Monday, February 11, 2013

Billy Don't Be A Hero

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is an amazing book, a stunning work, a near-masterpiece of you-can’t-handle-the-truth fiction, a Dorian Gray-like look into the vapid heart of contemporary American culture.

Or, at least, I’m assuming it is. I haven’t finished yet.

Writing in praise of a kickass book is frustrating when you’re a slow reader. Know why? Because the height of my passion for a good book somewhere right past the halfway mark. For a slow reader like me, this means days and often weeks between when I have reached the zenith of my enthusiasm and the completion of said book.

In this way, movies and TV shows are easier to “review.” You sit for two hours, and what remains salient earns top billing. Although it’s been two months since I saw Lincoln, I can think of over a dozen powerful and memorable scenes from that film, certain characters pop up more vividly and immediately than others.

So, back to Billy Lynn. I’m 70-percent finished. It will be another week before I’m done, but my excitement is NOW!

The Twitter summary of the book -- "War & football & our lusty self-superior worship of both from luxury boxes & cheap seats! -- doesn’t even begin to get at the potency of this novel. Yeah, war and football have a lot in common. Yeah, rich and poor alike are gung ho for sending our boys overseas to fight and die but don't really care what happens to them after they leave the service. We love our soldiers the same way we love teachers and cops and sewer line maintenance workers, except more, because they’re, like, Reel Amurkun Heerohs. Or, as the book puts it so baldly:
“They’re all gnashing for a piece of a barely grown grunt making $14,800 a year. For these adult, affluent people he is mere petty cash in their personal accounting, yet they lose it when they enter his personal space. They tremble... because here, finally, up close and personal, is the war made flesh, an actual point of contact after all the months and years of reading about the war.”
The book does a bang-up job of damning just about any American of any stripe in regards to how we handle our “support” or criticism of the war, of soldiers, or of patriotism. As if anyone anymore is allowed to criticize soldiers. We cannot criticize them, yet we can't give more than lip service, either. The heroes of Billy Lynn are traipsed around the country like the Honey Boo Boo of the Armed Forces.

In other words, Billy Lynn gives lib’ruls like myself hundreds of opportunities to mock and sneer at the neocon Cheney worshipping warmongers who drool at the thought of the War on Terrrrrur and “Dubya Em Dees” (as the book calls ‘em a couple of times), but it also shines that harsh light of truth into the left's own inconsistencies and flaws. No adult in America is free from culpability in the plight of our soldiers and in the nightmares of our veterans.

One need not finish Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk to know the power of the book. The book is great beyond plot, beyond climax, and beyond denouement. The book is great because it scolds us, the greatest country on a planet of shitty countries. It throws uppercuts and body blows from the first pages and occasionally pats us on the back to remind us that this damnation we're feeling hurts the author as much as it hurts us.

If you prefer something less fictitious but hammering at some of the same problems, the hypocrisies of our culture, I highly recommend “The Man Who Shot Osama Bin Laden” in the March ‘13 Esquire. It’s one seriously long read, but you can sum up the gut-punch of the story in one sentence:
But the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.
Yes, we Americans sure know how to show our gratitude for the soldiers we so uniformly claim to respect. But don't worry; a couple of times a year, we have trouble sleeping at night from the guilt.

1 comment:

G. B. Miller said...

I was very sad to read what happened to that particular soldier. It's a crying shame that we still treat our vets like that.