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In “Inn Trouble” [March 9–15], David Bacon writes, “At the end of the last congressional session, agribusiness persuaded farm-worker unions to agree to an arrangement that would have set up a legalization program for undocumented farm laborers, in exchange for relaxation of wage and housing requirements for growers using the guest-worker program.” The fact is, agribusiness employers for six years had lobbied Congress for a new guest-worker program or revisions to the current agricultural guest-worker program. Their efforts were defeated. At the end of the last Congress, agricultural employers agreed to come to the bargaining table with the United Farm Workers. These hard-fought negotiations, which included members of Congress on both sides of the issue, led to a compromise in which each side made difficult choices. The growers did not “persuade” the union to take a deal.
Farmworker Justice Fund Inc.
GUESS YOU REALLY HAD TO BE THERE
It was with great frustration that I read Michael Green’s article about what he believes is missing from John DiFusco’s Tracers, at the Odyssey Theater Ensemble [“War Stories,” March 2–8]. Tracers was created through improvisational workshops by men who fought in the Vietnam War. They would share personal stories of their own true experience and improvise scenes around them. Mr. Green’s arrogance in asserting how these scenes fall short of what Vietnam was really about is profoundly disappointing. He amplifies his own ignorance by claiming the play is missing many crucial elements that are clearly included. Just to highlight a few:
He says no soldier confronts the immorality of his killing. Not true. Early in the play, my character, “Baby San,” delivers a monologue that opens, “I lost my sense of judgment yesterday. I killed someone.” He goes on to demonstrate how this one act has thrown his whole perception of reality into turmoil. Two scenes later, the character “Dinky Dau” soliloquizes on his own act of killing: “Like I had a license to kill, huh? But he was a human being.”
Mr. Green complains about the lack of patriotic disillusionment. Sometime during the performance he must have stopped paying attention. In the middle of the second act, we meet “Doc,” a medic and pacifist, who says, “Six months from now, this GI will be in a peace demonstration on Nixon’s fucking front lawn!” Oh, wait! Mr. Green wanted the disillusionment to come from “Little John,” the “black boot-camp enlistee.” He appears to assume there was some sort of universal political experience among the nonwhite soldiers in Vietnam. How he comes to this conclusion is unclear, since he was never in Vietnam.
Perhaps the most perniciously ignorant criticism is his disapproval of the depiction of two characters’ suicides. The first to occur in the play is that of “Doc,” the pacifist. First, I want to point out that “Doc” was a real person who was a close friend of Tracers co-author Harry Stephens, who created the character “Professor.” He killed himself under the very circumstances described in the play. Mr. Green says we give no “clue as to why except that one reads Pirandello and obscurely remarks, ‘Sometimes I feel like one of Pirandello’s characters.’” This is a gross misquote. The “Professor” speaks that line, not “Doc.” As for the reasons for the suicide, “Doc” very clearly describes the deep pain, frustration and spiritual damage he has suffered as a result of the war. The fact that Mr. Green did not pick up on this is not surprising. The misquote is
evidence that he was only half
“Baby San” is the other suicide. He deliberately shoots himself in the heat of the final battle scene. The scene is based on an actual battle in which co-author Rick Gallavan was involved, where several men shot themselves rather than be taken prisoner. These were spontaneous acts in the heat of battle. I am surprised that Mr. Green would not understand this concept, but again, he wasn’t there.
(“Baby San,” 20th-anniversary
production of Tracers)
While I appreciate that everyone has the right to his or her opinion, I feel that Mr. Green has unfairly labeled Tracers and its authors as unable or unwilling to depict the “true” story of Vietnam. I feel, on the contrary, that Tracers is a valid expression of the experiences of the men portrayed, and should not be written off as “missing” something simply because it failed to expand upon the issues which Mr. Green regards as important. The play is not about the anti-war movement. Neither was it written, I am sure, to provide a comprehensive history of that era, and is therefore not obliged to depict the protesting that went along with the war.
Tracers stands, whole and wholly moving, as a poetic, stylized, truthful — and very funny — tribute to the men who wrote it, acted in it and inspired it, as well as to the many men, including my own brother, who died in the war and were therefore unable to see it. I would not change a thing.
Tracers is not a play about an America, as Michael Green put it, “awash with domestic and political strife.” It is not a story of those who, as he did, walked the protest lines in their youth. It is an honest depiction of the soldiers who went to do what they believed was the right thing to do — serve and defend their country — but who found themselves in a situation unlike any I hope this country ever sees again. Tracers is told from the point of view of men who were seeing the situation from behind enemy lines, not from the protest lines. Nor is it told from the point of view of those who made the policies in Vietnam, but from the point of view of men, most of them still in their teens, who were expected to do what all soldiers must: follow orders.
Many soldiers, as Mr. Green noted — including some of those who wrote this play — joined the protest lines when they returned home. That is another story, and apparently the only one Mr. Green was willing to hear.
Vietnam veteran and protester
If Mr. Green needs to see a play about why the Vietnam War should never have taken place, I challenge him to write it. As for what Tracers is, I was moved and touched by this play about the very real emotions that each of these soldiers experienced.
—Darlene C. Ritz
FUEL FOR THE COMING WGA FIRE
I just came across Ella Taylor’s film summary of Cast Away (see Current Film Releases), in which she describes “a bold directorial move — almost an hour of silence . . .” What bold directorial move is this? To shoot the second act as it was written and not put in dialogue that didn’t exist in the script? I’m a director, but I find irksome critics’ propensity for attributing writers’ inventions to directors.