In this post I will share some of his insights, necessarily simplifying what is nuanced, cutting, and heart-wrenching.
Nguyen writes this while discussing the work of a U.S. artist during the heyday of our Vietnam invasion who painted a suburban housewife pulling aside her curtains to reveal a burning village. The contemporary U.S. way of war is to separate the rest of us even further from experience of combat -- combat which is seldom directly the role even of most members of the military. But it remains ours -- we pay for it, we enable it, we ignore it, we enjoy its fruits when there are any, and we experience the distortion of our "civilization" that becomes the content of permanent war.
Just as we are all complicit, we are also all among the victims. No male writer I've ever read on war has been quite so consistently discerning of war's particular injuries to women. Nguyen returns to this theme again and again, in the writers whose memoirs he dissects and in his own observations. War is rape; rape is war.
So what is to be done? Nguyen has thought a lot about this:
He outlines what a peace movement is up against today:
Nguyen reminds that peace is not about hearts and flowers.
Yet all those fine sentiments can't be just about letting ourselves off the hook for the wars -- the hatred and cruelty and desire to dominate -- for which we cannot escape our participation, however attenuated.
Living as humanely as possible requires accepting and embracing complexity.
Nguyen's book is profound; my summary does not do justice. Read and ponder if you dare.