FDL Book Salon Welcomes Deborah Nelson: The War Behind Me

deborah-nelson-the-war-behind-me.thumbnail.jpg[ Welcome Deborah Nelson, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and Host Professor Robert Steck – bev]

Deborah Nelson’sThe War Behind Me

“Henry peered over a short hedge, where women and children huddled as Carter and others took aim. Soldiers dragged a naked teenager from a hooch. ‘She was brought out by two guys, and she was thrown into the pile … There were babies in there too … She was just thrown on the pile and they started shooting.’

“A farmer shot on the way home from market, a man on his bicycle, three farmers in a field, teenage brothers fishing peacefully on a lake, (all killed by American soldiers ) – there are hundreds of such reports in the war-crime archive, each one dutifully recorded, sometimes with no more than a passing sentence or two, as if the killing were as routine as the activity it interrupted.”

As Deborah Nelson makes clear in passages like the above, (from her new book The War Behind Me,) chronicling a seemingly endless accumulation of war crimes can become monotonous. The evil can come to seem, in Hannah Arendt’s term, “banal”, and one is reminded of Stalin’s cynical observation that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

But it is no small part of the genius of Nelson’s book that she never lets the horror hide in the statistics. She never allows the banality to obscure the blood. Instead, Nelson constantly and relentlessly digs beneath the surface statistics to pull into the light of day what lies beneath — the complicated and dense web of victims and executioners, soldiers and civilians, ground-pounders in the bush and starched Generals in the Pentagon, courageous whistle blowers who tell the truth, and bureaucratic cowards who cover it up.

Nelson’s book raises such profoundly troubling questions in such a powerful way that its painful puzzles continue to pop up in readers’ minds long after they have turned the last page. Secondary explosions. Throughout her extraordinary book Nelson trains a cool, clear and carefully calibrated eye on realities that are as heated as napalm, as murky as the Mekong River, and as intense as a firefight. We are deeply in her debt. (more…)