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  #16  
Old 27 Oct 15, 15:17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jeffdoorgunnr View Post
I'm guessing he kills the fox...........
I guess you'll have to read it to find out. Don't commit assumicide.
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  #17  
Old 28 Oct 15, 11:41
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warmoviebuff View Post
I guess you'll have to read it to find out. Don't commit assumicide.
Wait till you read the story of the Brigadier's introduction to the noble sport of cricket!
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  #18  
Old 25 Dec 15, 23:01
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WAR SHORT STORY READALONG: A Daisy-Chain of Bandoliers



*** Sorry it's been a while, but soccer season has been filling a lot of my time. I'll try to be more timely in the year 2016.


“A Daisy-Chain of Bandoliers” is set on the Western Front in WWI. The author was Private W.H. Cooperwaite who served in the 2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. The story is obviously a fictionalized account of some incidents during his stay at the front. He tells the story in flashback form as at the beginning he is wounded by a German shell called a “Jack Johnson”. He assumes his readers will recognize that the large shell was named after a famous African)-American boxer. He points out that he was hit by shrapnel from the only one of eighteen shells that actually exploded. It is seldom you read about the high percentage of duds in WWI. The rest of the story is a series of vignettes. He mentions German atrocities like the murder of two young girls. The Germans can also be devious. He describes what he calls the “stretcher dodge” in which a German unit pretended to surrender and then when the Brits had been lulled into complacency, the Germans opened fire with machine guns concealed on stretchers. He goes on to tell of some combat incidents. He unit has to make a suicidal attack up a hill against a strong German position. A beloved officer goes down and several men die bringing him in only to have him die anyway. This serves as a good summary of the fighting on the Western Front, but Cooperwaite does not delve into the irony or symbolism of the incident. An interesting vignette is about a unit of Gurkhas stationed nearby. Cooperwaite describes a counterattack by the Turks featuring their curved knives. “They seemed all grin and knife as they returned.” The title comes from the concluding episode that involved delivering ammunition to the front line trench. They tie the bandoliers together into a daisy-chain to try to cover the last few yards, but this is futile - like the war.

“A Daisy-Chain of Bandoliers” is nothing special. In fact, Cooperwaite is not a particularly good writer. There are some aggravating grammar problems, for instance. He tends to write in soldier vernacular. He describes shells as creating “mischief”. There is no real connection between the vignettes. The story does not flow. Some of it is propagandistic and smacks of the early days of the war when the Germans were accused of all sorts of atrocities. I have found no evidence for the Germans using a “stretcher dodge”. I’m not saying it did not happen. I’m just skeptical about it. This skepticism colors my view of the whole piece, leaving me wondering if there is much value to it as a war story.


GRADE = D

Next story: "The Duke's Disappearance" by Thomas Hardy

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Old 13 Feb 16, 10:25
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"The Duke’s Reappearance" by Thomas Hardy



“The Duke’s Reappearance” is a short story by Thomas Hardy (no relation). It is from his book entitled “A Changed Man and Other Tales”. Hardy sets his tale during the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. The Duke of Monmouth was the illegitimate son of King Charles II. He claimed the throne held by James II. From self-imposed exile in Holland, Monmouth returned to England to fight for the throne. His landing elicited some support from farmers and artisans and at first it looked like he might have the momentum necessary to overthrow James. However, Royal forces brought his motley, ill-trained force to battle at Sedgemoor and it was a rout. Although Monmouth escaped the battlefield, he was captured soon after while hiding in a ditch. Accused of treason and convicted without a trial, he was executed. According to most sources, the beheading was a gruesome spectacle with the executioner needing at least five whacks to finish the job.

The story starts off boring us as to what house the "fugitive" stayed in. Who the fugitive could be is not revealed. I am slightly intrigued. It turns out that the Duke of Monmouth has landed in England! The main character named Swetman is excited about the Duke’s endeavor, but unsure whether to back him. Many of his neighbors jump on board, but Swetman stays put. Before he can rue his neutrality, the rebellion comes to him when a mysterious stranger arrives at his house the night that the Duke’s forces got their asses kicked. The stranger is dressed as a cavalryman and tersely proclaims: “He that asks no questions will hear no lies from me.” Swetman takes him in and gives him new clothes. Returning survivors inform Swetman that the Duke has disappeared. Hmmm, you don’t suppose? Could that be the Duke hitting on my daughter? End of hospitality, whoever you are. A week later, Swetman learns of the capture of Monmouth. But not long after that development, the stranger sneaks into his home to retrieve his clothes. Did they execute the real Duke? Who cares? Not this American.

I may share a last name with the author, but this is the first time I have read anything by him. It may be the last. Hardy loves long sentences. Maybe that’s where I got that from. It might be in my genes. However, I fight it more than my namesake did. This story is boring. Perhaps if I were British I might have enjoyed it more. I suppose British might be intrigued by a story about the possibility that Monmouth survived his insurrection. And it was not him that had his head so inefficiently hacked off. By the way, I did not find any evidence that this was a commonly known theory in England. Did Hardy just make it up? That seems unlikely. If he did just make it up, he could have made it more interesting. There is little mystery or suspense here. It comes off like a tale told beside a campfire.

GRADE = F

Next up: "The Glory of War" by M. B. Levick https://books.google.com/books?id=fG...Levick&f=false
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  #20  
Old 28 Mar 16, 19:54
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“The Glory of War” by M.B. Letvick



“The Glory of War” by M.B. Letvick

The story is being told by a Civil War veteran on his deathbed years after the war. He is proud of his service and happy to tell anyone, but he has a secret to tell. It seems he had to defy his parents to go off to war. However, when he got to the induction center he was turned down due to poor eyesight. Instead of going home, he went to New York and created a new life where he was a war hero. He became a “hail fellow well met” and popular with the ladies. No one questioned his record and the lies kept coming. He justified his perfidy by telling himself that he had planned to fight and would have if he had been allowed to. At least he didn’t accept a pension.

I did not like this story. What was the point? Are we not supposed to despise him? I’m not sure that Letvick meant to indict faux heroes. If you think about it, he got the glory without the risk. The only thing I can say positively about it is it did cause me to debate whether someone could have gotten away with such a charade. At first, I figured the story was unrealistic. On further thought, I am not so sure. After all, some recent politicians have been caught having medals they did not earn. Other than that mystery, the story is boring. At least it’s short.

GRADE = F

Read it at: https://books.google.com/books?id=kk...levick&f=false
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Old 09 Apr 16, 00:35
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IN THE SHADOW OF MESQUITE by Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

IN THE SHADOW OF MESQUITE by Margaret Elizabeth Sangster


What a great title! And finally a decent story after a string of duds. Sangster jumps right in with a reluctant warrior going off to join the Union army at the start of the Civil War. He is saying good-bye to his wife and reassures her that the Rebels will be tired of the fighting soon. His wife responds by telling the story of a Southern girl who was in her class. The girl once refused to apologize for misbehavior for a week. Something snaps in the guy and with the bugle blaring for assembly he chickens out and declares that he would rather be a live coward than a dead hero. Typical of Civil War era women, his wife convinces him that it would be better to leave his baby son with a decent memory of him. Post script: “your grandfather fought with Washington”. He marches off. Suddenly the scene shifts to a hill overlooking a mesquite covered valley in what appears to be the American Southwest. A boy is spying on an unseen enemy (Indians?). Since no one can be seen, the captain of his eight man unit decides that someone will have to do a suicidal recon by walking into the valley. The men draw lots.

Margaret Elizabeth Sangster was a noted writer and poet in the late 19th Century in America. She wrote numerous books and contributed to several magazines. She was associated with Helen Keller and Mark Twain. Much of her work was aimed at a female audience. “In the Shadow of Mesquite” is an interesting story. Sangster has a terse style, but it is effective. The theme is a bit heavy-handed and the ending is predictable, but she makes her point effectively. The two stories are not as mirror images as you would expect. The circumstances are different, but both men have that crisis of confidence that they overcome with support from others. It seems obvious that the boy is the grandson of the man in the opening scene. There are references to his grandfather dying at Gettysburg. It is a little strange that Sangster decided not to make the boy the son of the Civil War veteran. Or put the grandson in World War I. Those are minor quibbles as the story is satisfying and short.

GRADE = B

Read it at:
https://books.google.com/books?id=VR...ngster&f=false
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  #22  
Old 17 Apr 16, 11:04
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THE LONE CHARGE OF WILLIAM B. PERKINS by Stephen Crane



Stephen Crane of “Red Badge of Courage” fame, was a war correspondent in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He was with the Marines when they were occupying Guantanamo Bay. This short story is based on an incident involving another correspondent Ralph Paine of the Philadelphia Press. Crane retells the tale using his inimitable style.

Perkins is a green war correspondent. He admits to knowing nothing about the military or war in general. But he had “the rank and fibrous quality of courage which springs from the thick soil of Western America”. He arrives at Guantanamo Bay to find the Marines entrenched on a hill and under fire from the Spanish who occupy a woods beneath the hill. At first, the Marines ignore him. He cracks the ice by offering some whiskey to some officers. After this “altercation with some whiskey”, Perkins is feeling newfound courage and camaraderie. A single rifle shot provokes a fire-fight. Perkins spies an enemy so he grabs a rifle and leads a charge. Except that no one follows the inebriated “alms house idiot”. He is like “a champagne jacket of straw lost in a great surf”. “Sss-s-s-swing-sing-ing-pop went the lightning-swift metal grass-hoppers over him and besides him”. (Pure Crane!) Finding himself in no man’s land, Perkins opens fire on a bush and sobers to find that he is a target for the entire Spanish army. He would have been a dead man if it wasn’t for a nearby old, rusty boiler. He eventually returns to camp chastened and with his hat “not able to fit his head for the new lumps of wisdom that were in it.”

This is a fun story. When I first read it I assumed Crane was poking fun at himself and had invented a tale with himself as the “hero”. I had to change that theory after researching the genesis of the story. I now believe Crane wished he had been Paine and wrote the story imagining himself in the anecdote. Crane is definitely a 19th Century author and also a lover of war. He found war fascinating and his prose shows this. He wrote “The Red Badge of Courage” although he had not experienced the Civil War. He was determined to rectify this lack of war experience by going to Cuba. In spite of witnessing the realities of war first-hand, he still writes of the excitement of combat. This tale is typical of his attitude. His take on Perkins’ miraculous survival was to credit the god of war as protecting its worshipper. “War is a spirit. War provides for those that it loves. It provides sometimes death and sometimes a singular and incredible safety.” Talk about looking at the positive. One thing Crane learned by going to war was the sounds. The story is full of Crane verbalizing the sounds of weaponry. For example, “boom-ra-swow-ow-ow-ow-pum”.

GRADE = A

You can read it at: http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/crane/lone.htm
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Old 23 Apr 16, 22:40
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LOST GROUND REGAINED by Ralph Paine



“Lost Ground Regained” is the story of William Henry Harrison’s campaign around Detroit during the War of 1812. It is a nonfiction account of events like the Battle of the River Raisin (the costliest battle of the war for the U.S.), the siege of Fort Stephenson, and the Battle of the Thames. Paine was a popular author and journalist in the early 20th Century. He had served with the British army in the Crimean War before immigrating to the U.S. and serving in the Union artillery in the Civil War. He became chaplain-in-chief for the Grand Army of the Republic. He then became a writer. He was a war correspondent in the Spanish-American War and was the inspiration for Stephen Crane’s “The Lone Charge of William Paine”. He was embedded before that became common. He went on to report from the Boxer Rebellion. He later settled down and wrote books and contributed to numerous magazines. This story is from his book entitled “A Fight for a Free Sea” published in 1918.

Paine’s story is pro-American, but he does not mind criticizing incompetent leadership on both sides. And there was a lot of incompetence in this campaign and in the whole war. The story is Chapter 2 in the book and is straight history. A strong theme of the passage is that battles are more often won because of the poor decisions of the loser than the brilliance of the victor. I had thought of Harrison as being one of the better U.S. generals in the war, but Paine makes it clear he was more lucky than good. His two big successes were out of his hands. The heroic and inspiring defense of Fort Stephenson occurred because his subordinate refused to abandon the fort. The victory at the River Thames (the battle Tecumseh died in) was won by a Kentucky cavalry unit that made an unauthorized charge (see painting above). Another theme is his accusation that the British commanders encouraged Indian atrocities, including the infamous River Raisin Massacre.

Although I enjoyed this story, it really does not fit what I envisioned the stories in this readalong would be like. By that I mean that it is non-fiction. Also, it is not really a short story but rather, a chapter in a book. I don’t usually expect my short stories to have primary source excerpts within them. With that said, it is an interesting and informative reading. This particular campaign is not very well known partly because neither country has much to be proud of. Just like the war itself. Paine writes competently and not as drily as some early 20th Century historians. He also keeps his biases in check. It’s not like he made up the atrocities. The book is considered to be one of the better accounts of the war. Read it if you want to learn about an important campaign in the War of 1812. Just don’t expect the creativity and imagination you would expect from a good short story.

GRADE = B


Read it at: http://www.unz.org/Pub/PaineRalph-1920-00022
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Old 10 May 16, 22:58
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MONS AND THE GREAT RETREAT



MONS AND THE GREAT RETREAT by Private J. Parkinson

“Mons and the Great Retreat” is a first-person account of the first British battle of WWI. Parkinson was an enthusiastic participant in the battle and well-represents the naivete of the British soldiers at the start of the war. “To be rushed from the routine of a soldier’s life at home in time of peace to the fearful fight in the Continent is a strange and wonderful experience…” He and his mates dig trenches blocking the road to Paris. The German army came on in a frontal attack. They figured quantity would overcome the British position. They underestimated the quality of the British riflemen. Parkinson and the rest mowed the Germans down. “Yet as soon as we shot them down, others came out, literally like bees.” He mentions that the German officers led from the rear and were forced to use shoving and the threat of being shot to get their men to go forward. “It was marvelous to watch the Germans come on in their legions and melt away under our artillery and rifle fire.” German cavalry was run off by British machine gun fire. Personally speaking, Parkinson remarks that at the start of the fight, he was in a “funk”, but he soon settled down to the task. After dark, the Germans used spot lights to keep pummeling the Brits. In spite of the heroic stand, the British were forced to retreat back to the area of Paris. They made “one of the longest, hardest, swiftest, and most successful retreats in history.” (I’m not sure the patriotic Parkinson wanted to use the word “swiftest".)

Parkinson writes well, which makes this memoir is better than most. It is a valuable look at how the early British effort was perceived by the foot soldiers. He is obviously very proud of his unit and its performance in the battle. Accounts like this must have contributed to the “enhancement” of the British “victory” at Mons. Great Britain was pining for a feel good story in the early days of the war and the Battle of the Mons fit the bill. It played into the accepted notion that British riflemen were the best in the world. The press described the British soldiers fire power as being so relentless that the Germans thought they were facing machine guns alone. Parkinson also fuels the developing characterization of the Germans as barbarians by accusing them of firing on hospitals. One thing he does not mention is the famous “Angels of Mons” who supposedly supported the defenders. That invention came along later and was a straight press invention.

I enjoyed this story mainly because I have been delving into the Great War a lot recently. Reading it caused me to research the battle and learn more about it. It is a fascinating affair and Parkinson’s account is true to the historical record. His jingoism is in check and is basically an abundance of pride rather than pompousness. I immediately was taken by his mention of them digging trenches. That came as a surprise, I had been under the impression that troops were digging in this early in the war. I wonder if Parkinson read this in after experiencing trench warfare later in the war. I am suspicious of this because during the retreat he reports that he witnessed a dog fight with a German plane being shot down. This incident appears to be much too early for aerial combat to have occurred. This is a good example of how primary sources must not be accepted without vetting.

Once again, we have a short story on the list that does not really fit my parameters for a war short story. I would classify it more appropriately as an eyewitness account. I hope for imagination and entertainment value in this readalong. These two goals do not really jibe with eye-witness accounts. However, Parkinson’s tale is a good one and educational, so I’ll cut it some slack.

GRADE = B

You can read it at: http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbo..._1000078645/11

Next up: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occ...owl_creek.html

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Old 22 May 16, 09:32
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AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE by Ambrose Bierce



AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE by Ambrose Bierce

*** Please read the story before proceeding!

Finally a short story I was already familiar with. In fact, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is one of the most famous war short stories in literature. And the author, Ambrose Bierce, is one of the most famous short story writers of the 19th Century. The story starts with his typical abrupt opening. A Southern plantation owner named Peyton Farquhar is standing on a plank on a bridge in Alabama about to be hanged. “Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him.” Peyton flashes back to how he got into this mess. For undisclosed reasons, he was not able to enlist in the Confederate army, but he still considered himself a patriot. One day a Rebel soldier comes by the plantation and tells him the Federals had captured the local bridge, but it could be easily set afire by someone daring enough to slip past the sentries. It turns out Peyton is being set up by a Union scout who might have a grudge against wealthy Southern planters. If so, mission accomplished. Somehow the scout looked in Farquhar’s soul and determined that he had “assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.” Incredibly, when the plank is released, the rope breaks and he plunges into the river. “The power of thought was restored; he knew that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the stream.” That line is one of the most significant in the history of short stories. But you don’t realize it until you get to the end of the story. Peyton manages to swim ashore and reach his home. He reaches out for his wife’s hand and …

The story was published in 1890 and one year later was included in Bierce’s acclaimed Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. Bierce had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was a brave soldier and saw more than his share of war, including the Battle of Shiloh. He was wounded in battle, but literature benefited from the psychological scars left by his experience. He became a journalist after the war and his style reflected his cynicism about war and death. He was noted for his social criticism and satire, which sometimes got him in trouble. He didn’t care. Bierce became an influential writer. Some of his stories, including this one, were early attempts at stream of consciousness. He also experimented with time compression. When Peyton is on that plank, his life passes before his eyes as we would say today. He pioneered the psychological horror story. It is not a surprise that “The Twilight Zone” did an episode based on the story. Interestingly, he is connected to two of our other authors in the readalong. He was influenced by Maupassant and was admired by Crane.
The story is a must read for anyone interested in war stories. It had been since high school since I had read it but it is the king of memorable tale that one can recall decades later. The main reason is the twist ending that is so influential. Although that is what everyone remembers about it, the story would not have reached iconic status if it wasn’t also very well written. Bierce is wonderfully descriptive. He channels the believe that a person facing death might have his senses greatly heightened. He writes about what it feels like to be hanged as though he had attempted it. (Who knows, considering his character). He then follows that with a description of drowning that is equally vivid. Unlike many overly imaginative war stories, the escape from death is implausible, but not unbelievable. Bierce offers scant clues foreshadowing the ending and you would have to be very prescient to figure it out upon first reading. There is only one first time for this story, so savor it.

GRADE = A+

Read it at: http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occ...owl_creek.html
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Old 07 Jun 16, 12:33
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Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - the movie

If you have read the book, it is essential that you watch the movie version of the story. If you haven't read the book, the movie is an outstanding substitute as it faithfully retells the tale. The film is 28 minutes long and was featured on the classic "Twilight Zone" series. Very appropriate because the film is creepy. The director was Robert Enrico and he has a distinctive style. The movie is mesmerizing. There is no dialogue and in fact, there are no sounds. The first half is covered by funereal music which shifts to bizarre midway through. But its the cinematography that stands out. Enrico uses everything in a cinematographers bag of tricks. There are long shots, close-ups, even some POV. There is some amazing underwater camera work. It is a clinic on cinematography. There is a long tracking shot as the hangee runs home. During this scene, the tint of the movie changes.

It is no surprise the movie won the Oscar for Best Short Film and also won at Cannes. It is a must see for war movie lovers, fans of film, and lovers of literature.

See it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHqnSX4SJ_A
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Old 16 Jan 17, 23:53
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I apologize for neglecting this thread, but it's a new year and I aim to be more consistent.



"Dog of Tithwal" by Saadat Hasdan Manto

Manto was a famous author in India. He wrote in several genres, but was most famous for his short stories. He was born in India, but was deeply affected by the partition of India and Pakistan after India got its independence from Great Britain. Being a Muslim, he was uncomfortable in India, plus his writings tended to be controversial. He moved to Pakistan in 1948 and was miserable there. He was twice prosecuted for obscenity by the Pakistani government. He wrote several short stories set in the partition. This particular story is the most famous of those. It first was published in English in 1987 as part of an anthology entitled Kingdom's End and Other Stories .

The story opens in an Indian military camp on a hill. Across no man's land on an opposite hill is a Pakistani outpost. A stream bisects the valley. It "zigzagged furiously on it stony bed like a snake." Nature seems unaffected by the war. It is a relatively quiet zone and you can smell the flowers and hear the birds and bees. The Indian soldiers seem to be preoccupied with killing time more than killing Pakistanis. The everyday boredom is broken by the arrival of a stray dog. The men have some fun discussing the allegiance of the mongrel. "Even the dogs will have to decide if they are Indian or Pakistani". The scene suddenly shifts to the Pakistani side where "their" dog arrives with a "dog tag" identifying him as an Indian dog. The Pakistanis decide to ship the dog back with a note clarifying his loyalty. What results is a scenario similar to in the movie "War Horse", but with a cynicism perhaps more realistic for young men thrust into war.

Manto is not subtle in his themes. Nature continues merrily along in spite of man's inhumanity to man. The story has shades of the Western Front in WWI, but in this case no man's land is not a wasteland. Yet. Although the area between the trenches is pastoral rather than moonlike, the live and let live attitude of the soldiers is reminiscent of moments in the Great War. The story touches on the ability of soldiers to make the best of a situation and see the humor in war. The interaction with the dog supports the view that war can not totally remove humanity from young men. Even bitter enemies have basic emotions in common. Unfortunately, those emotions can be bad as well as good.

"Dog of Tithwal" is a thought-provoking little story that is worth the read, especially since it is bite-sized. Just don't expect anything spectacular.

GRADE = B-

Read it at: http://www.sikh-history.com/literature/stories/dog.html

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Old 19 Feb 17, 10:40
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How to Tell a War Story



https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinicho...enWarStory.pdf

"How to Tell a War Story" is a famous short story by Tim O'Brien. It appears in his book The Things They Carried. The book was a noted example of metafiction. Metafiction is literature that blurs fiction and reality. In other words, the reader does not know what is true in the story. There is "story truth" and "happening truth". Story truth is emotional truth. It is the truth of fiction. Happening truth is the truth of fact or occurrence. Story truth is not for everyone, including me. This is the reason why, even though I am a big Vietnam War fiction fan, I did not like The Things They Carry.

"This is true" is how the story begins. Take that with a grain of salt. O'Brien tells a war story of a comrade named Rat writing a letter to a buddy's sister after his death. She does not respond and Rat refers to her as a "dumb cooze". Is the story true? Maybe so, maybe not. It may be just story truth. "A true was story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done." There is no rectitude. "As a first rule of thumb...you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscentity and evil." "You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you." "In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical." He then tells a story patrol hearing weird music and calling in a strike. "You can tell a war story by the way it never seems to end." Returning to Rat and his letter, O'Brien tells a story about how Rat takes out the death of his buddy on a baby water buffalo. It is so gonzo you might even think its true. "A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth."

The middle section of the short story is the strength of the piece. Here O'Brien discusses what war is like. It is one of the best descriptions of war (particularly the Vietnam War) that you can find. "War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery, and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead." War can be beautiful or mesmerizing. After a firefight, you feel more alive than at any other time. He also discusses the effect war has on young men (specifically Americans). He talks about the soldier language that people get upset about. "If you don't care for obscenity, you don't care for the truth; if you don't care for truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come back home talking dirty." And when they go to war, you are sending children to do something that is not a normal part of growing up. Referring back to a story he tells about the death of a soldier who was in the middle of horsing around with another grunt, O'Brien describes them "giggling and calling each other m-f's" and "playing a game with smoke grenades".

"How to Tell a War Story" is very interesting. It is a must read for anyone who is a fan of war fiction. While trying to answer the question posed in the title, he achieves the goal of making you wonder how much of the samples are true. Personally, I do not want to wonder. I do not like my fiction and truth blurred. I do not like memoirs, but at least you can be fairly sure what you are reading is true. If Rat Kelly wrote a memoir and included the story of the water buffalo, I would have no trouble with it. I would also have no trouble with a Vietnam War novel that included the water buffalo story. In both cases, I would know where the author was coming from. O'Brien is basically arguing that memoirists do not have to stick to the truth as long as the story seems true. I have a problem with that, but as long as you know that it is metafiction I suppose there is place for it.

GRADE = A
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THE RED CONVERTIBLE by Louise Erdrich

THE RED CONVERTIBLE by Louise Erdrich



Louise Erdrich is an acclaimed novelist, poet, and short story writer. She has made a career and won numerous awards for stories involving Native Americans characters and settings. She is part of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. In recognition of that, she was enrolled in a band of the Chippewa nation. The Native American Renaissance was a significant flourishing of literature by Native American authors starting in the 1960s. This story is from her book The Red Convertible: Collected and New Stories.

“The Red Convertible” is a story of PTSD. It is told in first person by a Chippewa Indian named Lyman. He lives on a reservation with his older brother Henry. One day they buy a used red convertible. They loved that car and took it on a cross country trip. Along the way they picked up a girl who was hitchhiking. They were in Montana. She wanted to go home to Alaska. They went to Alaska. “We got home just in time, it turned out, for the army to remember Henry had signed up to join it.” His experience in Vietnam is summed up in one phrase: “the enemy caught him”. “It was at least three years before Henry came home. By then I guess the whole war was solved in the government’s mind, but for him it would keep on going.” He was different. Quiet, real quiet. Jumpy and mean. “He sat in his chair gripping the armrests with all his might…” Lyman thought he could bring his brother out of it by giving him a task to distract him. So Lyman damages the red convertible and Henry becomes obsessed with fixing it. It seems to help. One night after the car has been restored, the brothers go sit by the river.

“The Red Convertible” is an interesting post-war story. Erdrich understands PTSD and puts it in a classic short story format. She writes without flourish which is appropriate for the tale she is telling. The relationship between the brothers is totally believable. Although they are Native Americans, the main characters could be any male siblings. The setting on the reservation is crucial. It gives the story an ambiance. And an added poignancy. Erdrich does not make Henry into a Hollywood PTSD victim. His personality change is such that Lyman can have hopes of returning to their pre-war relationship. However, if you catch the foreshadowing in the opening paragraph, you know this will not happen. “We owned it together until his boots filled with water on a windy night and he bought out my share. Now Henry owns the whole car, and his younger brother Lyman … walks everywhere he goes.”

GRADE = B

Read it at: http://www.napavalley.edu/people/LYa...onvertible.pdf
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Guests of the Nation by Frank O’Connor



Guests of the Nation by Frank O’Connor

“Guests of the Nation” is a short story by acclaimed Irish writer Frank O’Connor. O’Connor was just fifteen years old when he joined the Irish Republican Army in 1918. He participated in the Irish War of Independence which was a guerrilla war by the IRA to try to get independence for Ireland. When the war ended by way of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, O’Connor opposed it and joined the Anti-Treaty IRA. He was subsequently imprisoned for two years. Upon release, he joined the literary world. He was most famous for his variety of short stories, but he was also a prolific writer of poetry, plays, and novellas. “Guests of the Nation” was from a collection of short stories by the same name which was published in 1931. It was an inspiration for the movie “The Crying Game”.

The story takes place sometime probably toward the beginning of the war. I say this because bitterness has not hardened yet. It is told in first person by a young IRA soldier named Bonaparte. He and another young man named Noble are tasked with watching two British soldiers in an old woman’s home. Hawkins is a boisterous man who loves to argue with Noble. His two topics are the foolishness of religion and the evils of capitalism. He is constantly sneering at “Hadem and Heve”. He proclaims that the “German war” was caused by capitalists. Belcher is a quiet giant of a man. He is as laconic as Hawkins is loquacious. “He had an uncommon shortness – or should I say lack – of speech.” The quartet bond as they play cards together. They become “chums”. The Brits are not really treated like prisoners and have no desire to escape. Belcher develops a relationship with the old lady. Bonaparte and Noble are naïve about the war. This naivete ends when a superior officer arrives to remind Bonaparte and Noble that their chums are hostage, not guests. He warns them that the purpose for holding them hostage is to keep the British from harming captured IRA members. If the British were to execute any of those prisoners … You can see where this is heading.

O’Connor assumes the reader is aware of the circumstances surrounding this very micro story. You might want to read up on the Irish War of Independence before reading it. Or watch “The Informer” or “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”. Those movies might also help with the dialect and slang. The story is not an easy read. Hawkins, in particular, almost needs a translator. But that is part of the charm of the story. Although O’Connor was in the IRA during the war, the story is neutral. The two Brits were better developed than the two Irish. There is empathy for all four of the men who are thrust together. They all share the characteristic of naivete. This is another clue that the incident occurs in the early stages of the war before the eye for an eye stage had been entered. It begins the theme of war corrupting, but to get the full effect you need to know the trajectory of the war. Bonaparte alludes to this when he says that “in those days disunion between brothers seemed to me an awful crime. I knew better after.”

“Guests of the Nation” is a thought-provoking story. It is intriguing, if a bit predictable and simplistic. I won’t give away the ending, but it will not surprise you considering the message of the story. Read it and weep for what humanity gives and what it takes away.

GRADE = B

You can read it at: http://www.csus.edu/indiv/m/maddendw...fthenation.pdf
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