hese ignorant, arrogant men and women who never saw the things we saw, never had to grieve over the loss of their bodies or the bodies of their sons and daughters, never had to watch as so many friends and fellow veterans were destroyed by alcoholism and drugs, homelessness, imprisonment, neglect and rejection, torture, abandonment, and betrayal, in the painful aftermath of the war.
These leaders have never experienced the tears, the dread and rage, the feeling that there is no God, no country, nothing but the wound, the horrifying memories, the shock, the guilt, the shame, the terrible injustice that took the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and over two million Vietnamese.
Nearly 20,000 U.S. troops have been wounded in Iraq
since the beginning of military action in March 2003. 9,100
of them were unable to return to duty because of their injuries.
Every warrior accepts the possibility of death. It's the living death of the wounded soldier that no one imagines and everyone would rather ignore.
But if you give Born on the Fourth of July
a chance, it will put you in the perspective of another human being in a way that few books can.
Dare to care. Then do something with those feelings. Me, I'm going to find a disabled vets group to donate 10% of royalties from Voice of Crow
(October 2007), which features a main character forever crippled by war. That, and try to tell the man's story as honestly as a lucky person like me possibly could.