FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On Leave From Imperial War

by

For those who were in the military and even those whose friends or family members were, the idea of going on leave brings forth thoughts of drunken revelry, family, friends and an almost certain regret when the leave is over. For most soldiers, sailors and the like, the regret is tied to the fact they must go back to their barracks, ship or whatever. During times of war, that regret is usually greater, given that the place the military members must return to is often in the middle of a war. Although I was never in the military (and never wanted to be–one can imagine my joy when not only was my draft number very high, but the US military draft was ended in 1973), I grew up on military bases and was more familiar with the culture than most of my peers. The escapades I was involved in with friends on leave and the stories I heard about their Rest & Recreation (R&R) adventures in Southeast Asia could color many a book and, in some extreme cases, rival the debauchery of a Piero Pasolini take on a classic tale.

Most times, however, the time spent on leave by these young men was consumed with drinking, smoking dope, seeing old girlfriends and parents, and boredom. Once the obligatory stay at the parents’ house was completed, the fun began. Usually flush with money they could not spend while on base, my friends were more than happy to spend it on whoever accompanied them to the seedier side of town. It’s not that they were necessarily having a good time as much as they were escaping the reality of their bad time in uniform. During the US war in Vietnam, drinking and drugging were the standard path to that escape. Judging from my interactions with young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, alcohol overuse continues to be a popular medication.17934452

According to US popular myth, military men returning from Vietnam were spat upon and otherwise disrespected, especially by antiwar protesters. As one of the latter who worked organizing on military bases, I can guarantee that this is a lie. It may have happened here and there, but spitting on soldiers was not a tactic of the antiwar movement. Nor were they greeted with parades. Instead, GIs returning from Vietnam were usually met with indifference and averted glances. This reflected the US population’s uncertainty and dismay with the way the war was going and Washington’s almost certain defeat. It was also related to the antiwar’s excellent job in exposing the war’s complete and total barbarity.

France had a similar situation after World War Two. Despite their tragic experience in that war, the nation failed to learn a primary lesson–empire can only be maintained through violence. So, the Republic sent troops to reinforce its domination of Vietnam and Algeria. The Vietnam experience ended in disaster for the French in 1954 in Dienbienphu. It would continue in Algeria until 1962. As that war grew bloodier it also grew more unpopular at home. Young French men were sent off to battle with little or no enthusiasm while pro-war politicians criminalized dissent, the Communists vacillated, and the rest of the left organized together with others in an effort to get French troops out of Algeria.

Writer Daniel Anselme was a member of the Communist party when the war began. He became disillusioned with the party’s vacillation–at first supporting the French adventure and only much later opposing it–and left the party. A journalist and poet, his novel La Permission (On Leave) was published in 1957. It attracted very little attention at the time, most likely because of its antiwar position and its rebuke of most of the French establishment’s insistence on continuing the war.

The story of three French soldiers on leave from Algeria, Anselme’s tale introduces the reader to Luchaume, a schoolteacher conscripted at the beginning of his young marriage, Valette, a youth from a French town where the Communists are the elected officials, and Lasteyrie, a young man from the Parisian streets. The schoolteacher’s marriage is in shambles and when he arrives at his apartment his wife is nowhere to be found. He spends a few hours there and then takes up residence in a transient hotel in another part of Paris. His next few days are spent in a mostly inebriated state. Valette heads to his family home, where he argues with his sister’s Communist beau about the war and acts as if he enjoys his family’s company. Lasteyrie checks in on old street friends and parties. The three of them all end up in Paris for the last twenty-four hours of their leave drinking, arguing and joking while they spend time with a German woman named Lena. Then, they board a train that will begin their journey back to the front, such as it is.

The question of the war hangs over the entire novel. Its barbarity, racism, and total lack of any moral righteousness are insinuated on every page. So is the apathetic reaction of the French population to the atrocity being waged in its name. There are a couple moments, however, when that apathy is breached. One such moment occurs when Luchaume is at Vallette’s family home eating dinner. After avoiding a discussion of the war for most of the evening, Valette finally lets go, shouting and asking “Why did you allow us to leave? Why did you allow the troop trains to leave? Why did you abandon us when we were on the trains? Why? Why? We did not want to go! We did everything we could not to go! We barricaded ourselves in our barracks…! Why?” The same questions were asked in the US during its debacle in Vietnam and even, on occasion, as it sent men and women to their fates in Iraq.

This is a novel about war; about the soldiers who fight them and the civilians that send them either willingly or because they can pretend it has nothing to do with their lives. Plainspoken but also eloquent, it is a gentle plea to end wars of empire not only because they destroy the lives of those in the lands where the guns are blazing and the bombs exploding, but also because such wars destroy the lives of those the empires enlist to do their bloody work.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail