Peace Corps Writers
Howls From a Hungry Place, Part III (page 5)
Howls From a Hungry Place, Part III
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5

     In My Two Wars, Thomsen trains that same sweeping view on everything that surrounded him during the war — a devastated, weary London; drunken, hardened bomber crew members; the doomed innocents he recalls years after their deaths in the air over Berlin, France, or the English Channel; the dead members of his own crew. He writes of D-Day, where his group bombed into the front lines of smoke as instructed, only to learn to their horror afterward that the lines of smoke had moved — the American Air Corps had inadvertently dropped bombs directly in the midst of American troops. Thomsen hints at the terrible guilt one would expect from a mistake of that magnitude, but somehow soldiers thrust into situations that cause massive amounts of death and destruction must find a way to live with such guilt, or at least block it out. Thomsen addresses his own survivor guilt:

    To those of us who survived combat, who flew time after time and returned to the ordinary routines, routines that at first struck us as being miraculous — eating, sleeping, bicycling along the summer roads, drinking whisky in that absolutely exclusive group of combat airmen (pleasures that gave us less and less pleasure) — a slowly growing boredom with life began to be apparent in our conscious thoughts. We were touched with shame to be still living, to be doing the same banal things in the center of that encircling and invisible and growing pile of bodies. Why had we been unchosen? There seemed to be no way to be worthy of the dead without joining them; we were in competition with the dead who had left us, and left us filled with guilt. A passion to live. A passion to die. How could we reconcile these two emotions that kept rising in us, except in the way we did, by sinking into a kind of catatonia, an emotional hibernation that was like insanity.

     When Thomsen finally reached his quota of 27 combat missions, he waited out the remaining days of the war in Texas; after the Japanese surrender, he took a 30-day leave to visit Charlie at Wildcliffe and pick up some clothes, odds and ends, and his beat-up pickup truck. What happens here as he goes from one just-completed war to the other, the one that would haunt him until his dying day, is a final outbreak of hostilities as he finds his father barely bothering to cover up the fact that Moritz, the returning war hero, would have been of much more use to him dead than alive. Thomsen’s survival, he realized years later, was looked at by his father as little more than one more complication to spoil his “sunset years.”
     Thomsen spent the years 1945 to 1964 as a hog farmer near Chico, California, a venture that finally failed and led to his foray into the Peace Corps, and ultimately to his 28-year stay in Ecuador. Through all of his experiences, he felt a great passion for writing, and produced countless articles and essays for publication in newspapers and magazines, to some success. But his four published books were mostly a labor of his own sunset years. All but Farm on the River of Emeralds are still in print; Bad News from a Black Coast has not attracted a publisher for twelve years, but Thomsen completed it probably just months or less before his death, so there is always the possibility of a fifth volume. Admittedly, Thomsen’s style can be a bit much for some readers — some find themselves turned off by a self-pitying tone, or uninterested in Thomsen’s hatred of his father, or his intense relationship with Ramón — but any writer who tries to express his rages and defeats and frustrations in life takes that chance. The fact remains that, to many fellow writers and a small, devoted cadre of readers, Moritz Thomsen is one of the truly great, yet unrecognized, American authors of our time.

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