Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell—John Crawford

I went to the gas station yesterday to buy some cigarettes. An Arabic man was working behind the counter. He turned when he heard the door chime and gave me a broad smile. I walked out. I never wanted to hate anyone; it just sort of happens that way in a war. (157)
I was watching the Month of Zen, The Daily Show's month-long retrospective before Jon Stewart left (which gives you an idea of just how long this draft has been just sitting, since he left the show over a month ago, and I read this book two weeks before that...) John Crawford was one of Jon's guests in the mid-2000s and talked about this book that he'd written. I had this same problem throughout Jon's reign, which was that I just want to read ALL THE THINGS that he ever talked about or had guests talk about on his show. (To be fair, I always want to read ALL THE THINGS, and The Daily Show just gave me an excuse to indulge.)

So I decided to check my local library and find a number of the books featured and try to read them all. Somewhere I'm sure there's a wiki or something that includes all of the books that were ever peddled on The Daily Show. I will find it, and I will read them all. But I started with this one.

This book was difficult to read, partially because it's about war (which I continue to not completely understand) and partially because Crawford has a remarkably candid way of showing how callous war can make perfectly normal, caring people.

John Crawford was barely out of his teens when 9/11 happened and he enlisted in the military. Then, through some series of unfortunate events, got stuck in the Middle East for almost three years.

In a series of semi-connected chapters, Crawford shares memories of his time in the Middle East. From his deployment, to his multiple and extended tours, to the difficulty of returning to "regular" life, he is unapologetically crass and forthright. He doesn't sugarcoat the lack of empathy that many soldiers have for the civilians in the areas where they are stationed. As the pull quote above notes, nobody plans to hate anyone, but that's what happens during war sometimes. I would imagine that people who survived World War II had similar feelings —unintentionally or otherwise—about Germans, even if they had no connection to the Nazis.

I have very seldom found a book that is written in this style, from the point of view of someone who was actually a soldier in the war—rather than stateside making the decisions. It was quite the insight, and one of the best looks into the boots-on-the-ground, infantry-level military men that I have ever read.

I'll end with a quote from the book, which was in turn pulled from Hermann Goering's testimony at the Nuremberg Trials. It feels especially poignant in light of the nature of the United States' involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.
Hermann Goering, Speaking at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II (171)