Group Efforts: free speech and war don't mix | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Group Efforts: free speech and war don't mix 

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On September 11, Daniel Buckman was in New York City for his book tour. While jogging in Manhattan he saw the first plane as it headed toward the World Trade Center. "It was like, 'One thousand one, one thousand two,'" he says. "You just knew something terrible was going to happen." What did the former 82nd Airborne paratrooper do next? "I did what every good soldier boy does, man. I ran!" He went back to his hotel and watched until the gray smoke got so thick he couldn't see anymore.

Buckman was a United Nations observer at Sinai during the first intifada in 1987. "The Israeli soldiers would bait Palestinian kids up to the wire, then shoot at them with rubber bullets. They even taunted us. We've supported bullying around the world. I think we got off cheap compared to what we've done. September 11 really freaked a lot of people out....The country was in a bit of a sentimental goo for a while, but I don't think the media really explained why this happened."

Buckman's first novel, Water in Darkness, is about a young soldier who's haunted by his father's death in the Vietnam war. "Everybody's old man or uncle was in Vietnam," he says. "Every town had casualties, every small town especially." He's worried that the romanticization of past wars in recent movies, books, and television specials has bred a virulent strain of nationalism. "The jingoistic spirit really begins with Saving Private Ryan and Brokaw's book [The Greatest Generation] and Band of Brothers," he says. "The 'greatest generation' also sent my father off to Vietnam. Let's not get too revisionist about Vietnam, not sentimentalize World War II."

Buckman's kicking off another book tour on Thursday, January 24, with a program called "War in Print: Examining the Role of Books in Combating Wartime Jingoism," which he and fellow Akashic Press author Joel Schalit are taking on the road through February. In Chicago, Buckman will be joined by novelists Larry Heinemann and Don De Grazia to discuss their books, their own experiences in the military, and the literature of war.

Heinemann's National Book Award-winning novel Paco's Story explores the difficulties a soldier experiences after returning home from the Vietnam war. Heinemann says the main role of books in combating jingoism "has to do with keeping people honest, calling a spade a spade." He finds the racist aspect of jingoism particularly disturbing: "It greatly concerns me that there is this racial profiling of young Arab men. If I got one of those letters I'd show up at the FBI with a lawyer."

De Grazia, a former member of the army national guard and author of the novel American Skin, says, "There's too much of a consensus in America right now. There's no strong voice of dissent or even a strong voice of questioning. I was at a bar the other day and a guy said if the Arabs give us any trouble, Bush should tell them we're going to nuke Mecca. I think this discussion will be a more productive way of addressing it than yelling at the television, which I've been doing a lot lately."

Buckman, Heinemann, and De Grazia will appear at 7:30 at Barbara's Bookstore, 1350 N. Wells (312-642-5044). It's free.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Nathan Mandell.

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