Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Long Lasting War

Ah man, it looks like I just missed the deadline for this post by just a few short moments. That's ok. I'm still getting it in, so I feel good. Anyways, less of me rambling on... for more of me rambling on? Haha, well, whatever. Enjoy!

Earlier this week, I finished reading Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. And like I said last week, it's pretty good. The novel starts off more or less like the science fiction edition of a dissertation on the Vietnam War. In fact, Haldeman is a veteran of that war and drew extensively from many of his experiences while serving in the military. The second half of the novel deals more or less with the disconnect that the main character, William Mandella, felt towards home, or more pointedly, the changing society. Many veterans may have felt, and may still feel, how Mandella does in the book when they initially returned home from a long stint on the battlegrounds.

There are, in my mind, two major themes, that sort of intertwine in this story. The first of those would have to be Haldeman's view towards war (specifically the Vietnam War), which is that they aren't like what they used to be. In chapter twenty-four, Haldeman compares older wars with those in the future (or maybe even his present):
[I]n the past, people whose country was at war were constantly in contact with the war… always the sense of either working toward victory or at least delaying defeat. The enemy was a tangible thing, a propagandist's monster whom you could understand, whom you could hate.
Not this war, though. Not only does this war feel like it's at a stalemate, but the recruits are told if it doesn't look like you, then it's probably an enemy. There's nothing comparable to feeling stuck, out in the middle of nowhere, with enemies all around you.

If one really wants to try to grasp Haldeman's views, s/he has not to look further than the views of the main character, who many believe to be a portrayal of Haldeman himself. In the story, William Mandella is a failed pacifist. That sounds like it's hard to do, failing at being peaceful. And it really doesn't sound like much, but it actually tells us a lot. War, in the mind of a pacifist, is wrong. I shouldn't need say more than that. However, that means Mandella, who has failed at being a pacifist, must believe that war must be okay sometimes; otherwise, he wouldn't have stuck around for so long. I would have to say it has to do something with a sense of belonging that it gives him.

The second theme that I see, and it sort of ties in with the previous theme, is what I like to call "Man the Machine." Early in the story, the recruits are given mechanical fighting suits, so it's not hard to see how Mandella could start dreaming of being a machine by the thirteenth chapter.
I fell asleep and dreamed that I was a machine, mimicking the functions of life, creaking and clanking my clumsy way through a weld, people too polite to say anything but giggling behind my back, and the little man who sat inside my head pulling the levers and clutches and watching the dials, he was hopelessly mad and storing up hurts for the day—

By chapter eighteen, Haldeman, through the voice of Mandella, begins to compare man with machine.
[I]t doesn't matter what name you give to a computer, its a pile of memory crystals, logic banks, nuts and bolts…if you program it to be Ghengis Khan, it is a tactical computer, even if its usual function is to monitor the stock market or control sewage conversion. 
Man on the other hand...
… is only a hank of hair and a piece of bone and some stringy meat; and no matter what kind of man he is, if you teach him well, you can take a Zen monk and turn him into a slavering bloodthirsty warrior.
And, with Mandella, turning a monk into a warrior is exactly what they did. In his book*, there is no difference between man and machine, save for the wants and needs that we have.

So, now that I have finished this book, I have moved on to John Scalzi's Old Man's War, mainly because I have heard it's a good commentary on this book. Do I really think that is the case? Come back next week and I'll let you know.

No comments:

Post a Comment