Friday, September 21, 2007

Three Beautiful Things 09/20/07: War, Grace, More War

This evening I finished Louise Steinman's memoir, The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War. In going through her father's belongings, after he died, Steinman finds letters her father wrote to her mother during World War II and a Japanese flag with a soldier's name on it. Steinman decides to return the flag to the soldier's family. It's a terrific book. Here are three beautiful things about this book:

1. The human body and nervous system not wired for war. While the abstract principles and possession of land war is fought over might make war necessary and make soldiers admirable, war exhausts the body with its inherent deprivations. War shatters the body with its violence. War stretches the nervous system way beyond capacity and many soldiers never recover from the damage.

2. When Steinman returns the flag to the family of the Japanese soldier who was killed in the Phillipines, I've rarely witnessed such a moving account of the beauty of grace and forgiveness.

3. In unadorned prose, Steinman's father's letters give readers a much deeper feeling for the horrors of what soldiers experienced fighting in the Pacific Theater. I often wonder if these men, on the one hand, are grateful for the public admiration extended to them and for their efforts being called "The Great War", but, on the other hand, if they'd like to be better understood for having endured battle trials and horrors that were far from great and that left many of these men damaged, if not physically, certainly psychologically, for life. In a general sense, was the WWII soldier understood for this? Did the public generally understand that the Great War may have had a great outcome, but that the fighting itself afflicted many soldiers with long term damage and horrible memories?


Anonymous said...

We have learned so much from personal letters written, especially during times of war. I think that our children and grandchildren will miss out on that opportunity to discover those personal views, history and feelings because today most communication from war areas, i.e.-Iraq, is via e-mail which then is deleted---unintended consequences of progress.

Hope said...

Your comment about the human wiring and how it is contrary to the necessities of war have me thinking about my family’s experiences with war. My grandfather having been in WWII and then the Korean war, his divorce of my grandmother; or rather hers of him, the effects of my uncles military careers on their married life; the psychological damage, they never overcame that has resulted in, at worst divorce, at best emotional distance. I can't imagine my family’s experiences being all that unique in the world of war. But mostly I just think about how not much has changed. My brother, home from Iraq, popping out kids as fast as he can seed them, pretending everything is normal, while his wife paints on the perfect mom face that slips just a bit when she talks about his counseling sessions and how he isn’t the same man she married. Different because of war; how can a man ever be the same again?

MarmiteToasty said...

Hey MrP........ Im gonna see if I can borrow this book from the library, and if not then I will treat meself to it, its sounds compelling...