War Stories Are Also Love Stories
Question: Do readers frequently \r\nmisunderstand your work?\r\n\r\n
Tim O’Brien: There are those, and it’s not a\r\n function of\r\nage, and it probably isn’t even a function entirely of education or \r\npolitical\r\nleanings. But there’s a temper in\r\nprobably America for sure, I know in America and maybe worldwide for the\r\nliteral. A literal take on\r\neverything that reality TV has taken advantage of and incorporated as \r\npart of\r\nitself. And the literal take on\r\nthings is a take without irony and without edge and without... it’s \r\nusually a\r\nfairly—there’s a certitude to it. \r\nWhy don’t you write a book that has nothing to do with war? As if that’s a certain possibility, you\r\nshould certainly try to do it as a way of recovering from the war. And you want to say a number of\r\nthings. That this is just not a\r\nbook about war, you idiot. It’s a\r\nbook about love and a book about storytelling. But\r\n you also feel overwhelmed by the knowledge that you’re\r\nnot going to get through, that the literal-minded are going to remain\r\nliteral-minded. And maybe someone\r\nelse can help them, but someone else is not this guy. So,\r\n there’s a wave of anger, or\r\nbitterness. It has to do with\r\nVietnam, and it has to do with a kind of mindset of the literal all \r\naround me\r\nthat doesn’t fit my take on the world and my experience in the world \r\nwhere it’s\r\nhard for me to take anything very literally.\r\n\r\n
The words “I love you.” As \r\nsoon as they’re uttered, I’m suspect. How much? And when will you stop? And \r\nwill you? \r\nIn what way do you love me? \r\nAnd what is love to you, by the way? Is it\r\n forever or is it until the next person who passes\r\nyou? All this stuff\r\ncomplicates. Whereas someone else\r\nwill say, well, love is love. If you\r\ndon’t know what it is, then really, poor guy. And\r\n that’s their take.\r\n\r\n
Question: Is fiction’s job to find the \r\ntruth behind that kind\r\nof cliché?\r\n\r\n
Tim O’Brien: It partly is that. I probably skew it, parody it, make fun of it, \r\nridicule it\r\nand put it in its place. Partly\r\nI’m sympathetic to the literal. \r\nThat is, I’m sympathetic with some mom who is holding a dead kid \r\nin\r\ntheir arms, and how else is she going to take it? But\r\n "Here’s my dead child." And so there’s a part of\r\n me that understands it and is\r\nsympathetic to it. And probably\r\nthe better part of me is that way, or I have at least some capacity—I \r\nthink as\r\nnovelists kind of have to have to imagine otherness. Outside\r\n oneself. \r\nAnd as a consequence, my books are filled with characters who \r\nbear no\r\nresemblance to me and who can be villainous in ways that I’m not \r\nvillainous and\r\nbe good in ways I’m not good that I think the capacity for empathy, or\r\nunderstanding goes with a successful book because you have to create \r\nother\r\ncharacters and other angles of vision on material for a book to ring \r\nwith some\r\nkind of authenticity.\r\n\r\n
Among my fellow soldiers in Vietnam, I mean there \r\nwas and\r\nremains to this day a kind of absence of that kind of empathy. A dead child is a dead gook, and a dead\r\nVietnamese woman, or one of their legs blown off is a gook with her legs\r\n blown\r\noff. And it pretty much remains\r\nthat way to this day, 40 years later: these same buddies I served with \r\nin\r\nVietnam don’t have much empathy for the so-called enemy. \r\n And I doubt they would be capable\r\nof—because that's there—writing “The Things They Carried.” \r\n They’d write another book, but it would be a much different\r\nbook.
Recorded March 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen
Part of a writer's job is to puncture our clichés about subjects like love and war with irony, edge, and ridicule.
Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
The WashU electrolyzer<iframe src='https://mars.nasa.gov/layout/embed/model/?s=6' width='800' height='450' scrolling='no' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe><p>The WashU electrolyzer—it has no snappy acronym yet—will not be the first device capable of extracting oxygen from Martian water. That honor goes to the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/instruments/moxie/" target="_blank">MOXIE</a>, which is en route to Mars onboard NASA's <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/" target="_blank">Perseverance</a> rover. The rover was launched on July 30, 2020. It will arrive on February 18, 2021, and will perform high-temperature <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water" target="_blank">electrolysis</a> to extract pure oxygen, but no hydrogen.</p><p>In addition to being able to capture hydrogen, the WashU system can even do a better job with oxygen than MOXIE can, extracting 25 times as much from the same amount of water.</p><p>The new system has no problem with Mars' magnesium perchlorate-laced water. On the contrary, the researchers say it ultimately makes their system work better since such high concentrations of salt keep water from freezing on such a cold a planet by lowering the liquid's freezing temperature to -60 °C. He adds it may "also improve the performance of the electrolyzer system by lowering the electrical resistance."</p><p>Cold itself is no issue for the WashU system. It's been tested in a sub-zero (-33 ⁰F, or -36 ⁰C) environment that simulates Mars'.</p><p>"Our novel brine electrolyzer incorporates a lead <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926337318311299" target="_blank">ruthenate pyrochlore</a> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anode" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anode</a> developed by our team in conjunction with a platinum on carbon <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathode" target="_blank">cathode</a>," explains Ramani. He adds, "These carefully designed components coupled with the optimal use of traditional electrochemical engineering principles has yielded this high performance."</p>
Back home<p>"This technology is equally useful on Earth where it opens up the oceans as a viable oxygen and fuel source," Ramani notes. His colleagues forsee potential applications such as producing oxygen in deep-sea habitats with ample water available, such as underwater research facilities and submarines.</p><p>The study's joint first author Pralay Gayen says that "having demonstrated these electrolyzers under demanding Martian conditions, we intend to also deploy them under much milder conditions on Earth to utilize brackish or salt water feeds to produce hydrogen and oxygen, for example, through seawater electrolysis."</p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?
- Fair distribution of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is especially challenging because they need to be stored at extremely cold temperatures.
- Back in 2018, the WHO reported that over half of all vaccines are wasted worldwide due to lack of cold storage, and they were only talking about vaccines that need to be chilled or kept at standard freezer temperatures.
- Real-time logistics data, location tracking, and information about movements are crucial to track shipment progress, product temperature and other conditions.