Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

A Pebble in the Shoe of Consciousness

I recently finished Karl Malantes book What It’s Like to Go to War.  I have some mixed feelings about the book, but one Malantes’ stories struck me. 

During one battle Malantes was involved in during Vietnam, he killed two North Vietnamese soldiers who might have been trying to surrender.  When Malantes relates this story in the book, he literally stops and rewrites it.  In his original telling, the way he had been telling it for years, he cast himself as the hero–charging up a hill he killed two enemy soldiers.  But as he writes that in the book, he stops, rewrites it in what he considers the more truthful way–the way in which the two enemy soldiers might have been trying to surrender.  It is an emotional moment in the book–Malantes writes that he began to weep while he wrote.  Given the context, I have no doubt that’s true.

What struck me is that something that happened 40+ years ago still troubles Malantes.  And then I thought of my situation, and the situation of the hundreds of thousands of veterans that have served during the Global War on Terror.  That led me to the title to this post:  My war experience is a pebble in the shoe of my consciousness.  Most of the time, I don’t even know it is there–It has worked into a spot where I can’t even feel it.  But sometimes, it gets caught right under the arch and bothers the shit out of me.

I don’t want to put words in Malantes’ mouth, but I think this book is Malantes’ effort at getting rid of his pebble.

(Update) My metaphor strikes me as incomplete after a day of thinking.  I look back on my actual war experience fondly, in a way.  I enjoyed the people I worked with and felt like I was doing some good.  A pebble in the shoe is either negative or neutral, but obviously I have some positive feelings about it.  Or is that the pebble messing with me? Can war be “good” on an individual level?


Written by keithboyea

January 5, 2012 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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