Tag Archives: war

Strangelove Somewhat Dated (Thank God!)

Film Friday Recently, maybe on National Public Radio, I heard a story that struck me as marvelous: an American tourist was visiting underground Russian bomb shelters. What with improving relations, apparently the Russians no longer feel they need a place where their government officials can hide out for two weeks following a nuclear attack. The […]

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Reading Literature under the Gun

This evening I will be moderating a Leonardtown Library conversation about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  It’s an enjoyable novel that is perfect for book discussion groups since it’s about a book discussion group. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set up during […]

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How to Tell a True War Story

Two weeks ago I was honored to participate in two conversations with high school classes about the Tim O’Brien Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried.  Carl Rosin, an English high school teacher and regular reader of this blog, set up the occasion. I have taught O’Brien’s marvelous work in our College’s 20th century English-Language […]

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The Grand Illusion that We Fight Over

Film Friday I wrote Tuesday and Wednesday about Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” and the fences that divide us, both externally and internally.  Today I write about one of the great humanistic films about dividing lines: Jean Renoir’s 1937 classic La Grande Illusion. The final scene of the film reminds me of “Mending Wall.”  Two World […]

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Young People Fighting Old People’s Wars

Memorial Day Today we honor our soldiers killed in the line of duty.  Many of them were idealistic, most of them were young.  I offer up today an enigmatic poem by A.E. Housman that captures, in an understated way, the tragedy of their deaths.  The poem is unusual in that it talks about soldiers having a choice. […]

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A Physicist and a Metaphysical Poet

The gifted nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer knew that his brilliance was not leading him to inner peace. Perhaps he appreciated George Herbert’s poem “The Pulley” for voicing his condition and was soothed by the poet’s vision of final rest.

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Fiery Speech in a World of Shadows

Film Friday I owe my love of film to my father, who for years ran the “Cinema Guild” at the University of the South/Sewanee. When I wrote two weeks ago about Meet Me in St. Louis, my father talked about seeing the film as a G. I. in Europe.  “We saw the film as directed […]

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Hurt Locker and Confused Young Men

Jeremy Renner  Film Friday I taught Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker in my film genre course earlier this week. The film both impressed and depressed me. I have been teaching action adventure films and how our culture uses this genre to sort through male identity issues. Drawing on a very useful book by Susan Jeffords, Hard […]

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The Birds of War-Torn Afghanistan

I share today a poem by my father Scott Bates, who is an ardent birdwatcher as well as poet. The poem reminds us of an ongoing war that too often we want to push out of our minds. Through contrasting the natural world with the disasters created by humans, my father expresses his longing for […]

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Telling the Truth about War

As the president addressed the nation Tuesday night about his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, I found myself impressed with his seriousness and depressed over the situation. I know that he has no good options.  I can’t tell whether his decision is the right one. Literature, as I’ve periodically noted on this blog, […]

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Finding Peace for War’s Wandering Souls

Wayne Karlin  In honor of Veterans Day, I attended a fascinating talk by novelist Wayne Karlin on his new book Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead the Living in Viet Nam (Nation Books, 2009). In addition to being a top-flight writer, Wayne, a neighbor and friend, is a Vietnam vet who regularly journeys to Vietnam […]

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Fantasy As a Roundabout Road to Truth

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn  I didn’t do entire justice in Monday’s post to the Tolkien essay of my son Toby. In correcting that here, I also open up a more complicated vision of fantasy in general, as well as Tolkien’s fantasy specifically. I was wondering if Tolkien had retreated into fantasy as a refuge from […]

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Tolkien’s Ring and World War I

 Otto Dix, Trench Warfare (1932) I have gained some new insights into The Lord of the Rings since my son Toby wrote an essay about it for the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate English program.  Toby informs me that there are a number of debates around the book, especially whether it should be considered great literature. The […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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