Monday, May 29, 2017

A Day of Memorial

With fortuitous appropriateness, I’ve been spending part of today taking in an audiobook of the 1959 novel A Separate Peace, a high-school staple, which I read one summer at -- again appropriately -- a New England prep school (Mount Hermon, in this case).   I was about the same age (fifteen vs. sixteen) as the protagonists of that book.   And again, looming large in the background  a war was going on (Vietnam vs. WWII):  and like those young men, I was temporarily sheltered.
Since that summer I never re-read the book, nor thought about it much, though it is an ingredient in any young reader’s formative character.

The book’s main action takes place in 1942-43;  but it opens with its narrator, now twice his age of the time of the fateful events, revisiting his old campus in New Hampshire.    He returns with a sense of melancholy and dread.
Thus too I, now fully four times the age I was when I read it, return, not to the physical grounds of the tale, but to my own teen mind as it once received and grew inside it;  and with this, a sudden pang of unexpected dread as well.

The phrase of the title, “a separate peace”, would have been self-explanatory to anyone living through the second World War, and remembering the first;  it the context of the novel, it had a second resonance, in individual psychology.   The latter is now still readily available;  but young readers today, unschooled in diplomatic history, might miss the original significance.

The end of World War Two marked a sharp break in our nation’s history.  With it began a period of practical ahistory -- forgetting the recent conflict (my parents never spoke of it, never reminisced) -- while young families grew, and focused on making the world as pleasant as possible for their children.   Then the Vietnam conflict spread ever more darkly over us, affecting everyone, but draft-age young men especially.  These two factors somehow spawned what is to me still largely an enigma, even though I was a physical participant in all of the times’ events:  how a generation that had been (for the most part) very well treated indeed by their society, and by their parents in particular, came to contemptuously reject their birthright.

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