Friday, January 1, 2010
Book Review: I'm Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down by Nat Hentoff
After a random thrift store find of this title, it sat around for a long while and I picked it up and breezed through it in a couple of marathon sessions over a couple days. What initially drew me to it was that it was written by a name that I knew from reading loads and loads of liner notes on jazz albums: Nat Hentoff.
Before I get into the ramifications of Hentoff writing this kind of book and the story itself, I should say that I, too, am white and of somewhat privileged background; so there was something for me to latch onto in this story.
Hentoff is white. Like me. He is writing about the perspective of an upper middle class white teenager in the late 60's worried about being drafted into the army at the height of the Vietnam war.
This is an interesting dichotomy. The main character, Jeremy, seemingly has a choice of whether or not he wants to even be considered for the draft. He is pretty much guaranteed entrance into a university, and therefore, immunity from military service. But —and here's the twist— he is staunchly opposed to the war and (at least he claims) would resist even if he was forced into the draft.
The main plot revolves around whether or not Jeremy intends to register for the draft. If he does, he feels as if he has sold his own beliefs out; even knowing that his chances of being sent to Vietnam are virtually nonexistent. If he doesn't, he risks five years in jail, but for what? He wouldn't have gone to Vietnam anyway, so it would have been purely a move to prove his loyalty to his cause (a/k/a 'martyrdom').
And that sums up the book. It is purely a meditation on the perceived wrongs and rights of different opposing positions to the Vietnam war. Through the narrative of Jeremy's experiences over roughly two weeks, we get to hear just about every possible angle on the subject.
I think the most poignant aspect of the book is when Jeremy and his friends go to the poor high school (read: mostly minority) to have a 'meeting of the minds' session of sorts, most of the poor kids are not opposed to —and, in fact, quite excited by— the prospect of going to war. They see it as a step up in society; a way to be respected and make something of themselves. Never, in the entire thing, is it ever a matter of choice for them. Or rather, the choice is: stay at home and be nothing or join the service and be something. A jarring perspective, for sure.
But the main things to keep in mind here are such: this is the perspective of a kid who actually has a choice of going or not going and the general perspective is one that opposes war of all kinds in general.
Although all perspectives are heard from, the really unique thing about the views explored here is that they reflect the war at home more than anything else. In fact, I'd say that's the main theme of the book. It's as if every character has accepted the war for what it is and now they are all fighting with themselves —and each other— in order to deal with the reality and gravity of the situation.
The great thing is: take away the draft and you could apply a lot of the scenarios and sentiments detailed in the book to present day America in regards to Iraq.
Sure, some of the material and the slang has dated by this point, but take that away and you could easily apply these themes to contemporary America.
At a brisk one hundred and twenty-some odd pages, I'm Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down is definitely worth the time if you're not in favor of prolonged, uncertain wars but are also conflicted within yourself about the pros and cons of such situations.
Not a super duper masterpiece, but worthwhile brainfood.