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Ch. 7: How to Tell a True War Story 
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Post Ch. 7: How to Tell a True War Story
Ch. 7: How to Tell a True War Story

Please use this thread for discussing this chapter.



Wed Nov 05, 2008 10:19 pm
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DWill
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I have to admit unease with O'Brien's technique.


In this chapter about truth in a war story, and whether truth existed or mattered, I found O'Brien's tone to be almost patronizing.

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What I should do, she'll say, is put it all behind me. Find new stories to tell.
I won't say it but I'll think it.
I'll picture Rat Kiley's face, his grief, and I'll think, You dumb cooze.


I felt like O'Brien was talking in circles and saying to the reader, there is no point ever trying to know or understand or find meaning or morals in all of this because you weren't there and you can never know. That could be what his aim was. You can never understand, because even the men who lived it cannot understand; cannot undertand, but cannot forget.



Sun Nov 23, 2008 4:48 pm
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realiz wrote:
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I found O'Brien's tone to be almost patronizing.


Yes. It is true that whatever reactions a reader has to what O'Brien writes after the passage you quoted are expressed only at risk of being deemed a "dumb cooze." I found this prospect forbidding, myself. I would rather be a really great listener, an insightful and wise support person, like the man he stays with when he is thinking of running to Canada and doesn't, a man who proves what a genius he is basically by not saying anything.

In a way, O'Brien is teaching his readers how to support people who are recovering from trauma. Lots of times after people undergo a traumatic experience where their power is taken away from them, they heal by being able to reclaim their experience through story, told by them on their terms without other people labeling their experience, judging, explaining or rationalizing it for them. Sometimes the less you say, including even the odd, "umnh" to show you're listening, the happier they are. Things like, "I believe you," and "That wasn't your fault," are usually pretty safe, but even these can annoy some people if they are really working to regain a sense of being the final authority in their own lives.

It's true I don't like being seen as one of those stupid women who doesn't know the baby buffalo story is not meant as an occasion to feel upset about what was done to the baby buffalo, in short, a dumb cooze. But I am willing to put up with it if it helps me to learn how to listen better to what it is that the story might actually be about instead, that the baby buffalo does not begin to cover and that cannot ever be told to me. (If I can't even take being called a dumb cooze indirectly, I can obviously not stand to hear what he may be afraid he can't stand to say or even understand about his own experience.)

There has to be a place somewhere, safe for even the most monstrously injured souls to show their scars and tell how they got them, how beautiful they were before and why (they believe) they look like this now, a place held under the binding contract that no one there is going to gasp and flinch when they take off their veils. How big and public an audience a person needs for that healing might have to do with whether or not they are speaking to create safe space for others to heal as well as for themselves. I think that might be what O'Brien is trying to do, in part. I'll bet it isn't an easy composition project. So I forgive him for thinking I'm a dumb cooze.


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Sun Nov 23, 2008 7:42 pm
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GR9: You said:

It's true I don't like being seen as one of those stupid women who doesn't know the baby buffalo story is not meant as an occasion to feel upset about what was done to the baby buffalo, in short, a dumb cooze.


I think we should be upset by what happens to the baby buffalo. This is about our basic humanity. The buffalo is killed in a mindless, brutal and irresponsible way. Of course it is meant to have wider meaning, which is difficult to understand without going through the experiences that O'Brien is describing but I don't think that diminishes the immorality of the act or makes one a dumb cooze.


and you said ...


There has to be a place somewhere, safe for even the most monstrously injured souls to show their scars and tell how they got them, how beautiful they were before and why (they believe) they look like this now, a place held under the binding contract that no one there is going to gasp and flinch when they take off their veils.


Very well put and I think quite true.



Mon Nov 24, 2008 2:50 pm
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GR9
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It's true I don't like being seen as one of those stupid women who doesn't know the baby buffalo story is not meant as an occasion to feel upset about what was done to the baby buffalo, in short, a dumb cooze.

giselle
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I think we should be upset by what happens to the baby buffalo. This is about our basic humanity. The buffalo is killed in a mindless, brutal and irresponsible way. Of course it is meant to have wider meaning, which is difficult to understand without going through the experiences that O'Brien is describing but I don't think that diminishes the immorality of the act or makes one a dumb cooze.


I think that the meaning of this story, the baby buffalo, has layers, and yes, we were supposed to be upset about what happened to the baby buffalo, if not then we could not understand the meaning of the story.
I also don't really think that O'Brien meant that the woman not understanding the bigger picture was a dumb cooze, she was just another baby buffalo.
The dumb cooze quote was actually a poor choice for me to illustrate what I meant by an 'almost patronizing tone'. It was more an overall feeling of the chapter.



Mon Nov 24, 2008 3:42 pm
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Guess I'm not a dumb cooze . . . 'cause I saw the baby buffalo part of the story as being a way to get into the shooter's head - as he kept shooting, it told the reader just what it was like to live inside his enraged head.



Sun Jan 25, 2009 10:48 am
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Yes, the shooter seems to vest his rage in the baby buffalo victim, some degree of catharsis perhaps? This is an interesting parallel with a scene in Birdsong (S. Faulks), which is discussed elsewhere on BT, where the WWI German sharpshooters shoot at soldier's bodies that are strung up in coils of barb wire. I think there are a few other parallels between these two books.



Sun Jan 25, 2009 3:29 pm
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Post 
Quote:
I felt like O'Brien was talking in circles and saying to the reader, there is no point ever trying to know or understand or find meaning or morals in all of this because you weren't there and you can never know. That could be what his aim was. You can never understand, because even the men who lived it cannot understand; cannot undertand, but cannot forget.


I agree that there is a sense of hopelessness in the way he says there is no way to convey the truth. I think it comes off as patronizing when it is actually just frank. Because he submits so many definitions of truth, most of them contradicting, it seems like an impossible endeavor to piece together the reality in memories. Yet at the same time, the whole chapter is his way of demonstrating how to put experiences into words, hence the several retellings of Rat Kiley's story. It urges people to keep trying because each rendition of the story you tell, no matter how many or how differing they are, is another fragment recovered.

There were a couple of points about truth that were especially meaningful to me:

1. Truth is about the meaning you ascribe to minute detail, perhaps insignificant to others, but which leaves an everlasting impression on the individual. The stubborn insistency of memory attests the truth of these fragmented bits. Consistency is not a criterion. The means is to recreate the exact feeling of an event. The process is a trial and error, blindly piecing together the full image detail by detail. The ending paragraph summarizes the idea of the subjective value of trivial observations by defining war with these details: “a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight. It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do…” (91)

2. In a true war story, truth need not be an important factor. Considering only the tangible facts undermines the significance of O’Brien’s idea of truth. There are no definitive boundaries to truth because in the end, what is impacting is not the factual layout of the story but also the images fabricated by the mind and subconscious reaction which shows what is truly important.

3. Aestheticism is a way of depicting truth. Sensual observations are emotive and because the truth does not stray from what is felt and what the mind creates and believes to be true, it is vital for a story to incorporate aesthetic detail. “But in truth war is also beauty… You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not… [it] has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference- a powerful, implacable beauty” (87).



Wed Feb 25, 2009 10:34 pm
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I like the points you highlight about truth. And nicely said too, Rhosze.



Wed Feb 25, 2009 10:48 pm
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