November 20, 2009
In the context of the two wars abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the stories in this book feel so real, like people you could meet on the street today. Do you see the same things going on today as you saw during the Vietnam War?
I think there is one very important similarity for veterans — and that is that most soldiers during the Vietnam War, and for Iraq and Afghanistan, most soldiers are trained in a belief system. That’s the only way they can kill; you have to believe. Once they got over there in Vietnam, and also in Iraq and Afghanistan, that belief system dissolved. Because these [Vietnamese] were just people; they were not monsters. These were people living their lives, and the soldiers have to kill them anyway. And the thing that happens when you do that, when you kill without a belief system, it damages your psyche. And I think all of these wars — Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam — have that in common. Once people go over there they’re not sure what they’re fighting for. It’s completely unclear. And yet they still have to kill.
If you take a look at some of the characters in my book like [veterans] Frankie or Rod, they’re not monsters. I like my characters; I like the men. I think they have tremendous potential that was totally messed up by the war. So I had to think this part through. How can some of these men, who’ve done some horrible things, come home and these women love them? I had to really think through what made these men so damaged. And that’s when I came up with that understanding, that they had to kill without believing anymore that they were killing for any cause.
One of the reasons the book fortunately is coming out now is because of those two wars. And the repetition of that misery and damage to humans in the country as well as outside, as well as here.
For more on Beverly Gologorsky, the lessons of Vietnam and war, and Things We Do To Make It Home, see her op-ed piece for Veteran’s Day: “What’s In A Number?”