Road Work by Jack Lewis

In Road Work (Operation Homecoming, Random House 2006) by Jack Lewis tells what I would call an anti-war story.

I know Jack through Zoetrope, where he is a member of the Antiwar Poetics & Writing Office. While he is anti-war, he is expressly not anti-military which may seem like a paradox but is one that many soldiers and families of soldiers have to deal with. He calls it his veteran’s agnosticism ? and says he won’t sell out his friends to take a stand ?.

That’s key to the stories success: not taking a stand. That is what makes the writing powerful anti-war writing. It doesn’t take a stand, which would really just be a disguised pro-war activity. Isn’t that what war is about: choosing a side, taking a stand, defending a way of life?

By remaining agnostic the writing refuses to play the violence game, also known as the blame game or the game of right & wrong or the win-lose game. There are no winners or losers. It’s no one’s fault, no one’s to blame. There are just people in a tragic situation.

The story takes place in a combat zone, but it isn’t about combat. It’s about an accident, a traffic accident that could happen on I-75 between an 18-wheeler and a sedan. The contrast between a non-combat situation in a combat zone is how this piece avoids the antiwar contradictions I posted about a few weeks ago. From Kenneth Burke:

It is questionable whether the feelings of horror, repugnance, hatred would furnish the best groundwork as a deterrent to war. They are extremely militaristic attitudes, being in much the same category of emotion as one might conceivably experience when plunging his bayonet into the flesh of the enemy. And they might well provide the firmest basis upon which the heroism ? of a new war could be erected.

Jack’s piece is certainly connected with feelings of horror, as the writing acknowledges in the first sentences with a little snack of horror ?. There is horror but no hatred, no blame, no monsters, no bad guys. The story doesn’t shy away from death and horror, but it doesn’t blame anyone, not them and not us.

When I talked with Jack about this review of his story (to get permission to quote him) he gave me one more quote:

It’s love, not resentment, that stands the best chance against anyone’s war machine.

Right on.

This focus on love and deemphasis of hatred was also my approach in writing Journal 7/5th (Public Republic 2010). The setting of the story is the epitome of calm but the horrors of war are felt even between the leaves of grass.

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