October 5, 2009

For this trip to France, I brought along Tim O’Brien’s 1990 book The Things They Carried. I think everyone should read this. It’s lovely and harsh and sad and inspiring. A collection of remembrances. I gathering of insights to teach us all.

O’Brien writes of the moral confusion of that time – which reminds me of the moral confusion of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (and so much other the moral confusion, e.g. of a civilized country without universal healthcare).

O’Brien writes: “The only certainty that summer [1968] was moral confusion. It was my view then, and still is, that you don’t make war without knowing why. Knowledge, of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can’t make them undead.”

And John Kerry asked us, “How do you ask a man [or woman] to die for a mistake?”

In one of the most affecting chapters (On the Rainy River) in The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien talks about why he went to Vietnam rather than leave the U.S. It was too hard to imagine a life without his family, without his friends. It was too embarrassing to leave.

“I couldn’t tolerate it. I couldn’t endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule…. I couldn’t make myself be brave…. I would go to the war – I would kill and maybe die – because I was too embarrassed not to…. I was a coward. I went to the war.”

Now that’s an insight: That it might actually require more courage to leave all that is familiar and risk the criticism of one’s peers.That evading the call to war – whether as a soldier or a goverment – demands greater courage than the commonly-accepted patriotic fervor.

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Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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