BOOK REVIEW: SHOPPING CART SOLDIERS BY JOHN HENRY LEE
shopping cart soldier
This is a book that I tried to read about a year ago, but I couldn't get through it-just too hard. Last week, I picked it up again and somehow finished.

The title, Shopping Cart Soldiers, is exactly what you think: about homeless Vietvets. Talk about sad. Homeless combat vets from Vietnam.

Several years ago, I volunteered for a time with an organization that did work among homeless vets. I discovered quickly that a roof over their heads is about the last thing they needed. Almost all these vets were so mired in drugs, had wasted their lives, and were almost beyond any sort of help. I hate to say this as I firmly believe that "hope springs eternal." But, drugs are so pervasive, so deadly, so all consuming in an environment of homelessness.

homeless man on street
Courtesy of veteransassistance.org
What this book did for me was soften me up. I admit that I'm often a little hard with those who seem to be professional Vietnam vets. Ferreting out the truth is not always easy and this book is helpful.

Shopping Cart Soldiers is an autobiography of the author, John Mulligan, who was born in Scotland in a family with ten children. His family emigrated to the United States; and, at the age of 18, he joined the Air Force and went to Vietnam. He suffered Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after Nam which led to alcoholism and drugs and a stay in the hospital in a three day coma. He spent ten years homeless, much of that time in San Francisco Paranoid Park. While recovering from alcoholism, he went to a veteran's workshop, meet author Maxine Hong Kingston who helped him edit the manuscript for Shopping Cart Soldiers.

The book is written like fiction but not really; it is too, too real. Much of the story is about John Mulligan's alter ego, Finn McDonald. In this apocryphal account, this guy, spent so much time in Nam on drugs that he fits in that category of Vietnam vets who were messed up before the war and all a stint in Nam did was accentuate their already screwed up life. This book gave me a little more understanding and I wished I'd labored on with it earlier when I first tried to read it.

Many books have been written by Vietnam vets telling their war experiences and hardships after war including Post Traumatic Stress syndrome, alcohol, and drugs.

All Vietnam vets are vastly different in their experience. In my unit, for instance, we did not have that much trouble with GIs and drugs; because, for the most part, we were in the field all the time fighting; and, when you are worrying about dying, there's not much time for anything else. We didn't have much exposure to places where GIs could get drugs.

But, I am the first to admit that drugs were a part of the Vietnam experience for many, especially combat soldiers. And, like the protagonist in Shopping Cart Soldiers, drugs were a way to escape; and, then at some point, the escapee becomes a prisoner as Mulligan aka Finn McDonald did.
   DVD REVIEW: THE DREAMS OF SPARROWS BY JOHN HENRY LEE
dreams of sparrows movie jacket
Dreams Of Sparrows is a poignant documentary of life in Iraq by five filmmakers, one, Sa'ad Fakher, was killed during a crossfire involving Americans. It is the first documentary feature by the IraqEye Group, a collaboration of American producers and Iraqi filmmakers in hopes of reviving the Iraqi film industry.

The film is directed by first time Iraqi director Hayder Mousa Daffar with other contributing directors and covers the fall of Saddam, post-war, and pre-reconstruction.

The beginning of the film starts with the birth of an Iraqi baby and Daffar is saying how much he loves George Bush. But the documentary makes a subtle transition from near glee over the fall of Saddam to pessimism over day-to-day life in Iraq and the feeling that many would rather have Saddam back.

Dreams of Sparrows is a search for truth with interviews of Iraqis from all walks of life in Iraq: Iraqis in homeless shelters, in line for petroleum, and in mental asylums, as well as palestinian refugees, artists, writers, and filmmakers. The documentary was powerful because it makes the audience realize the depth of what the Iraqis are facing day-to-day.

The interviews gradually become political and question the motives of Americans. Not unlike his associates, Daffor, once grateful to George Bush at the beginning of the documentary, has a different perspective at the end of filming.

Check out Dreams Of Sparrows. Two parachutes.
March 11 2006
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