Last year I wrote a post on Veteran’s Day music. This year Strings Music Festival is providing some Veteran’s Day music of our own in conjunction with American Place Theatre’s adaptation of Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried. On Tuesday November 13, actor Billy Lyons and bass player Mark Diamond will bring some of the most poignant war stories to stage.
So what makes a war story?
In the book, O’Brien writes an entire chapter about how to tell a true war story.
“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”
The book is written in the first person from the viewpoint of Tim. A Vietnam veteran himself, O’Brien draws from his own personal experience, but makes it very clear that the book is a novel and not a memoir, autobiography, or other work of non-fiction. None of the characters were real. None of the events happened.
Yet it could have happened. The stories are detailed to the point of belief, written to evoke raw emotions. It’s not uplifting. It’s awful in the most gruesome sense of the word. The story becomes real, not in the sense of true and absolute facts as in names, dates, places, and times, but in the idea of war. We understand death and destruction. We know the waste and the absolute futility of it all. The details make the broad concept of war a reality to those who have never experienced it first hand.
“You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end. Not then, not ever.”
The book is a constant commentary of endless stories. One story seems to have a definitive ending. But a few chapters later, the narrative unexpectedly doubles back and adds more details. The stream of consciousness reminds the reader that any average, every day event might trigger a specific memory of a war veteran.
On the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, while we are still in the midst of the Iraq war, it is fitting on this day of commemoration to honor our veterans by stepping into their shoes. The Things They Carried helps us understand and relate to our loved ones who have served across seas. While America may have declared the war over, for the veterans it never seems to end.
The Things They Carried Events
November 12, 6:30pm Library Hall: Interactive drama-in-education discussion of The Things They Carried with seasoned theatre professionals from The American Place Theatre. FREE
November 13, 6:30pm Strings Music Pavilion: A 90-minute theatrical presentation with pre and post show discussions.