It’s purely coincidental that Craig DiLouie’s Our War is about a Republican president who is impeached by the House, and then is convicted by the Senate (!), and then… wait for it… he refuses to leave office.
Strictly fictional, as I say.
But wait again… there’s more! A civil war ensues, with the reds (right-wing militias) supporting the president and the blues (liberals, but divided into centrists and radicals, forming militias of their own) defending Congress. Each side considers the other to be rebels. The red side hates “the libs,” the press, and all immigrants and people of color. Remember, this is fiction. It’s hard to keep that in mind as you are reading this novel.
Furthermore, both sides are in such need for combatants that we get child soldiers on both sides. Harrowing. If that means that this isn’t the book for you, then don’t read it. In one word, it’s bleak.
Most of the action — and there’s altogether too much action — takes place in Indiana, mostly red except for Indianapolis and South Bend. The battle scenes are thoroughly distressing, not just because battle scenes are pretty much always distressing but also because these take place in the here and now, and some of soldiers are children. It’s vivid and realistic. You might expect the writing to be one-sided, and for most of the story it is: the blues are the good guys, focusing on one particular militia, the Free Women, and the reds are the bad guys, with a range of militias, of which the most extreme is an ultra-right-wing evangelical group, the Angels. I almost stopped believing it when the Angels turned out to be the most violent of all. The good guys also include the Canadians and UNICEF. The press are also clearly in the “good guys” camp, even though they take pains to be neutral and even-handed.
Our War takes a surprisingly long time to read. That’s not because it’s poorly written (it isn’t) nor because it’s written at a grad-student level (it isn’t); it’s because I had to pause on practically every page to think about what I’m reading. Donald Trump should read it, but of course he won’t, since he doesn’t read.
Like every war novel ever written, Our War has some classic tropes, including camaraderie and internal conflicts. Actually, I can’t honestly say “like every war novel ever written,” as I think I’ve read only four or five war novels in my life:
- There’s The Red Badge of Courage, which I read early in high school;
- Heart of Darkness, which I read late in high school (a surprisingly progressive assignment for Philips Academy in the early ’60s);
- Im Westen Nichts Neues, which I guess is translated as All Quiet on the Western Front in English, though I remember it in German because we read it in German the summer after 12th grade [more about that super-intensive German course, covering three years of high-school German in seven weeks, in a later post]; and
- Ursula LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest, which I read during my fourth year of teaching.
So why this short list? Mostly because the stories in these novels tend to be allegorical or at least symbolic of something else or inspirational of other works that in turn are not to be taken literally. Two examples from my list are Heart of Darkness, which inspired Apocalypse Now — which unfortunately I haven’t seen — and The Word for World is Forest, which was nominally about an extraterrestrial planet but was really about the Vietnam War. So what is Our War really about? At this point that should be obvious.
But we do need a couple of closing remarks. I am not going to commit any spoilers, so I won’t tell you the ending or the poignant scenes that precede it. But any story like this has to show some light at the end of the tunnel (to use another Vietnam War metaphor). Our War does remind me of two recent but unrelated events, one from a mere six days ago and one from 37 years ago (that still counts as recent in my mind, since I’m nearly twice that age). The former is the follow-up to the Julia Mejia story that I wrote about last week (read it if you haven’t done so, and pay particular attention to the video); much to my surprise, the caller phoned Mejia a second time, about a week later, to identify himself and to apologize for his intemperate and inaccurate rant. So there’s still hope.
And the latter but earlier (not-so-recent) event is one of my favorite songs, John McCutcheon’s exceptionally moving “Christmas in the Trenches.” Its last line is “on each end of the rifle we’re the same.” That truth is also the truth of Our War.