A Housekeeping Before The Apocalypse [Mar 18, 2003]

Before I get to my guest blogger for today, who is Christian Bauman,retired soldier and author of the excellent Somalia war novel The Ice Beneath You, I have a couple of brief housekeeping matters.

First, the Day Without Satire previously scheduled for April 1 remains on April 1. Only now, instead of asking websites to go "black," I'm encouraging all Internet humorists to make fun of Lynne Cheney, Dick Cheney, or both. This will be in protest of the White House's attempts to stop payment on Lynne Cheney parodies at Whitehouse.org. Don't worry, funny people. The war will be over by then. We still need to band together. Make fun of the Cheneys on April 1.

Residents of Georgia and other southern states: I will be appearing on April 2 in Athens at the legendary 40 Watt Club to help celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Chunklet magazine. Following me on stage will be David Cross. This is an honor I don't deserve. Then, on April 4, I will be doing my very own event at Criminal Records in Atlanta. It will include many circus freaks, and also rock music. Details can be found here. Again, let me repeat. The war will be over by then. It will be safe to laugh once more.

Now, Mr. Christian Bauman. You can contact him directly here.


There’s these two new Gulf War memoirs out; talk about good timing. A couple years back when my agent was trying to sell my novel, all we kept hearing was “no one’s interested in literary fiction with war in it.” The book came out last fall, but the sale was pre-9/11. I’ve heard too that even Bowden’s “Black Hawk Down” had trouble finding a buyer in the beginning.

These ex-Marines Swofford and Turnipseed, “Jarhead” and “Baghdad Express,” respectively, have stepped in it. Nice. It’s good to see someone swing and hit one out of the park. Lots and lots of press. Front page of the NY Times book review. Matter of fact, the Times has, at last count, now published three major articles on Swofford’s book.

Here’s the thing that’s getting me, that’s either cracking me up or making me want to cry, I’m not sure which: the underlying sense of surprise in these reviews/articles. The reviews are positive, and should be. And what you get from the literary side of the press corps is this feeling of surprise at the messiness of war and those who wage it, at the profanity. War is dirty, it seems, and the soldiers who fight it might not be worthy of dinner with Mom.

Maybe I don’t think about it because I was a soldier. But to be honest I don’t think I know a whole lot more now than I knew before I enlisted.

My point: what the fuck exactly did you expect? For goodness sakes, ladies, I know y’all read “The Things They Carried”; I’ve seen your blurbs all over the back of the book. You read “Farewell to Arms” right? Did you think us tricky novelists made that shit up? So why this polite, literary cough in these reviews/articles, this “wonderfully written memoir, really; but my goodness the way those boys carry on.”

Here it is, man: kids with rifles in their hands curse. A lot. They curse blue streaks and tell jokes about Susie Rottencrotch and dry ass fucks and they’re not particularly polite people. Most of them are just a few years past puberty, and they’ve trained to do their day job by jabbing a bayonet repeatedly into the torso of a human-looking model and yelling “Kill! Kill!” over and over again at the tops of their lungs. Experience like that makes for a rather edgy and shall we say less-than-cultivated sense of humor.

This might be a surprise, but in war people have parts of their bodies blown off. Sometimes they survive it, or survive it for a while. There’s blood and flesh flung about, and that kind of thing hurts a lot, so there’s likely to be men screaming. Really loud, really high-pitched.

Even before a battle -- even before you get on a plane to leave the States -- there’s going to be puke and snot and shit and piss.

And why is this surprising? I guess that’s what I don’t get. How else did you expect it to be?

My own sweeping generalization is thus: the very modern, intelligent, very educated, ivory-tower reviewers of literature are made distinctly uncomfortable by war and combat as themes, and the more in-your-face it is in a book, the more uncomfortable they get. So they try very hard to ignore it. When at all possible, they’d rather just not go there. Because, I think, it IS all a great surprise to them. The side of humanity that survives the stress of looming combat by having mass faux fieldfucks is very foreign to these people, and they don’t want to write about it or frankly even think about it. So they don’t. Until those times, like right now, when they have to because they can’t avoid it. And then they seem surprised at how filthy dirty it all is.

It’s funny to me, and I think it’s the same underlying reason why intelligent, well-educated people have allowed our leaders to take us to this point: because they have no knowledge of how bad war really is.

It really is that bad.