Ben Fountain is my hero. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk flips the lid off the absurdities of America “at war.” When a group of soldiers returning from Iraq get a heroes welcome at a Dallas Cowboys football game, fans, players and bystanders say things like, “Are you winning the war?” to a group of newly anointed veterans, unsure how to reply.
In one exchange, a man tells Billy, “‘You are your brother soldiers are preparing the way,’ and Billy knows better than to ask the way to what.”
In the way all the journalists, and parents and siblings and spouses ask inane questions, “What’s it like to get shot at? Have you ever killed anybody? Do you know anyone who died?” Fountain explores the men’s reactions, most of which, are stoic and unobservant. While the good folks of Texas are getting their daily consumption of football, fast food, Bill O’Reilly and God, they are also blindly thumping their drum of patriotism, having no idea what’s out there on the other side.
This is how society treats men and women coming home from war. Melodramatic welcomes home parades, with strangers bearing unsolicited and ill-directed praise. There’s nothing behind these exchanges - they’re all just exercises in futility spoken by people with rarely a clue about what a terrorist is, or America’s role in it.
Billy’s conversation with his sister, Kathryn, who ignorantly, but lovingly pleads with him to object to returning with his battalion, is indicative of the sort of sweetness, and solidarity that is often missing from the country’s dialog. She asks him if he agrees with the war. She’s researched help for him to re-enter society, listing all the political figureheads and Fox news anchors who had never been to war, but serve as its strongest proponents.
In the end, Fountain digs at society’s un-sensibilities. Its reluctance to determine its own foe, the gluttonous, God-fearing reflection it stalks. The nation’s disconnected, non-influential families have sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the movie producers and sports teams get society’s bonus points for hailing them at home. All a footballer has to do in his patriotic duty, is stand at attention during the National Anthem and jump up and down a few times. Let’s get pumped.
I can’t help but be reminded of the Jean-Paul Sarte quote, “When the rich rage war, it’s the poor who die.”