Interview by Steve Bennett for the San Antonio Express-News, May 3, 2009 (mysa.com)
Q. How did this book come about? What inspired the novel? Is it an idea you've had kicking around for a while?
A. It’s one of the first ideas I had, “reality” and how our perception is formed or skewed by the information we have. If you’re the sole witness, can you believe your own eyes or do you doubt that such a thing as you saw could happen? As a sole witness can you hang on to a truth if everyone else wants a different story? After seeing a game I always want to read about it to make it “real” even if I don’t agree with the writer’s perception.
Q. The Korean War plays a major role in the novel. That's often called a forgotten war. Why did you decide to base the narrative in that conflict?
A. The idea started with a sole witness but grew into a sole survivor. When researching “The Sounds of Rescue, the Signs of Hope,” I saw in Life magazine an overhead photograph of a small town in Iowa (I think). A National Guard unit from that town suffered heavy losses and on the photograph an American flag was imposed on the home of every family that had lost a member. Almost every house had a flag on it. I wanted the survivor and those who didn’t survive to be from the same place so the families of the dead would have questions he couldn’t evade. It began as a National Guard unit but became a Marine Reserve Company. Truman called up the Marine Reserves soon after he ordered troops into Korea and they went through two of the most horrific battles in Marine history, Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir. The reserves weren’t called up again until Bush’s war on Iraq.
Also, Korea was the first war after World War Two that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower knew couldn’t be won.
Q. The voice behind the book is an angry one. Angry at the hypocrisy of American politics, religion, the media. You have almost nothing nice to say about any segment of our society. Is that an accurate assessment? And, what brought all this on, the Bush years?
A. I didn’t know the book was angry. It’s about a man who has to live with the lies in his own life, as we all do. Other characters have smaller lies or aren’t troubled so much by them. I advised students to pick a career in an area where they could endure the hypocrisy because hypocrisy is a part of life, and the things you love are the things that hurt you most. I spent most of my life teaching at three religious schools. I loved the good things about the schools and I could endure the hypocrisy because there was a degree of separation from the church. I love the church but I didn’t seek a career there because that’s the organization I want to be most nearly perfect and where the hypocrisy would be most unbearable. If there’s anger it’s more likely to be the loss of reality. Joe McCarthy, The Good War, the Cold War, the Greatest Generation, the free market that replaces tariffs with massive government subsidies, the war on international terror led by the only nation ever found guilty of international terrorism by the World Court. It’s maddening how eagerly we swallow facile words to avoid hard truths. The Bush years were just another step away from “reality-based” information. Paying reporters to write propaganda, the Pentagon vetting and giving talking points to TV’s military experts who had investments in companies that profited from war. Those wanting to overthrow governments try first to seize the radio and TV stations. If you control the information you control the thought processes. In capitalist countries, it’s easier. You buy the stations and you own the “news.”
Q. In news about Iran, no one mentions that our problems with Iran began when Eisenhower overthrew the democratically elected government and put a brutal tyrant on the throne. Eisenhower also gave them their first nuclear materials and encouraged them to develop nuclear energy. School children aren’t the only ones who don’t know history.
A. The Kerry subcommittee report on Reagan’s use of drug smugglers to smug guns into Nicaragua and the Justice Department’s defense of the smugglers when caught smuggling drugs into the US was declassified in 1998, but it still remains a secret although it is available on the internet (nsarchive.org). Although I had completed several drafts of “Echoes,” until Jessica Lynch and Pat Tallman I didn’t believe that kind of falsehood could endure outside the movies.
Q. Heroism is the main theme of the book. What is your definition of a hero?
A, Korea may be forgotten but the Marines will never forget MacArthur ordering them into the Chosin Reservoir that they knew was a trap and repeatedly said so but High Command wasn’t listening. MacArthur had political ambitions and defeating China might fulfill them. The Marines marched into the trap as ordered and fought their way out of it, attacking toward the sea. Whole companies were sent to fight their way up the ridges and drive back the Chinese so the attack could continue, and never came back. A Marine major resigned his command, something that had never happened before, because he could not send another company to their certain death. Knowing their fate, the Marines fought their way up the ridges so the division could reach the sea. I salute anyone who honorably wore the uniform.
I also salute public school teachers who faithfully do their job knowing they will be attacked by those they serve, the public, and politicians who need a punching bag. And all those who stand for the truth even when they don’t like the truth. One of the reasons I had such trouble with this book was because I didn’t like the truth.