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Thoughts on Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War, particularly episode 7: The Veneer of Civilization

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 | Permalink

Much has been said in the media and elsewhere about Ken Burns’ epic “The Vietnam War” during its first week. Some find it controversial, some find it revealing. Many find it informative, others find it excruciating and don’t view it at all.

One theme among all the others presented in the course of this sweeping depiction of 1960s America is the moral compromise the War inflicted upon most Americans. Burns is adept as always in condensing the impact of macro-historical events upon individual lives. The anguish and guilt people felt appears in the voices, faces, and covert gestures of individuals directly and indirectly involved with the prosecution of the war. From President Lyndon Johnson to the lowliest draftee or private citizen, the sense of moral conflict is painfully palpable.

One of the most articulate of these is native Minnesotan, Tim O’Brien. author of “The Things They Carried” and other stories and novels about the war. Throughout the episode O’Brien tries to come to terms with what he considers the “failure of courage” by participating in the war effort to please the people back home in Worthington. Even 50 years after the fact, he still feels the shame of not heeding the directives of his own inner moral voice.

While hardly unexpected for an artist of O’Brien’s stature, this sense of moral equivocality and compromise pervades the accounts of all the people who speak during the episode. One faction whose post-war reactions are not vocalized is the anti-war demonstrators. Though we’re shown contemporary interviews with Rennie Davis and others, we’re not given post-hoc reflections upon the War by anyone in the peace movement.

More to the point, what are the feelings and reactions of those who prosecuted the anti-war demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience? And what about the people who fled to Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere? Are they satisfied with what they did? Do they maintain the same sense of moral conviction that O’Brien wishes he’d have had? Do they have any regrets?

All we do have is the example of Bob Harrison who fled to Canada rather than help the military prosecute the war. And like the morally conflicted protagonists of Hollywood movies in the 1930s and 40s, it’s reported that he suffered a sad and tawdry fate like those film anti-heroes and heroines whose behavior subverted society’s strictures: death by drug overdose.

It may well be that an endeavor so sweeping as depicting the influence of war upon an entire generation hasn’t the time to study its impact upon a minor and marginalized subgroup of those who rebelled against the war. It also may be that Burns will address their perspective during the rest of his presentation and its conclusion. Aside from my first novel, Penal Fires, and several others, few people have. But it seems to me that the voices of those whose convictions were strong enough to take some action against the war whether through civil disobedience, draft-dodging, conscientious objection, or in some cases, bomb-throwing remain to be heard. And should be.

My interview with David Alan Binder

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 | Permalink

David Alan Binder is an author who has interviewed over 200 writers, fiction and non-fiction in various genres. His questions reflect the emotional eddies and cross-currents that make up a writer’s interior life. My answers are particularly revealing in light of the several narratives that occur in Mission: Soul Rescue. The link to my answers appears below:


http://sites.google.com/site/dalanbinder/blog/williamfietzerinterviewwithdavidalanbinder

What do you think?

Dinner at Eight: Only the Hearty Go On

Friday, March 10th, 2017 | Permalink

Thursday evening the Minnesota Opera hosted the social media presentation of their upcoming opera, Dinner at Eight. As the final dress rehearsal for its world premiere (March 11), the performance had its share of missteps and repeats, but overall it captivated the audience with its mordant, bitter sweet score and its spare, art deco staging of a legendary era in Broadway high society that may never have existed.

Based upon the very successful stage play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, this new opera plays against the pathos of the character types embodied in the Hollywood version in 1933. Whereas ruined lives caused by the Great Depression were very much a part of 1930s zeitgeist, here the haute couteur dinner attendees emerge as ruthless, sometimes resigned survivors of the unending Darwinian struggle to maintain social status.

As a result, composer William Bolcom’s musical score hovers primarily in the minor keys to undercut the folly of the hostess’ social aspirations and underscore the anguish of a fading silent movie idol too vain and too self-medicated to accept the loss of his former stature. Mark Campbell’s lyrics, though straining for cleverness during the opening chorus, do capture the hope, humor, and/or despair that motivates each of the characters throughout this operatic Vanity Fair.

If the performers held back to save their voices, it wasn’t evident in this dress rehearsal. Mary Dunleavy as the socialite wife Millicent Jordan, Stephen Powell as her ineffectual businessman/husband, Brenda Harris as the exuberant aging actress, Carlotta Vance, and the rest of the cast sang their parts with gusto. Their characters may appear foolish in the triviality of their aspirations, but the actors embodied them with emotional conviction.

All in all, the opera Dinner at Eight is a wise, funny, and ironic commentary on the aspirations and motivations that mark the human condition. Enjoy one of the performances on either March 11 (world premiere), March 16, or March 18 and 19. Social media followers can receive a $25/ticket discount for the Sunday March 19th performance by using Coupon Code: lobster25 for purchase at mnopera.org/dinner-at-eight or 612-333-6669.

C3 Anthology

Friday, September 5th, 2014 | Permalink

armor_shield2-300x295Received official confirmation from Denise Camacho, President of Intrigue Publishing, that my short story, “Blessings for the Living,” will be included in the 2014 anthology of stories written by authors appearing at the “Creatures, Crime, and Creativity” conference. Held again at the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore, Maryland, this second installment of C3 runs from Friday afternoon, October 10, through Sunday morning, October 12, 2014. Guest speakers include keynote speakers, Rebecca York and John Gilstrap, and guest interviews with authors Brad Park and C. J. Ellisson.

Based upon a real life incident at the prison farm outside my hometown in Waupun, Wisconsin, my short story centers around a boyhood experience of Victor Furst, the shaman/psychologist protagonist of my forthcoming novel, “The New Immortals.” On Halloween night, Victor discovers all of the spooky, malevolent things occurring on the farm, including the killing of his dog, Monte, may not have been committed by one of the prisoners who has befriended him.

Author Blog

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 | Permalink