Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Whose War Is It Anyway?

by Bacopa Literary Review 2020 Fiction First Prize winner James D'Angelo

I wrote the first draft of "Proxy" after reading Joan Didion's Salvador, Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, and War Is a Racket by Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler. I was fascinated with the idea of being a civilian trapped in a military-occupied town while the machinery of war grinds away. I also wanted to explore being a witness to something terrible. What level of culpability does a witness have, specifically a war reporter? Are you loyal to your country or to the truth?

That first draft received mixed responses at my weekly writing group, but someone recommended I read Dexter Filkins' book The Forever War. That helped me dive deeper inside the head of a journalist caught up in a combat zone. The title "Proxy" is on one level a reference to the term proxy war, and you can find plenty of those throughout the last century. But the story intentionally lacks certain details of the people, the geography, and the exact time period. This fictional war is a proxy for all the wars the United States has waged, overtly or covertly, for resources.

At dawn the American guns open up and vent Hell's exhaust.
     The shells rain until dusk falls, always on faraway places.
     They do this every day.
     At night, sharpshooters with Starlight scopes command the sight lines. They can spot the cherry of a cigarette from nine hundred yards and kill the man smoking it before the nicotine reaches his lungs . . .
     The U.S. military has spent countless research dollars to make soldiers more effective. They found that the mechanical distance between killer and victim is a key factor in willingness . . .
     Firing artillery. Shooting at the tips of cigarettes. It's easy to lose track of cause and effect . . .

I was lucky enough to have "Proxy" accepted just before I started my MFA program. I told my professor in office hours, but haven't directly told anyone in my workshop. Doing so feels too boastful. In my school's newsletter I provided this summary: 

"Proxy" tells the story of a journalist exposing the cost of fighting someone else's war. The evidence he gathers reveals how easy it is to kill for profit.

I stand by my blurb, but I'd love for you to read the story and tell me your thoughts. You can find/yell at me on Twitter. I want to thank my fiction professor Thisbe Nissen for believing in this story when it was part of my MFA application, as well as Lower Bucks Creative Writers for seeing it through from the first draft. And finally, thanks to Bacopa Literary Review for this incredible opportunity. "Proxy" is my first published story, so this is all new and exciting, and I'm very grateful.

*   *   *

  Read James D'Angelo's prize-winning "Proxy" on pages 59-64,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020


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