Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 15, 2004
WAR: James Carroll
One of the very worst columnists in the business has to be James Carroll of the Boston Globe, a guy who will buy into any anti-American cliche, no matter how attenuated its relationship to the facts. Anyway, I hadn't fully grasped the roots of Carroll's problems until I stumbled accross this book review on Amazon:
If the Civil War pitted brother against brother, the Vietnam War is best understood as pitting father against son. Some of Vietnam's longest lasting battles were fought in heavy rages and even heavier silences across the dinner table. James Carroll is a veteran of many such skirmishes. A novelist now, this book is his story of what it was like to be an anti-war priest in the '60s while his father was an Air Force general deeply involved in Pentagon planning. What makes the book particularly moving is that Carroll comes to realize that his father is no mono-dimensional saber-rattler (indeed, he suspects that his father's military career came to its sudden end because of the stances he took inside the corridors of power against expanding and intensifying the war). But the terrible truth was that neither the father nor the son ever managed to transcend the boundaries of their particular roles to meet each other in a candid, reciprocal relationship.
Orrin Judd, who's sprinkled his insightful book reviews liberally accross Amazon, elaborates:
In point of fact, the War seems to have had little to do with Carroll's personal crisis, certainly its morality had nothing to do with it, instead the story he has to tell is that age old tale of youth rebelling against authority. I'm loathe to engage in psychoanalysis, being both unqualified and not much of a believer in its efficacy, but Carroll uses the term Oedipal so often and the book is cast so clearly in the form of an Oedipal drama that it's hard to avoid doing so. Start with the fact that he outdoes his father by actually becoming a priest, where Joe fell short; continue with the way that this profession figuratively wed him to his pious mother, whose entry to Heaven would be virtually guaranteed by virtue of having borne a priest; move along to his utter rejection of his father's profession and an eventual adoption of complete pacifism; then conclude with his decision to leave the priesthood after his father had been forced out of government and crippled by disease. It's hard to see how Vietnam actually matters to any of this psychodrama : had his Dad been a butcher, Carroll would have become a vegetarian, had he been a fireman, Carroll would have been an arsonist. This is a mere story of generational tension dressed up in the ennobling guise of a great moral struggle.