Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Trouble With Heroes

In 1892 Rudyard Kipling published Barrack-Room Ballads. One of the poems, "Tommy", spoke about the discrepancy in the way soldiers were treated between times of war and times of peace.

"O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's ``Thank you, Mister Atkins,'' when the band begins to play

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot"

Irresistible ForcesToday I read, in the anthology "Irresistible Forces", the short story "The Trouble with Heroes" by Jo Beverley. It is a thoughtful story about a young woman, Jenny, in a peaceful world that has never known war. She falls in love with one of the few people who have the abilities needed to fight a terrible threat. Most of the story is about her response to the building danger, then exploring her reaction to his decision to leave for the front lines.

The part that grabbed me, however was the reaction of the city's residents when he comes home. When they thought he was dead, they named a street after him. When he inconveniently turns up alive, however, they shut the gates and spend hours debating if it is safe to let him in. Meanwhile, Jenny has to decide for herself if he is safe.

"Alice Cotrell was listing the many possible dangers a fixer might now present to normal people. Normal, thought Jenny. How very interesting.

Alderwoman Sillitoe interrupted. "He seems perfectly normal, Mrs. Rutherford. And he was born and raised here."

Alice Cotrell stood straighter. "We do not understand his sort, any more than we understood the hellbanes. Who is to say that the fixers themselves won't turn wild on us one day?"

A murmur rolled around the room, but Jenny couldn't tell if it was shock or approval. She'd never thought of that. When a predator is eliminated, the prey often takes over as pest. She followed the debate, no longer certain what was right."

Between in-laws and siblings I have veterans all over my family, which has given me strong feelings on the subject. I fell in love with Huey Lewis and the News' "Walking On A Thin Line" when I first heard it, however, years before anyone I loved had gone to war. The experiences of the last few years have only intensified my emotions.

"It's over now or so they say
Well, sometimes, it don't turn out that way
Cause you're never the same when you've been under fire

Don't you know me I'm the boy next door

The one you find so easy to ignore
Is that what I was fighting for?
Walking on a thin line
Straight off the front line
Labeled as freaks loose on the streets of the city
Walking on a thin line
Straight off the front line
Take a look at my face, see what it's doing to me"

As Jo Beverley states at the close of her story: "The trouble with heroes is that they want to come home. But home needs its heroes, and home is also their just reward."

Books: Barracks-Room Ballads, Rudyard Kipling
            Irresistible Forces, an anthology by Lois McMaster Bujold, Mary Jo Putney, Catherine Asaro, Deb Stover, Jo Beverley, Jennifer Roberson
Music: Walking On A Thin Line, Huey Lewis and the News


cannwin said...

Your post makes me think of the soundtrack to We Were Soldiers. I used to love that soundtrack, it's all about the heroic soldier and the equally heroic spouse, but after Ralexwin went to war I couldn't listen to it anymore.

Then a few days ago I popped it in to the CD player and found that 5 years later... I still can't listen to it. My body goes in to immediate panic attack mode and I start sobbing.

War has such a strong and profound effect on society and yet we try so hard to ignore that it's even happened.

One of the songs that gets me is:

"Freedoms needs a soldier, the nameless faceless one
A young girl's lover, a baby's father, some mother's son"

(Some Mother's Son by Carolyn Dawn Johnson)

Good post.

Jennifer said...

What you wrote reminded me of Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait"

She had two babies
One was six months one was three
In the war of '44
Every telephone ring
Every heartbeat stinging
When she thought it was God calling her
Oh would her son grow to know his father

I don't want to wait
For our lives to be over
I want to know right know
What will it be
I don't want to wait
For our lives to be over
Will it be yes or will it be

He showed up all wet
On the rainy front step
Wearing shrapnel in his skin
And the war he saw
Lives inside him still
It's so hard to be gentle and warm
The years passed by and now
He has granddaughters


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