I really tried to avoid writing this post.
I have fond memories of reading Orson Scott Card’s fiction. He wasn’t ever my SF favorite writer, mind you – that would be Bujold and Octavia Butler and Connie Willis, Kage Baker and Eleanor Arnason – but I liked him well enough, though I wasn’t as fond of Ender’s Game as most people seemed to be. I liked his short stories better, and his books about family life. When he started writing military stuff, frankly, he made me itch. And why, you ask? Well, it was so obviously adolescent boy’s power porn – like that Weber stuff, and that other guy, what’s his name, Feintuch. If you get off on that, whatever, but I don’t have to watch while you do, do I?
Anyway. Card has come out with another book, Empire, and I can’t sit down and shut up anymore. It’s about a civil war between the Evil Liberals and the (less) evil conservatives, and, again, whatever.
(Card claims to be a liberal, but anyone who has read his work knows he only thinks that because he grew up among the Mormons. The first time he met a real liberal, apparently he ran screeching and hasn’t stopped.) (In the second chapter of Empire his stalwart hero speaks of the “insane Left,” by which he seems to mean the professors of Princeton, so there you are.) (Also, Card, like most writers outside the Academy, knows nothing about actual university professors. For instance, he seems to think professors would be offended by the sight of a student in uniform. What planet is this man living on? He also seems to have bought that idiot Horowitz’s claim that professors know nothing about their subjects, or know only the PC version of their subject. Yes, right. That’s how we study these days. Only the Leftist version of history or literature, Mr. Card.)
The passage that made me not able to shut up was not, though, either the really stupid skirmish in chapter one, where Our Hero Reuben Takes Down the Terrorists Without Losing a Single Man or Injuring Any Villagers Except One (because, you know, war Really Really works that way – in Enderbot land a skirmish might play out that way, but in a real war I don’t think so) where was I? Oh – or the equally unrealistic seminar scene in chapter two – no it was this paragraph, in chapter 3:
(Reuben’s wife is talking)
"My husband is a patriot. And a born officer. He is not troubled by the things he does to defend his country. He has killed people, even though he's a gentle man by nature, and yet he does not wake up screaming in the night from combat flashbacks, and he doesn't lash out at the children, and he shows no sign of traumatic stress disorder. I know ….that my husband has no qualms about bearing arms for his country and using them. "
What bothers me about this bit is not the implication that someone could kill people and not be troubled by it, because, you know, if Card wants to believe that in his boy-porn fantasy, whatever.
(And frankly, I am willing to believe that people exist who would not be troubled by killing other humans. I’m just not willing to accept Card’s proposition this same person would also be a “gentle,” undamaged human being.)
No, what got under my skin about this bit was its implication: which was that those soldiers who do suffer from combat flashbacks, who do show signs of PTSD, who do lash out at their wives and children, why, those veterans must not be patriots.
Or, I don’t know, maybe they just aren’t good enough patriots.
Not like Orson Scott Card. Who spent – someone remind me – how many days in the armed services?
The real reason this passage pissed me off so very fucking much was I have students who have returned from Iraq. Lots of them. One of them missed half of this semester because he was in Iraq. Others have gone and come back, others are going. One of them, in my freshman comp course, is one of my best writers. He just wrote me a series of essays about dealing with PTSD, interestingly enough. He is also a conservative – a red stater from way back.
(Not all veterans are, despite Card’s claim in Empire: I’d say about 40 percent of my veteran students are liberals, and that’s in this state, Arkansas, buckle of the Bible belt.)
He and I wrangle, politely enough, about feminist issues and the war and terrorism and any number of things. Unlike Card’s stalwart hero Reuben, he doesn’t wear his uniform every day to class to Show Me (he’s never worn it, oddly enough); and if he did, would I glare at him? No. Because do I hate veterans? No. I don’t even hate conservatives. I like this student a great deal, in fact.
Back to his series of essays about PTSD. I can’t quote him, though I wish I could, because he’s an excellent writer, but he wrote in one essay about setting down in Fallujah in a helicopter and having things go wrong, what that was like; he writes in another about what it’s been like since he got back, how even having ice drop from the icemaker can set off a flashback, how he thinks he hears gunshots in the night and drags his wife under him in the bed, covering her body with his (oops, I’m quoting him) before he realizes it was just a nightmare, only he isn’t really sure, even after he’s awake, that it was a nightmare. He’s still half-convinced he heard the gunshots.
I get essays like this from my students. Not all as good as this one, but real experiences. I read the essays from my students, and then I’m on Hatrack River, listening to Card shoot his mouth off. Real patriots don’t suffer PTSD. Real patriots don’t fuck up insertions. Real patriots have no qualms. Real patriots think liberals are insane for thinking the Iraq war was and is a bad idea.
I won’t even go into Card’s ideas about homosexuality and feminism, and what he’s getting wrong in those categories.
We’ll save that for some other sleety afternoon.
8 hours ago