“A Conversation with Tim O’Brien” by James Hanna – selection #31 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: 4♥4 Four of Hearts.

The Suit: For 2016, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my suit for “Stories from Indiana-related Magazines and Literary Journals”

TheSelection: From 2014″A Conversation with Tim O’Brien” from Butler University’s “Booth” journal. I found this piece in the journal’s online archives, when I was specifically searching for selections to include in “Deal Me IN”  Read it for free online here.

The Author: James Allan Hanna, now a member of the English Faculty at Indianapolis’s Cathedral High School, teaching American Literature and Creative Writing. He’s also a former assistant editor of “Booth.”


img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

“A Conversation with Tim O’Brien”

“These days, of course, vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are endlessly told, “Thank you for your service.” I suppose it’s meant to be a corrective to our understanding of the mistreatment of Vietnam vets. In fact, I hear those words myself quite often – “Thank you for your service.” But it gives me the creeps. I don’t want to be thanked for killing people, for participating in the deaths of three million Vietnamese. Moreover, the folks who say “Thank you for your service” – even with the kindest intentions – have not the slightest idea about what they’re thanking me for. And on top of that, they don’t want to know what they’re thanking me for. They don’t want to hear the ugly realities.” – Tim O’Brien

If you haven’t already heard of Tim O’Brien, you should probably go buy his famous book, The Things They Carried, and read it soon.  In fact, it’s way more important that you read that instead of this blog post so go ahead and come back later to read this; take as long as you need.

Done? Okay, welcome back. 🙂  Though much of this interview was focused on questions about the writing process rather than the author’s published works, O’Brien’s anti-war sentiments still shine through pretty brightly.  One passage in particular that grabbed me was when he elaborated on the “utter waste” of it all:

“The older the get, the more I – I hated war to begin with, but I’m more and more that way now.  There’s so little worth killing people for. And Vietnam is a glaring example of the utter waste of it all. I mean, look, we lost that war.  And yet who in this country goes around forty-five years later thinking, “Oh dear, what a catastrophe! My life’s a nightmare! I’ve lost all my liberties! Dominoes toppled all across Asia! Communists landed in San Francisco! Nobody thinks such stuff. NOBODY!

and, later:

“Right now, at this instant, American tourists are bicycling up and down Highway One in Vietnam. American high school and college kids are eating noodle soup on the streets of Hanoi. American businessmen are cutting deals in Saigon. Three million dead Vietnamese, about 60,000 dead American boys, and now no one in this country devotes a waking thought to the fact that we lost that war. On a personal, daily basis no one actually cares. And if no once cares, why did we go through all that horror and brutality in the first place?  Three million dead people, and we don’t give it a thought.”

That’s a staggering perspective on the Vietnam War, isn’t it?  I’ve read The Things They Carried several times now and recommend it often when people pay me the compliment of asking if I have any ideas for “what they should read next.”  I usually describe it as a very powerful book. After hearing the author speak a couple times now and now reading this conversation, I think the word “powerful” still applies.

It’ll only take about 15 minutes to read this piece, and it would be time well spent. Just click the link in this post’s header to read it online.

♫Personal Notes: I’ve had the pleasure of briefly meeting author Tim O’Brien a couple of times myself, mainly due to his relationship with the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, of which I am a member and, through this blog, a supporter myself.  He’s not an imposing man physically, but his words carry a lot of weight, and his presence somehow commands respect.  Just last month, he was in Indiana to speak at an event as part of the “Vonnegut Sessions” series.  He was interviewed briefly by two local fellow wordsmiths, then fielded a bunch of questions from the audience. He was engaging and self-deprecating, admitting “he hates this” when referring to his speaking in front of an audience, saying “I’m a guy who spends most of my days sitting at home in my underwear in front of a computer,” and that “I own one suit, and you’re lookin’ at it!”

(below: O’Brien, in middle with cap, listens to a question from the audience at July 15th’s “Vonnegut Sessions” event at the WFYI studios. Photo by moi.)


When the event ended, while chatting with some other audience members, I learned one of them had helped sponsor the event by being the high bidder on a “coffee and conversation” with O’Brien. (If I had known about that in advance, there may have been a different kind of war – a bidding war. 🙂 ) Also, the person who was the top bidder was local artist Greg Perry (also a writer gpwrites.com), who created the famous Landmark for Peace sculpture commemorating Robert Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis the night Martin Luther King was slain. (pictured below, from wikipedia)