This is the third in a series of posts regarding the book “What So Proudly We Hailed”.
I need to make clear that when I say that I believe What So Proudly We Hailed is an important book, I’m not saying that it’s important because I wrote it, and thereby somehow implying that I am important. The book is important; I’m not. Let me explain.
First, I think there are some stories that need to be told, even if they address things that we don’t necessarily like to hear and they aren’t going to make us feel all warm and fluffy inside. A good example of this is the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. If you’ve seen that movie, you already know what I mean. It is definitely not what you would call a “date” movie. You don’t walk away from it feeling refreshed and happy. But it is an important film, because, probably more than any other war movie, it pretty accurately shows what war is really like.
You don’t even need to watch the whole movie either; the first 30 minutes are all you really need to figure it out. At that point you realize like never before that war is not some “noble” or “heroic” thing; it is a bloodbath where young, innocent men (and now women, too) are slaughtered.
You suddenly comprehend that when you heard that upbeat voice accompanying those old WWII newsreels saying things like “our boys faced a determined enemy and met with fierce resistance, but they fought through to victory!”, what it really meant was that hundreds of soldiers were butchered by machine gun fire and flying shrapnel. It makes you wonder how anyone could have ever sung “Over There!” with a proud, patriotic smile on their face.
That’s what I mean when I say that “Saving Private Ryan” is an important film; it shows you something that is closer to reality than what you previously thought, and even though we really don’t want to see what is hidden behind the fog, we need to see it. We need to know. And the film is able to accomplish that very well even though it is telling a fictional story.
It’s in that respect that I think WSPWH is important. The story is fiction; no doubt. And yet, I think that sometimes when we are able to see real things presented in the format of a story, they become easier to understand and digest than if we were just presented with the facts by themselves. Although the story presented in WSPWH is not true – and I’m speculating on the future rather than integrating facts from the past – most of the concepts, policies, and situations in the book are altogether real. The only question is, to what end will these things be used?
It’s not hard to understand that if someone has a gun, they might shoot you with it. We rely on basic human decency and a common sense of morality that they won’t – and most people will not – but we also fully realize that they could if they wanted to, because history has shown us that sometimes they do. Whether or not that invisible ethical line gets crossed depends solely on the person holding the gun and what it is that they want to do with it.
It should be noted that the decision of whether or not they will shoot can be taken away from them altogether if the gun is simply never given to them in the first place. Once it’s in their hand, however, it becomes entirely up to them.
That is the crux of WSPWH. It’s not that the government or the banks or the corporations will actually use power for evil intent; the real question is, should we even give them the opportunity to make that decision in the first place? Because as soon as we put that power into their hands, it’s not our choice anymore.
So that’s one reason.
The other reason that I think the book is important is a little more spiritual and vaporous, and at the risk of making myself sound like someone I’m not, as I look back over the entire process of writing the book, I can’t help but feel that this story came through me more than it did from me.
There are more than a few reasons why I feel that way, and unfortunately, I can’t share most of them with you, because they are either so subtle that you wouldn’t be able to understand exactly what I was talking about, or I would wind up giving away things that happen at the end of the book. But I can share one thing that won’t give away the whole story and may also help you understand why it is that I would say that. Whether you agree with me or not, at least you’ll understand that I’m not just making stuff up in an attempt to sound righteous.
I picked the name “Gideon” for the main character of the story because, like the Gideon described in the book of Judges, my Gideon was also a “nobody” who suddenly found himself facing overwhelming odds.
There is a point in the story where Gideon first begins to rebel and fight back against the oppressive authority of the government. He is a new guy in the rebellion, naive, and he really doesn’t know how to do much of anything. As I was writing this section, I tried to be as realistic as I could and think about what things a fugitive with no resources could actually do by himself against a military superpower like the United States.
I thought of several things, all of which would be nothing more than minor nuisances than anything else. One of these acts that I had Gideon commit frequently was stealing chainsaws that he would then use to cut down telephone poles (for the obvious issues that that would cause) and also to lay down trees across stretches of 2-lane highways. Nothing big; just being a pest and creating messes that somebody would then have to clean up.
About 2 hours after making up those actions and writing about them, I started work on the next section of the book; a part where Gideon has come to the attention of the authorities for the first time and they are trying to figure out who – and what – a “Gideon” is.
I tried to put myself in their shoes, and I asked myself what I would do if I were them and I came across this unusual name “Gideon” for the first time. I figured that they might do a search on the word, so I decided to do the same thing and I Googled it. The first entry that came up was for “Gideons International” (no surprise), so I skipped it and clicked on the second listing instead, a Wikipedia entry.
I wasn’t surprised at all to see a description of who the Biblical Gideon was and what he did, but then it told what the original Hebrew meanings were for the name “Gideon”. There were three of them. The first was “mighty warrior”, which wasn’t surprising to learn, especially knowing who Gideon was, but the other 2 meanings really got my attention.
One of the other meanings was “destroyer”. I thought that very odd in the sense that very few names that I have ever seen have a negative meaning like that. Some names have a negative connotation – like Adolf or Judas – but very few names by themselves actually stand for something bad. That makes perfect sense; I mean, who wants to give their kid a name that means “deceiver” or “rancid smelling” or something like that, right? Nobody. So to see the word “destroyer” next to the name Gideon was a little unusual. It also seemed incredibly convenient, because that description just happened to tie in very well with something that was going to happen later on in the book. So it was odd.
The third meaning, however, shook me up so bad that I was not able to write for the rest of the day. I even cross-referenced to several other sites just to make sure that Wikipedia wasn’t just making it up. They weren’t. The third meaning for the name Gideon is “hewer” or “feller”, as in “one who fells trees”.
Please try for a moment to put yourself in my shoes during this particular point in time. I’m writing a story that I feel an incredible urgency to complete (I actually stopped in the middle of another novel I had been working on just so that I could write this one), every day I sit down and the words just come to me, the problems fix themselves as I go, and all of a sudden I make up something out of thin air for this character to do and then – almost immediately – I find out that what I had him doing is exactly what his name means, and it’s something pretty strange at that. Do you realize how far I have to stretch my imagination to believe that all of that could possibly be just a coincidence?
So is it a coincidence? I don’t know. I guess that’s up to you to decide. For me though, it felt more like a confirmation. Like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, and doing it the way it was supposed to be done. In other words, I felt like I was right on track. Remember too, that this wasn’t the only odd thing to occur during the writing of WSPWH, though I will admit it was by far the bluntest.
Well, I’ve stated my case as best I can. Now it’s time for the anxiety to set in. Because now that I’ve finished trying to relate to you why I feel so strongly about the importance of this book, I can only hope that the words I used to tell it are as powerful as the actual story itself.
Time will tell. It always does.