Liberal Arts – 50th Anniversary: Big Read Panel – Vietnam, Iraq and The Things They Carried

– I want to welcome you to the 50th Anniversary Liberal Arts Academy event, one of the first of series of events sponsored by the Local Arts Academy and I want to give special thanks to Vice President Rosemary Zins, who’s with us in the audience today for her sponsorship to this wonderful event and I’d like to then introduce Dr. Zivah Perel, who’s not only a panelist, but the chair of the Liberal Arts Academy Event series (audience clapping) – I want to thank you all for coming today It’s student participation in these events that makes them so exciting, so thank you all for coming This is the first of the series of Liberal Arts Academy sponsored events for the 50th anniversary of Queensborough and I just want to extend a formal invitation to you all, to attend the next three So this weekend on Saturday, and if you need more details just come to me after, there is a softball and baseball game where the team members are going to be wearing vintage uniforms Sort of a step back into the history of QCC On April 14th, we’re going to be celebrating service learning in the liberal arts in the science building Science 111 and 112 and you’re going to hear faculty and students talking a lot about their experience in service learning and just as important as that is we are doing another event in conjunction with the Big Read, where you’ll have an opportunity to write letters to service members abroad and to send them over, which I think is a really meaningful experience and then on April 21st we’re having an alumni panel where graduates of QCC are coming back and talking a little bit about what their lives and their career paths have been like after they’ve graduated These are all really exciting events, they will all have cookies and soda so ya know, hey why not come eat more cookies and I hope to see all of you at these future events and thank you very much for planning this one – Before I introduce the panelists, first I wasn’t to introduce myself My name is Michele Cuomo and I’m Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and I’m the project director of the Big Read at QCC This is Anida Pobric, the project administrator for the Big Read at QCC and we’d like to take a few minutes to talk about the Big Read itself, a national initiative and to read a story to you in the spirit of the Big Read, so perhaps Anida, we’ve gone to many classrooms across campus and we have a little talk that we give so we’d like to kind of give it again, one more time, so Anida – The Big Read, it’s almost memorized, so I’m gonna try to improvise a little bit The Big Read is a grand central project, it’s funded by the National Endowments for the Arts and we applied for this grant last year Having received the grant, one of it’s main goals was to encourage, actually it’s main goal is to encourage readers, individuals to read for pleasure, so with the grant money, one of the requirement is to purchase a certain amount of books and we chose, a lot of people were part of this effort, to choose this book called “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien so we purchased over 1,000 books, which have actually disappeared rather quickly, we didn’t even really think that’s how it would happen And then we had to use other funding to purchase more books because we were so excited that people were enthused with this project, so Michele and I personally delivered books to classrooms at QCC so over 1,000 students are reading this book right now and have been reading it this semester and last semester actually, so we planned a series of events, this is one of them, in conjunction with the Liberal Arts Academy, and to gather people together so we could have something to share in common at least on an academic level and we’re such a diverse community of people and we thought it would be so exciting to read short stories from “The Things They Carried” since they’re, it raises a lot of questions about current events in our world, so this book is written as short stories, it’s a compilation of short stories, which were all previously and separately published, so each story can stand on it’s own, however it can also be read chronologically because all of the stories are tied with one, main character, the protagonist, who’s name is also Tim O’Brien Thank you – And so we’re gonna hear a lot from the panelist about the background Anida and I would like to just read a brief story to you,

to kick-off our event So, in this version of the book, it’s on page 129 and it’s called “Style” So please, go ahead, does anyone need us to Is anyone not able to see a book? Because if you’re not I can give facilitator a couple of extras but please do share (audience chatter) “Style”, so please share, I see that that person in the center could – 129, oh Style (pop can opens) (audience chatter) – There was no music Most of the hamlet had burned down, including her house which was now smoke and the girl danced with her eyes half closed, her feet bare She was maybe 14 She had black hair and brown skin ‘Why’s she dancing?’ Azar said We searched through the wreckage, but there wasn’t much to find Rat Kiley caught a chicken for dinner Lieutenant Cross radioed up to the gunships and told them to go away The girl danced mostly on her toes She took tiny steps in the dirt in front of her house, sometimes making a slow twirl, sometimes smiling to herself ‘Why is she dancing?’ Azar said and Henry Dobbins said, ‘it didn’t matter why, she just was.’ Later we found her family in the house They were dead and badly burned It wasn’t a big family, an infant and an old woman and a woman who’s age was hard to tell When we dragged them out, the girl kept dancing She put the palms of her hands against her ears, which must have meant something and she danced sideways for a short while and then backwards She did a graceful movement with her hips ‘Well, I don’t get it,’ Azar said The smoke from the hooch’s smelled like straw and moved in patches across the village square, not thick anymore, sometimes just faint ripples like fog There were dead pigs too The girl went up on her toes and made a slow turn and danced through the smoke, her face had a dreamy look, quite and composed A while later, when we moved back the hamlet, she was still dancing ‘Probably some weird ritual’ Azar said Henry Dobbins looked back and said, ‘no, the girl just liked to dance.’ That night, after we’d marched away from the smoking village, Azar mocked the girls dancing He did funny jumps and spins He put the palms of his hands against his ears and danced sideways for awhile and then backwards and then did a neurotic thing with his hips, but Henry Dobbins, who moved gracefully for such a big man, took Azar from behind and lifted him up high and carried him over to a deep well and asked if he wanted to be dumped in Azar said ‘no.’ ‘Alright then.’ Henry Dobbins said ‘Dance right.’ (papers rustling) – I’d like to introduce to you our panel I’ll introduce them all to you and then one at a time they’ll speak I’ve invited them to find a favorite passage that had a lot of meaning to them and they’ll speak about why they chose it Our first panelist is Dr. Mark Van Ells He’s an Associate Professor of History at QCC He’s been at QCC since 1999 He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1982 to 1986 His BA, MA and PhD is from the University of Wisconsin He received his PhD in 1999 He’s author of “To Hear Only Thunder Again: “America’s World War II Veterans Come Home” published in 2001 and “The Daily Life of an Ordinary American Soldier “during World War II: “The Letters of Wilbur C. Berget” in 2008 Our next panelist is Dr. Zivah Perel She’s Assistant Professor of English at QCC She received tenure this year She got her PhD at the University of Delaware in 2005 and has been teaching at QCC since then She studies 20th Century American war novels and film and is working on a project on Persian Gulf War stories Our next panelist is Carolyn Imandt She’s the Administrative Assistant at the Office of Academic Affairs at QCC She’s been a member of the QCC community for 15 years and she was a peace movement supporter in the 1970’s Professor Robert Kueper was Major Robert M. Kueper From 1977 to 2004, he served in the U.S Army as a paratrooper and he has been at QCC

as a Professor in the ECET Department from 2000 to 2010 We invite the panelists to start We’ll start with Mark and move across and I thank you (footsteps) (papers rustling) – Okay, ready? Alright, I should say first of all that I’m a historian and I guess I just can’t help but view this as a historical document, which you know, it is Tim O’Brien was in the war and he’s relaying his experiences here and I personally study the lives of soldiers and I found a passage in here I thought really sort of gets at the heart of combat and what it’s like to be in combat and how men react to it It’s on page 20 and it spills over a little bit into page 21 It’s from the very first chapter called “The Things They Carried” also and I’ll start here They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained The instinct to run or to freeze or to hide and in many respects, this was the heaviest burden of all for it could never be put down It required perfect balance and perfect posture They carried their reputations, they carried the soldiers greatest fear, which is the fear of blushing Men killed and died because they were embarrassed not to (stutters) It was what, I should have rehearsed this a little more shouldn’t I It was what brought them to the war in the first place Nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor They died so as not to die of embarrassment And then at the end of the paragraph on the subsequent page, It was not courage exactly, it was not valor, rather they were too frightened to be cowards As a story and I look at this and I think study after study of soldiers bears this out, it’s not like the movies and it’s not like John Wayne, where they’re storming the Beach of Normandy and the musics playing, the flights waving in the background, this is not normally what is on the mind of men when they’re actually in combat They develop very unique bonds with each other They depend on each other for their very, very survival and there is this great concern about not holding up your end If you screw up, someones gonna get killed and it’s a unique bond that you almost never find in the civilian world at all and I think this passage really sort of humanized the soldier I think it gets at what really makes men fight This is from the Vietnam War, but the same thing could have been said by a veteran of the Civil War or World War II or the wars that go on today Hollywood can be great Hollywood can really give us some really warped versions of the past and I think this book really gives us a much more intimate look at what soldiers really think and do (chairs move) – Okay, it’s fitting that I think we ended up sitting next to each other for this panel because you’re going at it from a historians perspective and I’m looking at this book from an English professors perspective and for me it’s all about the story How he tells a story, what the process of writing the story is like and what reading the story is like for readers So I chose the section called “Good Form” and in this orange version of the book, it’s on 179, but it’s a story all by itself I think it should be around (person sneezes) the same page in the newer versions and it’s a little bit of a longer passage so just bare with me Does anyone know what page it’s on in the newer one? – [Audience Member] 171 – 171, okay, close – [Michele] Does anyone need a book? Everyone can see a book? Okay – Okay, so “Good Form.” It’s time to be blunt I’m 43 years old, true, and I’m a writer now A long time ago, I walked through Quang Ngai Province as a foot soldier Almost everything else is invented, But it’s not a game It’s a form Right here, now, as I invent myself, I’m thinking of all I want to tell you about why this book is written as it is For instance, I want to tell you this: twenty years ago I watched a man die on a trail near the village of My Khe I did not kill him, but I was present, you see, and my presence is guilt enough I remember his face, which was not a pretty face,

because his jaw was in his throat, and I remember feeling the burden of responsibility and grief I blamed myself and rightly so, because I was present But listen Even that story is made up I want you to feel what I felt I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth Here is the happening-truth I was once a soldier There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look And now, twenty years later, I’m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief Here is the story-truth He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe His jaw was in his throat His one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole I killed him What stories can do, I guess, is make things present I can look at things I never looked at I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God I can be brave I can make myself feel again “Daddy, tell the truth,” Kathleen can say, “did you ever kill anybody?” And I can say, honestly, “Of course not.” Or I can say, honestly, “Yes.” And I chose this passage because it’s one of the ones that I think frustrates readers the most because I think it’s our desire as readers to know what really happened and to see this as the truth and something that you can hold onto as the truth, but what Tim O’Brien’s telling us and what he repeats in interviews and what he says throughout the book, is that whether an event really, really happened, isn’t as important as whether, it’s how you feel when you hear about it and what you understand from that feeling So, as a literature professor, it means so much to me because even if a story isn’t true in our sense of true, it’s true in that stomach way of being true and we can understand places and times we’ve never been to and certain things about the world that we live in, from these stories and you can see how the process of writing the story is so important to O’Brien and how much we can gain from reading it, whether its happening-true or story-true – [Attendee] Can I just say something? There’s a line from Don Quixote, “facts are often the greatest enemy of truths.” and this reminds me of that – Yeah – but his stories published (laughter) – And my name is Carol and I was a high school student during the time of the Vietnam War and it’s interesting where you left off because now I’m hearing stories, probably when we were a sophomore in high school about the horrors of the war because now the first crop of Vietnam veterans were coming home and we’d all gather together and even though a lot was kept inside, once in awhile they would let a little bit out and what we heard was very frightening, so a lot of us joined the peace movement at the time The peace movement was happening from the early 60’s It was always a presence, but something happened in 1971 that kind of got a lot of people involved and I was in high school It was 1970, ’71 when I graduated and it was My Lai massacre and that was particularly bloody, bloody incident in the war, which horrified us all And at the same time, we had been told, by President Nixon, that we were gonna start bringing the troops home The opposite happened and it was announced that they were gonna have another draft It was like the draft was in stages and now they were gonna choose the boys that were born in 1951 That was my friends, so you see how it directly influenced me and all the stories that I had heard at that time made me want to then choose to be in the anti-war movement and at the time, those of you that are from Flushing, you know the old Bowne House, the Bowne House that’s still there, I’m so glad, this is why it’s so important for us to have these wonderful, historic sights still here, but that is where a lot of meetings took place for the anti-war movement From the Civil War and probably from the Revolutionary War The Quakers met there and so they gave counseling to the veterans, prior to going into the draft They told them what their options were, which they didn’t have many, so there was, but they helped them, they listened to them,

they counseled them when they came home Some veterans didn’t utilize the services, but they were there It was a very, very important part of Flushing’s history, is the Bowne House, throughout it’s entire time here and we, being in Flushing High, we would take off for the day, we would play hookie and we would all go to Columbia University As soon as we heard that they were striking, then we all went with them and we just thought we were just so much older than what we really were and you know, we’d go down there and yell, hell no, we won’t go and all the popular slogans at the time, but we felt like we were doing something It was important for us just to be there Maybe we couldn’t change things and certainly, you know through the years, the anti-war movement did have quite an impact on what was to come after It did bring an end to the war Not abruptly It took way too long, but it did so it just shows you, when you read a book like this, how activism does make a difference and how because there was so many of us that it was a way to really bring things and make a change to bring things together and make a change for everybody I chose to read for you “On the Rainy River.” And this is about Tim O’Brien’s decision to go to the war as opposed to leaving for Canada – [Woman] Can you tell us the page? – Oh, I’m sorry it’s page 37 of the – New book – New book – 39 of the old book – Thank you – I think you and I only have the old book – This is one story I’ve never told before Not to anyone Not to my parents, not to my brother or sister, not even to my wife To get into it, I’ve always thought, would only cause embarrassment for all of us, a sudden need to be elsewhere, which is the natural response to a confession Even now, I’ll admit, the story makes me squirm For more than twenty years I’ve had to live with it, feeling the shame, trying to push it away, and so by this act of remembrance, by putting the facts down on paper, I’m hoping to relive, relieve at least some of the pressure on my dreams Still, it’s a hard story to tell All of us, I suppose, like to believe that in a moral emergency we will behave like the heroes of our youth, bravely and forthrightly, without thought of personal loss or discredit Certainly that was my conviction back in the summer of 1968 Tim O’Brien: a secret hero The Lone Ranger If the stakes ever became high enough, if the evil were evil enough, if the good were good enough, I would simply tap a secret reservoir of courage that had been accumulating inside me over the years Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in infinite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down It was a comforting theory It dispensed with all those bothersome little acts of daily courage; it offered hope and grace to the repetitive coward; it justified the past while amortizing the future Thank you (people rustle) – Good afternoon everyone My name is Professor Bob Kueper I have 27 years experience with the Army and when I was talking to Dean Cuomo and she gave me this book, actually the older version and I saw it, I said oh I think I can relate to that I think I can give you some of my insight and my knowledge of being in the military over the last 27 years and maybe give you a little bit of an experience of what a soldier actually experiences Not so much in combat Maybe whether their out on patrols or out doing field training exercises, but the passage that I picked was on page 64 and was “How to Tell a True War Story.” Now, I joined the military in 1977 which is about six years after Vietnam basically downsized and while I was in in 1977, we had a lot of Vietnam veterans that were still in the military talking to the younger people like me about their experiences and a lot of the experiences, it was amazing the experiences that these people have had okay? And what I’d like to start with is on page 65, I’m gonna jump around to two paragraphs It says, 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 the things men have always done It’s a story seem moral, do not believe it It is 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 yet a very old and terrible lie Then I’d like to go to page Lets see here page number 68 The next paragraph In many cases a true war story cannot be believed If you believe, it be skeptical It’s a question of credibility Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness And what I can relate that to, when you’re talking about war stories, war stories when you have a conflict or if you have an action, these actions last two or three minutes between the fire fights Anybody watching Pacific on Sunday nights on HBO? They’re talking about the Pacific Campaign and they’re showing these fire fighters and they’re showing these actions and they only last like two or three minutes The craziness, the chaos, is two or three minutes and then it’s over and there’s silence, but for the next five days, that’s all everybody talks about It made it sound like the event lasted for hours and hours and that’s true as a paratrooper You know, you go out to the air field, you strap on a parachute and you waste all day You go up there, you open the plane, you go there, you’re in the doorway, the light turns from red to green, you jump out, two minutes later you’re on the ground and for the next three days all you’re talking about is that paratrooper story Yeah, I saw you and you collided into me and you hit me, I said go left and you went right and we hit and again a story, whether its a fire fight or a war story, it initially it’s true, but as it goes on, you talk about it more and more, it gets built up and exaggerated and bigger and bigger and it has it’s own story of itself And that’s why I picked this passage you know, about the actual fire fights and how they can be brought to life, where initially you’re scared True, true with jumping You have to be scared Some guys have night jumps in the middle of the day because they jump with their eyes closed, but the long story of it is, you have an event that happens very shortly, for a short period of time it’s a chaotic situation and then there’s silence Every body can breathe a sigh of relief and they go on their merry way and then they talk about it forever and that’s, even Tim O’Brien has said that here in this book Not in the passages that I had read There are stories that he talks about today, which are 30 40 years old, that is something that just happened yesterday Are there any questions? Okay, that’s it – [Carol] You have a question over here – [Jean] Thank you In reading Tim O’Brien and that way of telling the story, the way you tell it one way and then another way and then another way, I think you’ve helped me understand that because with these witnesses, all seeing a piece of the story, what he’s I thought that was his style Instead, he’s more or less replicating this as almost, would you say that as different people told their story over again, there was a sort of performance element as we saw in the dancing You know, he came out and he spun it his way when he was reflecting back Do you think it’s a performance element? – From what I’ve read in this, he tried to keep it on more of a simpler level He tried, it seemed like he tried to stay away from the exaggeration aspect of it and just tried to stay with the facts and you know, he’s the first one to admit just by saying it here, that war stories get blown out of proportion and that’s what happens Something that happens very quickly, it’s you know 20 years later, it’s a completely different story But he’s tried to keep as true to the fact, it sounded like he didn’t really try

to embellish anything you know, in this book – [Michele] Do any of the other panelists have any thoughts about the book as a performance or how the structure of the book which Jeans relating to? Do you have something? – Yeah you know, I am as Dean Cuomo mentioned before, I study war novels and film so I was thinking a lot, have any of you guys read or seen “Jarhead”? (people agreeing) Yeah, okay so some of you So if you read the book, he says at the very end, I remade my story one word at a time, right? And I think in a lot of ways, that’s what you see O’Brien struggling with in here, that he needs to find a way to express what it is that he feels, to capture the truth of what he felt and as you were saying before, that that moment may have only lasted two or three minutes and every way that they exaggerate it is also how you felt, right? So that exaggeration is kind of just as true as what actually went on in those two to three minutes and so, you know, O’Brien does something so interesting in here, which these war stories are constantly cut in about the process of writing, that he’ll tell you a whole story and then he’ll give you a chapter saying, “oh but it didn’t really happen this way, “I added this part.” and so it’s all about getting you to feel something and it’s all about making sense for himself, so I think there is a pretty strong performance element to it – You have to understand, when a lot of this stuff is documented the soldier, your heart rate is 210 beats per second, your adrenaline is pumping I mean when you’re in the middle of something like that, and again, I’m not talking about combat because I’ve never been in combat, but I’m saying as a paratrooper, you’re getting ready to jump out that door I mean I made a joke one time, I was on an American Airlines flight and I was landing at LaGuardia and I said to the stewardess, this is the first time in 10 years I’ve landed in an airplane (laughter) ’cause I’ve always jumped I’ve never landed with an airplane and I picked the worst airline with the worst airport to do it, LaGuardia Where you’re flying over houses I’m like, oh my God No, but seriously, when you have a situation like that and the adrenaline is going and your heart rate is, of course it’s going to be an exaggerated story It has all the momentum of being this big monstrosity when it was you know, when it really wasn’t that big of a situation – [Michele] I have something that’s been coming up as I’ve been thinking about what you’re saying today, is the way Tim O’Brien writes and the act of writing and I’m just wondering if anybody here might think, what it begins so much for me is possibly a way of dealing with post traumatic stress or ’cause you know you’re talking about your heart rate and what that does to your body and how, I don’t know maybe ’cause I know you’ve done a lot of work on letters, maybe could we talk a little bit about that and what’s you know a healthy way or the way that a soldier decompresses or works through what happens, because again, even jumping out of a plane can be a very traumatic act, I would assume and then fighting fire and bullets, etc Does anyone have any thoughts with that? – I think as a soldier in combat, you’ve got to suppress certain emotions, fear, if you have to kill someone, whatever the case may be To function properly you can’t be shaking, you can’t be frightened, you’ve got to gain control of yourself somehow, but that doesn’t mean that those emotions aren’t still in there and so I think in the process of writing, what Tim O’Brien’s doing and what the thousands and millions of writers have done for many years, is that years later, these things come out and they come out in dribbles and they come out in sort of impressionistically and I think often times a veteran themselves might not be able to discern what really happened versus what they remember Again as you were saying, things happen very, very quickly, there’s been an effort to try to suppress those memories for awhile I think that is related to post traumatic stress I mean I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think that is basically the root of post traumatic stress, is suppressing those emotions, which don’t go away, as much as you try to suppress them – And I can recall too, that a lot of the boys would say, that they engaged in things that they are definitely not proud of and they were ashamed of and that didn’t come out right away That would come out after Maybe you engage them in conversation about the war, you know over time, but the Vietnam veterans came back with a sort of different way of life In Vietnam they would send small children

out with a hand grenade They were five years old and one would be running at you You had no choice but to shoot a five year old child As Americans, we are, that’s not what we do here We’re not like that, so they had to be able to process that, like you had said Mark, you had to emotionally remove yourself in order to get the job done, but where do you reach that limit where you were just becoming inhumane at that point? And what shuts it off? Sometimes you need to turn it on, but how were they able to do that? Maybe not, you know they had to go into villages and set them on fire and maybe they did kill innocent people and how was the public gonna look at them after that? How was their parents gonna look at them? So it was a lot that they were dealing with Marie, you had something – [Marie] Yes I’m an anti-drug person, but would the prevalence of drugs during the war actually sometimes help a person? – Yes, oh I would say I think it helped them in the respect that they bound together, they shared something, it was a cigarette, it was a joint and it kind of brought them in and they became comrades I’ve heard them say that the greatest love that they’ve ever felt in their lives, some of them, was with their fellow service people and part of that comes with their drugs, lets face it Your maybe not gonna walk into a group of people and say, hi my name is so and so, you’re too shy, but you’ll come in and say, you know what you have a little joint? I’ll take some, you know? And before you know it they’re sitting together, so yes there was drugs at that time, it was here where the average age in Nom I think was 18 – 19, 18, 19 – 18, 19, so they we’re experimental, they were intelligent, they was the most gifted generation We had everything, you know, so they took who they were here and brought it over there and that included everything – [Marie] I don’t think well if I had ever been in a war, my first thing would be to eliminate drugs so they’re alert, awake and doing what they’re supposed to do, but now that you mention it, maybe psychologically and emotionally, it’s just a good thing for them – I think it numbed them at times when they needed to I don’t think they realized, well a lot of them, when they started that it would be the problem that it became, that’s for sure I think they thought that they could maybe share a little “boo” as they called it then, you know a little heroin and – [Marie] Well, though it’s been found that heroin addiction for some soldiers in Vietnam, when they were out of that environment and they were back home in America, they quit the habit Biologically – Oh – Well you have to understand, as a commander, as a commander of a unit, you can not condone that – That’s what I’m saying – You can’t openly say oh, oh you guys, have ’em like cigarettes As a command emphasis, you have to instill discipline – [Marie] Okay – As a commander, commander would say you know, no drugs, no alcohol, no this, no that, you’re in a combat zone and it would be stated okay, the underlining factor being and that would put control on it, you have to have control, otherwise it’ll be out of control, so you would never condone something like that as a commander You would always discourage that from happening Now if they did that in their off time and the listed and the NCO’s were in there and the commander and the offices were over there and they decide to do that, you know that’s up to them and if they have problems with that, they have to address it and they have to handle it, but as a command emphasis, you would never, never condone that – [Marie] Thank you (chairs banging) – [Woman] To respond to Michele about post traumatic stress question, I really had to thank this Big Reading because my students just loved it and are writing digital stories about it and one student is describing how to be present to his brother who’s come home from the war and a little bit traumatized and he’s trying to be there for him At the same time, the brothers trying to protect him from what he knows and it’s just a wonderful story I’m hoping we get it out for the May 12th festival, but it’s just such a wonderful story about that post traumatic stress place and when I think of the soldiers, they can be present to each other They don’t feel that, I need to protect you against what I know, but then to come back to somebody who’s your brother and loves you more than anything and yet – They can’t relate – So, and I think that’s one of the things that gets you out of post traumatic stress is that sharing, so that struggle to me is just – Yeah, I think it was so important to have the veteran centers set up and of course it still is,

you know where they can meet and talk with one another because we didn’t understand what they went through There was no way They saw things, I was telling I think Michele one time, there was a great documentary one time on channel 13 about gangs and we had very notorious and very bad gangs in the 60’s in the Bronx and these guys were drafted and they went to Vietnam and they interviewed them and they said, “do you think you were able to view the war differently?” and they said, “I never saw anything like this.” They said they had skinned a man and left him in the sun to die They had tied him up, they said nothing prepared me for seeing things like that In other words, what they were trying to say, it was so savage, the things that they saw, that no matter how violent their life had been up until that point, it still traumatized them – I’m sure – It still traumatized them It was different level of humanity that we were not used to – [Jean] I think its true in any war, I think you can’t undetail realistic I think any setting in the part that you read, if there’s any moral in or any in deeming feature at the end, or anything that makes you feel good at the end, it’s not true ’cause there’s nothing This is a totally, horrible situation, with nothing redeeming, but what’s brilliant about this, is it’s really almost like, poetry and that he takes the human condition, human beings and he puts them into this hell and shows what they take with them and what they’re carrying ultimately into this hell, is their humanity and he brings this out and he does little poetic things like repetition and that’s what a poet is supposed to, a poet wants to recreate an emotion that he feels in his reader and the way he recreates it is in the words that he writes, and this is what I wanted to hear, not in as poetry per se, although there are, you said it was surrealist There is a surrealistic, almost poetic element in the repetition and in the way it’s portrayed I personally loathe, I’m sorry, a morbid picture I can’t, I find it very, very painful I can’t watch Holocaust movies, I can’t watch war movies because I can’t separate myself enough and to me, but this I think is really, it’s painful, but it’s so brilliant because it, as I said, it conveys the humanity which is carrying through this ghastly situation – Yeah, I got the impression too that he’s not emotionally manipulating us He’s telling us, as you said, the facts So I didn’t feel that, as you said I wasn’t afraid to read it because there are, I agree with you, some war stories where you just don’t want to hear because they’re so you know – Gruesome – they grip us – We can’t, we think about them for a week after He told us the facts and we kind of emotionally removed ourselves like he did – Although, I think he’d worry about saying he told us the facts because I think for him, there really aren’t any and I know something I struggle with with this book and struggle with in kind of that fun way, not in a bad way, is so that you have an author named Tim O’Brien, right? I mean it says his name on the front of the book and then on the inside it says it’s a work of fiction and then all of a sudden your main characters name is Tim O’Brien and then all of a sudden something very strange is going on because half of the time he’s saying, nothings really true or happening-truth You can’t root yourself in necessarily solid fact that he’s refusing to say that you can link, lets say one particular story in here with one particular event that happened and I think that slippage is fascinating It talks a lot about memory and story writing and perception and there’s one little bit at the end that I think highlights this Tim O’Brien is really fun to read Is there anybody who would want to read like the last four sentences of the book? Anybody who’s reading it in class that wants to give it a try? – [Jaquana] Just read ’em? – Yeah, anybody else wanna get I mean we’ve all gotten to read our passages, Yeah, okay On the very last page, no go for it The very last page and it’s a sentence that starts I’m young and happy It’s maybe four or five lines up from the bottom (audience chatting) – [Jaquana] You want me to stand up? – You can do whatever you want – [Jaquana] I’ll just sit down I’m young and happy, I’ll never die

I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spinning and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story – Nicely read, thank you (applause) And I think that this passage is really indicative of what’s going on in the book right? What’s your name? – [Jaquana] Oh, Jaquana – Jaquana, what you just read, it’s really indicative of the struggle that Tim O’Brien’s going through, right? That he’s revisiting his past, trying to make sense of it and give it to us in such a way that makes sense and I think that was, thank you for reading it ’cause it’s a really good place to read – [Michele] I have a question for the students in the audience I know some of you haven’t gotten to read the book yet, but maybe some of you have and just what was your experience about the Vietnam War before and what have you learned briefly about the war or any impressions you might have had? Some of you might have had this book covered in your class because you were part of the Big Read or you might have read it at some other point, but I just wonder what your impressions are And so if you haven’t, what are your questions so far of our event today? Students? (audience chatter) – [Student] Well, I like the book Can I keep it? I wanna read it No seriously (laughter) I really do – [Woman] Excuse me You could borrow this book from the library at the reserve desk for three weeks at a time, six weeks in total, so if anyone does want a copy, we do have many copies available at the reserve desk – [Michele] What else, do you want to add anything more? Anyone else? – What I’d like to say about Tim O’Brien and I haven’t read all of his books, but just from reading this one, I can see as a Vietnam veteran, whoever was that read this book, put a little bit more of a perspective on it for a lot of these veterans coming back ’cause when they came back they were confused because they were called baby killers and this and that and they weren’t given a parade like the Iraqi veterans, you know walking up Wall Street and everything and I think any Vietnam veteran would, who has not read this, should because it would really give justification, help justify, give them a purpose, where initially there wasn’t for a lot of these veterans and I think it would be very good – [Michele] Last week, Tim O’Brien, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of this books publication, did a live webcast, Zivah told us about it and some of us listened to what he said and that’s one thing he said that that the book is getting a lot of attention again because people are reading it who have loved ones over in Iraq and Afghanistan and once again it puts it all, it gives, Carol was talking about how soldiers can only talk to each other about what happened to them, but it’s giving a perspective to people who have someone they love over in Iraq or Afghanistan and they’re beginning to understand, possibly in some small way, what they are going through as a result of this book, so many people are reaching out to Tim O’Brien right now and saying thank you, I learned something that I needed to know for when my fiance comes back, so I thought that was really, really important and interesting – I think as a society we’ve also learned from Vietnam about how important it is to support the service people that are over there We didn’t do that and being part of the anti-war movement, I don’t think I was that sensitive or as sensitive as I should be to the ones that were coming home I was more sensitive to the ones that were on their way there, ya know, so there was a lot to teach us from that Every war leaves something, ya know a lesson behind and that’s a good lesson one good lesson from Vietnam, certainly – [Man] Just speaking to your question about Tim saving Timmy’s life (book falling) as much as this is about Vietnam, the Vietnam experience and each individual story and obviously takes place against the bad job of Vietnam, take the book as a whole, to me what it meant was, it’s about the telling of stories

What does it mean to make up stories and tell them, to narrate stories What does it mean to hear stories and embellish them and retell them, vet them One of the most interesting stories, the one that Rat Kiley tells about the girl with the Chu Lai out there that he didn’t know was native You know, that’s like the third or fourth hand and so it’s absurdly exaggerated and wild and surreal story, but then again it’s not told by Tim O’Brien who wrote the book or even the Tim O’Brien in the story, but it’s told by Rat Kiley and then he says it’s partly told to me and I think that illustrates how the books really about story telling more than anything else (audience agreeing) – I don’t think we knew either at that time how the Vietnam veteran was suffering when they first came home They didn’t tell us right away, you know So it’s something that we have to reach out and make sure as a society, the veterans that are coming home, what do you need? What can we do for you? Even though it sounds redundant and maybe over sensitive I think that its important to do that – [Marie] Excuse me Another very good account of Vietnam was written by Colin Powell, “In My American Journey” Have you read it? – Did you read it Zivah? – [Marie] Oh it’s fabulous – I bet – [Marie] It was such a great book – I like that man very much What’s the name of it again Marie? – [Marie] “My American Journey” by Colin Powell I think they have it in the library – Hm thank you – And what’s fascinating and I agree with your point, the book is really about telling stories and reading stories and what we get from them, that Tim O’Brien actually wrote a memoir in I think the late 70’s about his experience in Vietnam It’s called “If I Die in Combat Zone: “Box Me Up and Ship Me Home.” And I think that came out in, I think ’79, but I could be wrong – [Man] I checked, it’s 1973 – Oh okay and this didn’t come out in its entirety until ’91, right? There were pieces of it, as Dean Cuomo said, published before so what you get is this really interesting position between the book that he says is true and then the book that I think comes later to explore these other ideas – [Anida] I was gonna say, that I appreciate this book on so many different levels as a writer, as a reader, as a student and I was a kid, I was born in Syria, but I was a kid when the war was happening, so I came here and I’ve tried repeatedly to make sense of those experiences and I know that we were having this discussion in the office Carol, Michele and I how it takes so many years to really understand only a few years of history so it’s neat to have all of these different perspectives to be able to understand something, you need to hear from every body to understand the truth and the truth is very relative according to different perspectives, of course so while I was reading this, I appreciated so much the struggle to tell the story The struggle to put together different perspectives and try to make it as true as possible so that it could speak to a variety of people and I feel like you know, 20 years later, we’ve done such a great job of doing that and I think that it does take that amount of time to be able to really understand even yourself even why you would do this or why you wouldn’t or whatever it is, it would take that much time in constant revisiting of the past to be able to get back some sort of conclusion so I think this is why it is so valuable – [Jean] I think that this has been brought out by in the way he uses the word carry (chairs moving) In the beginning, it’s simply things they literally, everyday carrying with them and by the end of it (background noise drowns out speaker) this weight they were carrying (panelists agreeing) – And he had to have quite a heavy load to carry, I remember that was very clear in the beginning of the book I think, what I got from it too was that the Vietnam veterans had even more to carry then the past veterans of the other wars, is that right? – Vietnam, kind of like in Iraq today,

you have in Vietnam, like in Iraq, during the day you have people who are merchants selling products on the street and they all could be working for they could also be fighters at night and you have that same situation in Iraq today, where they could be basically street merchants during the day and the military in Iraq today has actually given out incentives to the local people to turn in these dissidence and their finding a lot of weapon stashes and the RPG’s and the anti-personnel mines in Iraq because the difference between Vietnam is, we were over there to fight a war, here in Iraq, we’re trying to do the psychological aspect of it, where we’re trying to win over the population and that’s a big thing and a lot of that’s turned You know the biggest thing in Iraq, after the dictator was thrown out of Iraq, the number one selling item in Iraq was satellite TV’s They couldn’t buy ’em fast enough And the biggest thing that the American soldiers used in Iraq was garage door openers and you might say why garage door openers? because that was the detonating devices of the car bombers when they first started doing that So what would happen was they would have 10, 20 cars lined up and the soldiers would get the sear car car openers from the United States and they would press the buttons to see which cars would blow up and that was a lot of the things Another thing, you talk about the creativeness of the American soldiers You know, they had a lot of things to adapt to in Vietnam The one thing that I thought was really amazing in Iraq is, you know in Iraq, its a desert and they have generators, they need generators for power and a lot of problems with the filters, they were getting sand in the filters, the sand would get into the engines and it would seize the engines and the creativeness of one soldier Don’t ask me how he got this, woman’s lingerie You know, what’s the stuff you – Stocking – The stockings See nylon stockings, they put it over the filters and it took care of the filter problems And that was some of the creativeness so again, whether it was in Vietnam and then adapting to that environment or the current environment, that the soldiers are adapting to, they see problems and they make fixes, that’s what they do and that’s what they’re there for – That’s in all wars – In all wars, yes In all wars, you adapt to the situation that’s been given to you, yes – I think with Vietnam, this is a sad thing to remember, but it’s a war that we lost I think that’s what makes it unique This book could be written in some ways about World War II or World War I The same bonds between men, the surrealism of combat and these sorts of things What makes Vietnam different is that we lost and that’s really the first time that that’s ever happened and it happened during a time in which American society was already very turbulent because of civil rights and political issues and those sorts of thing, so it was kind of a perfect storm this war happened at a very tumultuous time to begin with I think that’s what makes Vietnam unique really I mean it was a smaller generation too I studied World War II, which one out of every 10 Americans served in the military during that war, so when the guys came home, even though they had these horrible experiences, there was always someone on their block or their cousin who they could talk to With later wars, it would become much smaller, as is a problem today, that was a problem in Vietnam as well, is that there is that feeling of isolation that there is no one you can talk to basically But I think losing that war is what makes Vietnam unique – [Jean] Korea Korea we lost too – No, it was a tie – [Jean] It was a tie (laughter) – South Korea’s still not communist, but the other half is, that’s kind of not, War of 1812 is kind of a tie, this one our armies were not defeated, we pulled out, but Vietnam is communist today so – And in Korea they’re always trying to go from North to South, they’re not trying to go from the South to the North, so there’s a lot of pride in South Korea – [Michele] Well I want to thank our panelists very much I want to thank you all for attending I hope you can join us for some of our other activities tomorrow evening Dr. Tom Smith is going to present Apocalypse Now in the library at 6:10pm He’s also going to speak a little bit about the book

and it’s relationship to the movie On Friday at one o’clock, three faculty members will read the short story “Spin” and on Saturday, it doesn’t really conflict, but it would be hard to get to both places, but we do have an event at the Brooklyn Historical Society, but this is a Liberal Arts Academy event so there’s the QCC throw back game as well So thank you very much I hope you’ll speak to some of our panelist if your questions we’re not answered (group thank you) (applause)