Day 20  November 5, 2002

1. Names. Hist. surveys back—within .02 of the average score for the first batch, so that’s consistent at least. Next phase, policy options, needs to focus on range of possible solutions for the issue you’re addressing—and presenting them as fairly and objectively as possible. Due a week from Thursday, so not much time to dally. The last phase, then, involves combining and revising the first three stages with a final section explaining your preferred solution, in light of what seems both right and practical. Again, this will require careful and balanced research if you’re to be fair.

Reminder: we agreed on a “double feature” showing of Do the Right Thing at 7:30 and 9:30 next Monday, the 11th. If this room is in use we’ll go across the hall. Be flexible . . .

3. Today I’d like to do some more reflection on War Memorials, and think around and beyond it as well, to the kinds of implications for American society that it contains and implies, especially in two areas: how men define themselves as “men,” and the long-term effects of military service, experience, and training.

So. When Clint McCown was here in the spring he talked about raising questions, not providing easy answers, and I respect him for that. Here’s a question that I think we might continue to ask, emerging from this book: What does it take to make the passage to manhood in America? What are our rituals, our rites of passage, and how well are they working? Pause and jot down the events, the sign-posts, that you think of as marking the passage from boyhood to manhood (girlhood to womenhood too).

What are they? Getting a driver’s license? Finishing school, getting a degree, getting a job? Turning 21? Serving in the military, playing on a championship team, getting married, fathering a child?  What’s Nolan’s problem with all of these things? He’s shut out of them, for one reason or another.

“Buried Treasure”: The stuff that’s buried in the ground, that Dell wants to clean up, 138 ff. The vision of Alma, who turns out to have more of a plan than Nolan expects, 145, besides looking good without her shirt. The money is in probate, of course, but still.

“Some Assembly Required”: chopping out stumps, heatstroke, then the marvelous conversation with the traveling Jesus guy, 152 ff., who turns out to be named Chet. He’s on disability—“they say I cracked up in the Marine Corps.” Another conversation about what one learns in the military, 156 ff. “Mostly what I learned was not to think for myself.” Not a bad thing in a complicated world: “You ain’t got to figure nothing out for yourself, you just got to do what you’re told and act like you’re supposed to.”

“Except for being a Jesus-loving lunatic, Chet really wasn’t too bad a guy.”

Alma tries to buy an ostrich and a cougar, but the ostrich sticks its head in the cougar cage, crunch. 164: cats never look guilty, but dogs understand good and evil. Nolan wonders if he has any cat left in him. Alma loves dangerous animals, she says. And he agrees to talk to somebody about dynamite—Steve Pitts, of course.

“Demolition Derby”: Buddy Pilot, who turns out to be the guy who shot Tump, more or less accidentally. The problem with Buddy, Nolan says, is that he’s an “unaffiliated misfit.” (171)

The demolition derby, which turns out to be mainly cars they’ve repossessed—Nolan watches them get crunched, 174. The Jaycees are raising money . . . for a new war memorial, of course, for the Gulf War, 175.

176: key passage on the “imaginary monument” for all the un-military casualties, Nolan, his cousin, his grandmother and sister-in-law and brother and mother and maybe his wife.

Steve shows up, then, trashing Ricky Malone’s car with his backhoe. Seems he’s after Ricky because both Steve and Tump were Marines. Baby-faced delinquents in the crowd, like Nolan and all the rest, “capable of just about anything” (178).

Nolan talks to Frank Shelton, who just might be Donna’s mystery lover and who Nolan tries to set up with Donna again. And Nolan goes to confront Buddy, who’s running the dart booth.

Maybe I was most surprised by his idea that Nolan needs to “become a veteran,” and that he does that by throwing all those darts at poor Buddy and by looking back so that Steve Pitts will blow himself up. Buddy needs to be brought to justice for shooting Tump with an arrow, surely, but by throwing fifteen darts at him?

“Revelations”: Nolan’s palms are “clever forgeries.” His future’s still illegible, in doubt, but Alma likes that, 190. She wants something “risky and wild.” Chet’s preaching from the Book of Revelations, about the pale horse. Nolan thinks about pioneers and circling the wagons and hostile territory and how his ancestors stopped here because they had to bury their dead, 193. The enemies were “displaced Hillabees,” and he’s descended from them too—both winners and losers, killers and victims.

He’s driven off the road by two teenage punks, then finds Steve Pitts with his backhoe packed full of dynamite and fireworks. Turns out Steve has a brain tumor, maybe the product of the weird chemicals he worked around in the Marines. “I’d have been good in a war,” he says, 198. “Instead, I got peacetime.”

He tells Nolan that Laney went up to Nashville to get an abortion. Then Nolan walks away, and kaboom.

“That Angle . . .” Laney and Nolan out at the Horseshoe Bend battlefield, still uncertain. Naturally it turns out complicated, but they do start talking. Montgomery, the first guy killed: Laney said “He might have been one of those psychotic lunatics who just wanted to be a war hero.” Like Steve, we assume. 210

“I’m glad you never went into the army,” she tells Nolan. Memorials and what we learn from them. The battle turned into slaughter because “the goddamned fanatics wouldn’t let anybody quit.” 211.

Nolan had ancestors on both sides—his Creek great-grandmother never would have met his great-grandfather if not for the battle and the cloud that floated over. “We’re all just the natural products of the last ten thousand years of tribal warfare.” 212.

Nolan has a new job at the Salvation Army. Symbolic, no doubt.

Finally they talk about their marriage, a bit—Laney says he’s boring, and he agrees. But he goes to get their stuff from the dog, and manages it—the dog turns out not to be rabid after all, just young. And it ends with the chance they’ll go on. He’s not a big hitter, but he can “check my swing and draw the walk.”

5. About hierarchies: we talked about Celie, stuck at the bottom of a bunch of them. What about Nolan? He’s a white male, which gives him points in two areas. But otherwise? He’s not educated, not especially smart, his wife’s not faithful, he’s dependent on his father for money, he was never an athletic hero nor a war hero like Steve Pitts and his dad. In some ways, his fix is comparable to Celie’s—not as awful, surely, but no real picnic either. Like her, he wants love and work and friends. He doesn’t want to be an unaffiliated misfit.

Looking out beyond this book, isn’t this a pretty common problem for American males, especially those from working-class backgrounds who aren’t especially drawn to or successful at academic work? How do you establish yourself as a man? You get a good job and marry a desirable woman, right? But how do you get a good job if the factories have all moved to Mexico? How do you win a good woman if you don’t make money? Etc.

6. Another issue: what does military service do to people? This book suggests that its effects are often long-lasting and dramatic even when they’re not very visible, yes? Some of the veterans are enthusiastic about what they learned, but their enthusiasm seems a bit shaky to us, doesn’t it?

On the effects of military training, David Grossman piece from Christianity Today that I found on the web at (from a lecture delivered at Bethel College). Besides brutalization and desensitization, classical and operant conditioning. Television and video games. How to “unlearn violence”? Crack down on crime/infringe on civil liberties; gun control; fight against child abuse, racism, and poverty, rebuild families; take on media violence.

It never occurs to Grossman, or if it does he doesn’t mention it, that military training also feeds directly into violence in civilian life, because military-trained killers do mostly reenter civilian life.

The Cockburn piece from The Nation deals with some of the results of military violence training.  He quotes Grossman in the second column on “disengagement,” then argues something I doubt Grossman would like very much: “The US military is the chief sponsor of violence in this country.”

Maybe it’s ok after all that the way Nolan “becomes a veteran” is by throwing a handful of darts at poor, stupid Buddy Pitts, that he’s not been trained in using some more lethal form of violence. We do, I think, desperately need non-violent ways of defining manhood in America. Maybe sports are better than war—surely—but they don’t work for everybody either. What else?