In the eleventh chapter of Lady Knight, no. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Lady Knight.
Chapter Eleven: Shattered Sanctuary
Trigger Warning: Sometimes this goes without saying, but I do want to warn that this review/chapter has to discuss violence, war, extreme loss of life, and any number of psychological and physiological factors that come along with. It is going to be upsetting, so if this is something that triggers you or if you don’t have the emotional strength to deal with such a thing, I’d save this post for another day.
I’m devastated. I think I’ll start there.
Actually, I’ll back up. My father was in Vietnam. My dad never hid the fact that he fought overseas in the Army from us, and from a very young age, he encouraged us to look to a life in service as a career. Even when my mother realized that I had a very good chance of getting into college, my father never gave up his dream of having two sons who ascended the ranks of the military. He was a deeply proud man, but he was so quiet about that. Most of that came from the culture he was raised in. He parents were Japanese immigrants who lived all over the Hawaiian islands for many generations, and the unique combination of being Japanese and Hawaiian meant that confrontation, acting brash, or being loud just wasn’t a part of who he was.
So when my father told stories of being in the jungles of Vietnam, they were not dramatic re-creations that relished in the details and the tension. No, they were almost clinical in their simplicity. Often, he’d tell us these stories with virtually no prompting at all, and that was what always disturbed me about them. He could find any way to turn a subject to his experience with war, but when he spoke about it, he seemed completely unaware of how absolutely fucking terrifying his words were. He told us stories of his friends burning alive and him having to sit there and watch them because he couldn’t reveal his position. He told us about being sprayed with Agent Orange once a week for months on end. He told us about shooting the head off of someone. He told us about getting shot himself. We’d hear these violent, traumatic stories, and my father told them without any hesitation. There was no difficulty in his voice.
As I got to high school and the military recruiters (who had an office on campus where they could interrupt class at any time to try and secure more sign-ups from outgoing juniors and seniors) started harassing me and my brother because we had a veteran for a father, I couldn’t ever forget my father’s stories. They haunted me. If I joined the military, would I be compelled to do the same things that my father did, and would I eventually relate those stories to my friends as if I were talking about fulfilling a grocery list? Would I become detached like my father was from the reality of what he’d done? Would I be proud of fighting for my country if that meant I’d have to fight in a way that had a faulty premise?
I never got to answer that question. One of my other friends did.
I’m still devastated. I’ll get back to that.
I had a close friend sign up for the military in early 2001 because he needed the money. He needed the promise of a college education because his family was incredible poor, and it made total sense to him that he could give up a few years of his life in order to pay for college. His mother and father had sacrificed a lot over the years for him; he figured that he was willing to sacrifice some of his time to alleviate his parents’ financial responsibility. It was sensible. I’d miss him, but I knew it was time for him to move on.
He went through basic training, and we all got to see him a couple months later, near the end of the summer. But something happened in the middle of his boot camp: September 11, 2001. My friend signed up for the military believing that he’d get some grunt job and pass the years he’d devoted to them that way. And suddenly, he’s in one of the first battalions sent to Afghanistan, and that was the first thing he did after boot camp.
We saw him once while he was out in the deserts of Afghanistan: a photo in The Washington Post. He wrote me a few times, and his letters became more and more infrequent. They became more and more depressed, more desperate for a world other than his. He didn’t necessarily hate what he was doing, but there wasn’t a bone in his body that liked it.
He came back 65 pounds lighter than when he left. His battalion once went eleven days without food because someone in some chain of command forgot his group was still out in the desert. He killed a lot of people. A lot of people. I heard some of these stories from him, others from mutual friends, and then I stopped hearing from him at all. He became the sort of person we used to make fun of: a gun-toting, Republican-loving weirdo. And then, on top of that all, he brought back something else from Afghanistan: perhaps the most intense form of PTSD that I have ever seen in my entire life.
He’s devastated, but he keeps it to himself.
I can’t imagine it was all that easy of a choice for Tamora Pierce to write Lady Knight as a vicious, visceral, and deeply upsetting example of what war does, but here it is. There’s a lot in chapter eleven to show us the grim reality of fighting like this, and no previous chapter of her books ever really touches on the heartbreak, the inhumanity, and the terror of warfare.
Tamora Pierce names the dead. She gives them faces, she gives them occupations, quirks, talents, secrets, and she reminds us of their humanity right as she details the inhuman violence that has been perpetrated on their bodies. How can Kel ever forget these images when she thinks of these people again? How can she look this war the same way? The enemy raided a refugee camp just to murder everyone else. Have her fellow soldiers ever done anything as heinous as this?
I’m devastated. So are Neal, Lord Wyldon, and Kel. It hurts because Haven, the place Kel helped make a sanctuary for these people, was essentially desecrated by the Scanrans for… what? What purpose? Just to cause harm. What else is there to war? Financial harm, political harm, all of it done through the physical harm of human lives and human bodies.
Sanctuary has been shattered, and I have been, too.
The original text and the second video contains the use of “crazily.”
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