Sniper-Think, Killer Narratives, and The Loss of Presence

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By Shawn Stjean

No cultural phenomenon could better support the U.S. government’s interminable “War on Terror” than the current wave of sniper hagiographies on screens and in bookstores in 2015.  It’s not surprising, given a public forced to accept drone strikes as some kind of moral and even righteous activity.  But I say, hey, let some of those shooter-turned-writers cash in on their experiences–they earned it better than the guys who sent them into harm’s way.  But it’s all killing from a distance, isn’t it–presidents have been doing it since long before the Mexican and Indian Wars of the 19th century.  And now the average guy can do it vicariously from his armchair, raising a glass to “Reaper” or the next one, as he flips the page on yet another patriot claiming to be “the one” who got Bin Laden.

Partially because I was a Marine long ago, and knew several snipers, and received a fair amount of long-distance weapons training myself, I devoted a good portion of my novel Clotho’s Loom to a sniper narrative, in order to show its dehumanizing effect on the shooter.  Hey, these guys have red blood like the rest of us: some are as decent as anyone you’ll ever meet, some are relentless fools.  But let’s not kid each other–what they do is not heroic, and not anything a mother or father should want sons and daughters to aspire to.  Thirty-three confirmed kills may sound cool on your video game board at 17 years old.  If you’re older than that, it should start to bother you.  At best, it’s a necessary battle tactic; at worst, murder.  It sure ain’t fighting fires.

But I’m not really here to talk politics.  Like a submarine story, there’s no denying the inherent suspense in writing about military adventurism on the ground.  And a novel ought to present the story, and let the reader judge.  The problem is, biographies and pseudo-biographies and autobiographies like the present ones aren’t confined by that limitation. So by definition, the “pro” position gets articulated, while the rest of us with hesitations stand mute.

No, then, I’m really here to point out the underlying lack-of-thought process that is echoes in our everyday lives by the sniper mentality, which is: Get More Distance.  And how to do that?  Simple: Better Technology.

Wait! you might say, what about skill, discipline, commitment? True, but the rest of us are living a diluted version.  We have the distance, in spades.  The rest?

Think about it.  We have: headphones with artificial rhythms insulating us from the natural rhythms of our respiration, LCD screens blocking us from our views of the world and each other, mirrors distorting our sense of self-worth, drugs and alcohol deflecting the pain, noise between us and the silence or our own thoughts, texts saving us from lengthy telephone conversations, telephones saving us from inconvenient visits to friends and family, two tons of steel, glass and airbags between us and the next driver, navigation systems telling us which way to steer, calculators doing the math for us, Google searching for us, virtual dating and break-up by text, contact lists remembering numbers and even names for us, long-distance college classrooms taught by God-knows-who, kevlar and rubber cushioning our feet from the grass, an average 38-minute commute between home and job.  Cameras digitize our faces to keep our loved ones apprised of our appearances.  Tattoos and piercings take the place of scars.   We do our best trash-talking online [ahem].

And 7000 miles between us and the wars.  So many that we don’t think about them for days at a time.

From my list above, half of the items did not exist a generation ago.  A century ago, almost none.  In 1915, you visited with your people if you could, wrote them letters if you couldn’t.  And you wrote “I miss you,” because you really did–no technology dulled the pain for you, because that kind of pain is normal, it’s healthy, and it’s designed into us at the genetic level in order to help us keep our priorities straight.  And in those days, if you wanted the land or the resources or the lives of another country, you had to send tens of thousands of your own husbands and fathers and sons, with a very real probability you’d never see them again, over there to either take those things, OR decide they weren’t worth the risk and violence after all, and come home or stay in the first place.

We’re all snipers now.  Most, risk-free.  Are we heroic?

You’ll be a better hero to your kids if you hug them when they need it, and scold them or grab them by the shirt-collar when they deserve it, and put up with the discomfort-level, either way.  A text and emoticon just keeps you too far away.

Led-Zeppelin-Presence

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Anarchists Recruiting Radicals Leading Liberals: Dominoes Leaning Left

PRESS RELEASE
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Among its failures, luminary Norman Mailer identified in The Armies of the Night that the Left in America was so splintered (writing from the perspective of 1968) that, even though well-intentioned reformers might stand for something worthwhile, they had great difficulty standing together. Too many different agendas: race relations, women’s rights, the anti-draft and anti-Vietnam war movements. Emerson, had he lived to be 150, would have called many of these well-meaning citizens “do-gooders” who should have concentrated, rather, on being good.

Today, it’s well-known that FBI agents, acting on orders, infiltrated some of the many organizations that did exist (Students for a Democratic Society perhaps only the most notorious,) in order to, among intelligence-gathering activities, combat forces that the federal government believed were manipulating the protesters: outside agitators, what Spiro Agnew called “vultures,” intent on destroying our society from within, by turning it against itself. But did these agents provocateurs really exist?

Rochester, NY – 11 August 2012.  The atmosphere of today’s United States may not be as apparently violent in its ideological clashes as that of forty years’ gone, but many believe the rift has simply gone deeper, smoothing only the surface of our native soil.

Shawn StJean’s new novel, Clotho’s Loom (Glas Daggre Publishing, 2012) dramatically personalizes what could happen if these kind of foreign, cold warriors were to penetrate the divisive climate of American society in the 21st century. A former Marine sniper, now college professor approaching middle age and settling into academic “schoolhouse liberalism,” is reactivated: pulled between the demands of the Right and Left, and–due in part to a deep personal ambivalence toward his father, a Vietnam vet–succumbs to the recruitment efforts of the anti-Western border-runners. Meanwhile, his wife, a woman of conservative social background, is semi-wittingly abandoned just at the time when she discovers herself pregnant, at the age of forty.

The book can be interpreted as a cautionary tale on the ease with which a cavalier liberalism can be exploited for anarchic and destructive purposes–the protagonists both encounter a series of increasingly devious characters, both outside U.S. territory and upon it. The narrative spans the globe, from the midwest to the Middle East, and extends to the deserts of both continents.

The female protagonist must come to terms with the extremes of her own right-wing upbringing. The daughter of a failed farmer, she’s nevertheless been taught the values of adaptability in the face of circumstance, and to continue to support the values of marketplace competition, as a lawyer. Wooed by an opportunistic capitalist, she supports his mission to rehabilitate the languishing community into profitability—with himself, however, as benevolent dictator. And although this vision is hardly as chilling as the chaotic alternative—what one villainous character describes as “a deep freeze”–the author takes pains to present it as more likely and real.

Although the parallel structure of alternating chapters tends to evenly distribute the attention of the narrative, not only between the gender issues of men and women, but of Left and Right (with a balancing concluding chapter,) this literary fiction offers occasional symbolic cues toward its author’s ultimate biases. Fortunately, there is also enough ambiguity to accommodate the thematic enjoyment of readers of widely varying ideological temperaments. In either case, the characters find that both the individualistic values of the Left and those of the communal Right, at odds times self-serving, are best acquired not as inherited, youthful idealism, but rather as earned, hard experience leading to maturity.

ISBN: 978-1479271528

List $20.00 paper, ebook $8.99

540 pp.

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