Once There Was A War

“Once upon a time there was a war, but so long ago and so shouldered out of the way by other wars and other kinds of wars that even people who were there are apt to forget.  This war that I speak of came after the plate armor and longbows of Crécy and Agincourt and just before the little spitting experimental atom bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I attended a part of that war, you might say visited it, since I went in the costume of a war correspondent and certainly did not fight, and it is interesting to me that I do not remember very much about it.  Reading these old reports sent in with excitement at the time brings back images and emotions completely lost.

Perhaps it is right or even necessary to forget accidents, and wars are surely accidents to which our species seems prone.  If we could learn from our accidents it might be well to keep the memories alive, but we do not learn.  In ancient Greece it was said that there had to be a war at least every twenty years because every generation of men had to know what it was like.  With us, we must forget, or we could never indulge in the murderous nonsense again.”

John Steinbeck, Once There Was A War

Fortunate Son is not a novel about war in the usual sense.  Fortunate Son is an attempt to show the chaos of the domestic culture of the 1960s and the clash between the generations that effected significant changes in American culture.  For me, that clash was, in effect, the second front of the Vietnam War.  However, Fortunate Son is not a book about the War itself: there are no scenes in Vietnam; the War is, in essence, a character in the novel – an unwelcome guest at everyone’s dinner table who refuses to leave.

The Vietnam War was a defining factor in the lives of so many of my age, as defining a factor as the politics of assassination (John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, jr., Robert Kennedy), the Cuban Missile Crisis, the birth of rock-and-roll, the invention and initial sale of birth control pills, the transition from a lazy-Sunday-abed culture in which everyone was cocooned in safety to the firestorm of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  But even amid this crazy quilt of change, the War stood out, for it was a personally intrusive defining factor – one which reached out and grabbed every male of a certain age by the short hairs, one which affected the lives of every woman of a certain age because of the terrors of conscription.

Fortunate Son’s Sahaptin Valley was subject to the turmoil of that War, and it must be judged in the context of that time.  It will be up to the reader to judge how well the Valley’s culture and its spawn performed in its interaction with the war.

The post entitled “Mise-en-Scene” is offered here to set the stage; it no longer appears in the book, because I could not find a proper place for it that did not interrupt the narrative flow.  It is my voice.  Some won’t like it; some may.  The choice is up to you.

When I discussed my own history in front of a crowd of lawyers at my 40th law school reunion, I was amazed at the speed and the fervency with which the old debate flamed anew.  I was asked to recite fact, and did; my recitation brought forth immediate angry statements of personal adherence to duty, of deference to authority.

You decide; I already have.  I know that it pays to remember.

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About Stephen Ellis

Stephen Ellis is the author of Fortunate Son, a novel of Sahaptin Valley
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