War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead. The truths are contradictory.
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carry (pp. 76-77)
For citizens, garlands of euphonism and a fog of glorious myth shroud th[e] bloody past. The battles that shaped the nation are most often remembered by the citizenry as defending the country, usually in the service of peace, justice, freedom, or other noble ideas. Dressed in this way, the wars of the past justify the wars of the present for which the citizen is willing to fight or at least pay taxes, wave flags, cast votes, and carry forth all the duties and rituals that affirm her or his identity as being one with the nation’s.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies (p.5)
Memory affects us. It shapes our identity, who we are, how we perceive the past, how we view the present, and how we envision and might act in the future. Other than what we personally experience – to which a degree of uncertainty, bias and misapprehension must be taken into account – our memory of past events as our perception of present ones, in no small measure, is based on what we are told. Where the truth lies, assuming there is a truth, depends on who is telling the story, based on what information, from what vantage point in examining the events, the quality of the information, the objectivity of witnesses and their ability to accurately recount, and the intentions of those who write and lecture and promote historical truths as they would have others believe and be influenced by. Having tried my share of small, big, and mega cases, I’ve come to realize that few things are as they often appear. Court judgments may determine the existence of certain facts to satisfy a beyond reasonable doubt finding, but even seemingly correct findings, occasionally prove not to be. Memory, or the unreliability of memory, is partly responsible. When it comes to historical events, especially those that touch us, our memory is at risk of being manipulated – being influenced to see and believe (and thus drilled into our memory) things as told by authority figures, government officials, museums, monuments, memorials, textbooks, and so on. Harking back to my reasons for venturing into this book review series as explained in Part 1, the books reviewed here tie in the theme of memory and war. Continue reading “Book Review Series: Musings and meanderings from my 2023 reading explorations – Part 4”