Bob Davis: Anti-war message at heart of ‘Hunger Games’
May 20, 2012 | 2534 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Published in the mid-1970s, A Rumor of War, Phillip Caputo’s descriptions of a tour of duty during the Vietnam War, helped Americans better grasp the conflict.

Newsweek’s reviewer wrote of the book: “This is news that goes beyond what the journalists brought us, news from the heart of darkness. It was long overdue.” Writing in the New York Review of Books, William Styron noted, “Caputo’s troubled, searching meditations on the love and hate of war, on fear, and the ambivalent discord warfare can create in the hearts of decent men, are among the most eloquent I have read in modern literature.”

The Los Angeles Times was more succinct, calling A Rumor of War a “terrifying book.”

And it was. Your faithful correspondent read it when he was 22, around the same age as Caputo was during his 16-month tour in Vietnam. Caputo’s vivid description of the horrors he endured caused terrible nightmares for this reader.

If A Rumor of War tops the list of anti-war books, Chris Hedges’ War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning ranks second.

Hedges, a foreign correspondent who was part of a 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning team from The New York Times, describes what he saw in covering global conflicts over the previous two decades.

“In the beginning war looks and feels like love,” Hedges writes. “But unlike love, it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”

Hedges’ take may not cause nightmares, but it’s a sobering and up-close examination of man’s capacity for brutality.

Earlier this month, I picked up Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the novel that the current blockbuster film of the same name is based on. I’m usually reluctant to read fiction, but after reading The Hunger Games — and seeing the very faithful film adaptation — I devoured the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

For the uninitiated, the story is a futuristic tale of a despotic regime’s attempt to control its citizens. Bread and circuses, dolled out in precise measures, is the name of the game. We see the story of a government’s oppression and eventual revolution against it through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl, Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games is the name of the authoritarian state’s reality TV show where young contestants engage in a killing contest. The last one standing atop a massive body count is named victor.

We won’t give away too much of the plot, but the author’s anti-war point is made crystal clear amid the carnage of the three books.

Collins, who vividly recalls the traumatic time in her childhood when her father served a tour of duty in Vietnam, has shared her inspiration.

“One night, I was lying in bed, and I was channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage,” she told an interviewer. “On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.”

The heroine endures trauma after trauma. Each episode of violence strips away some of her youthful vigor. In the end, she struggles to hold on to her humanity, to remember the things that usually preoccupy a teenager.

It recalled Caputo’s assessment of the time after his return from Vietnam. “When my three-year enlistment expired in 1967, I was almost completely ignorant about the stuff of ordinary life, about marriage, mortgages, and building a career,” he writes. Instead, he “had acquired some expertise in the art of killing. I knew how to face death and how to cause it …”

Regardless of the setting — Vietnam, the Hunger Games fictional nation of Panem or Afghanistan — the message of war’s toll remains the same.

Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@annistonstar.com. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.
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