words from wolff for your weekend.

Faithful readers, I’m back! I’m home from my annual family vacation up in the mountains, and I’m rested, ready to write, and armed with plenty of stories that I can use to blackmail my cousins one day.

I wrote a couple of posts last week about some interesting things I read in July’s issue of Oprah, and despite my shame at being so intrigued by magazine made for stay-at-home moms, I’m about to continue that trend. There’s one article from the magazine that I’ve been thinking about since I read it, and I wanted to share it with those of you who don’t faithfully read O Magazine (which, I suspect, includes most of you). The story comes from a collection of articles written to tell us all “Why Men Do Stupid Things.” At first glance, that title made me immediately skeptical and annoyed and aware of why I don’t typically read O. That being said, I read the section anyway and was quite impressed. (You can read about half of the articles on Oprah’s website.)

Unfortunately, the best and most thought-provoking article of the bunch is not on the website, and though I considered typing up the whole thing for your reading pleasure, I’m fairly certain that would break a bunch of copyright laws. Instead, I’ll sum up the story and leave you with a choice quote or two.

Oprah tells us that with a brief article, Tobias Wolff is going to tell us silly little women about war stories. Wolff fought in Vietnam, and he writes about an experience he had during the 1980s, when people were finally starting to talk about what happened during the war. He joins a discussion group with Ed, who also fought in Vietnam; Robert, who fought in Korea; and Will, who was a conscientious objector and had “refused the draft and performed alternate service as an orderly in a VA hospital.”

After some initial hesitation, the men begin talking, and they get caught up in their own stories. Wolff writes:

…Robert and Ed and I were topping each other with stories about the meanness of our garrison towns — at Fort Bragg we’d called the citizens of Fayetteville “Fayette Cong” — when I caught Will staring at us in despair.

“You’re doing it again,” he said.


“Making it sound like a lark. Like some great adventure. And you guys know better. No wonder kids keep joining up.”

I could see that he felt left out, perhaps at some instinctive level even rued missing the experience that bound us. But he was right. We knew better, yet could not speak of all this, even to deplore it, without giving it a certain glamour, the glamour of blood mystery and exclusive, ultimate fraternity.

I have never forgotten Will’s sadness, its profound ambiguity.

Yes. No wonder kids keep joining up.

To be sure, those are words worth thinking about these days.

[Posted by Mallory]

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Filed under history, politics

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