Friday, October 05, 2007

Doonesbury and War

Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau has been press averse for most of the 36 years since he started the topical comic strip. But he recently broke his silence for and the Washington Post.
Three years ago, Trudeau started a storyline in which his oldest character, B.D., was wounded and began an agonizing journey towards physical and emotional recovery. In a shock to Doonesbury fans, B.D. lost his leg and his helmet in the same frame.
Early on, Trudeau showed a talent for crafting unexpected storylines, as he did when B.D. became close friends with Phred, a Vietcong terrorist with a taste for the songs of Check Berry and Cole Porter. The story he crafted of B.D.'s loss of his leg has brought Trudeau close to men and women in uniform, as reflected in
this interview with What series of events caused you to create the storyline where B.D. lost his leg?
Trudeau: The storyline began in April of 2004, shortly after coalition forces suspended operations in Fallujah. Casualties had been high, and I was looking for a way to dramatize the sacrifices that our troops had been making. I only had two established characters in Iraq -- B.D. and Ray -- and I'd already wounded Ray in Gulf War I. That left poor B.D. to take the hit. I originally considered having him die in combat, but I concluded that while that might have caused a brief sensation, it would soon be forgotten. In the alternative, by giving B.D. a life-altering wound, I could set in motion a sustained story arc that tracked the arduous recovery and readjustment issues that a survivor might expect to face. I thought that might be a more useful outcome to explore. What have you learned from the company of wounded servicemembers?

Trudeau: I learn something different from each one. They all have their own powerful narratives, and they handle their own set of challenges differently. Certainly these are folks we should all be proud of; they are tough and largely uncomplaining, indeed most want nothing more than to continue to serve. There is a lot to admire.
The Washington Post profile, which probes deeper into Trudeau's personal life than anything I've ever seen, is most moving when describing his connections with wounded vets. Trudeau's work on the problems vets face earned him an invitation to speak before the National Leadership Conference of the Vietnam Veterans of America:
The speech starts benignly, praising the courage of the soldiers he had met, but here's how Trudeau wraps it up:
"When I talk to wounded veterans, I usually don't ask them what they think the mission was. I don't presume, because their lives are wrenching enough without the suggestion that their sacrifices may have been without meaning. Moreover, if that is so, it will become apparent to them soon enough . . . The young men and women who we've repeatedly put in harm's way are paying the price for this misbegotten mission, and as long as it continues, I, like so many of our countrymen, must walk this strange line between hating the war but honoring the warrior. I don't know how long we can keep it up. . ."

He finishes to a standing ovation.
Not only has Garry Trudeau has covered ground foreign to the comic pages, he's ventured into areas off limits to all but the most courageous of journalists, as he did when he started a story about the recovery of a young veteran struggling with the trauma of war and rape by men she served with. Garry Trudeau's strips on the problems of vets are smart, funny and moving in a way that can only come from someone who has made friends with those who have suffered grievously from the war.


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