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Laughing In The Dark: Lessons In Hope & Healing Paperback – August 1, 2012
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Tim's insightful Vietnam short stories braced me enough to tackle "Laughing in The Dark: Lessons in Hope & Healing," a vivid narrative of Ken Hatton's showdowns with death in Vietnam and the demons (particularly The Beast) he had to exorcise back home. Ken's crisis erupted in a physical attack on his wife, Paula.
Paula, fortunately, loved Ken so deeply she reassured him, showered him with love despite his assault, and helped him travel the treacherous path back to normal. Paula is an accomplished, prolific author whose skills make this book sing in celebration of victory over extremely harsh and dark memories. Paula not only contributed her writing talents, but she also talked in depth with Ken to pull out the elusive memories he had to face in order to recover.
"Laughing in The Dark" is relatively brief, flows smoothly, and every word matters. This book is helping me learn to face and manage The Beast inside me. I believe our veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will benefit from Ken and Paula's depiction of Ken's crisis and his advice on surviving the traumas of the aftermath of combat.
I once talked to Ken by phone while ordering books from the publishing enterprise he and Paula founded. He was a decorated Army officer, and I took that opportunity to remind him what a hero he was.
Sadly, Ken passed away in 2012 before I could steel myself to read his and Paula's inspiring tale and practical guide. If Ken were still alive, I would tell him he's a hero twice-over: once for his bravery in Vietnam and again for his courage to describe his painful conquest of the war's aftermath.
By Kendall and Paula Hatton
My Green Publisher, 2012
When the United States assumed the role of international police officer in the years following World War II, few Americans foresaw what the long-term consequences of taking on that role would be. Laughing in the Dark, by Kendall and Paula Hatton, looks squarely at one of those consequences.
Since 1945, American policy makers have involved the nation in a seemingly endless series of bloody, grinding conflicts--from Korea through Vietnam to Afghanistan in the present era. As in all wars, the brunt of the fighting and dying is borne by young men, always far removed from the elite centers of power. These young men usually come from small towns and inner cities, from middle class and lower middle class families. Almost never are they from the upper echelons of American influence, wealth, and social privilege.
In the late 1960s, Kendall Hatton was one of the young men drawn into a particularly violent and meaningless chapter in America's 20th Century chronicle of conflict, the Vietnam War. The vain sacrifice that the Vietnam War particularly represents haunts American life to this day. In this short, eloquent memoir, the authors describe the effects America's self-imposed international burden eventually had on a man, his wife, and their family.
Kendall Hatton came of age as a Vietnam vet who served honorably during that period as a forward observer in the US Army, seeing considerable action. In reminiscences similar to those related by my own Michigan brother-in-law, also a US Army Vietnam vet, the brutality and terror of the war are graphically conveyed.
Written before his death from cancer on April 9, 2012, Kendall Hatton recalls how a naive expectation that his military service was a revered patriotic duty was quickly dashed by the grotesque realities of war on the ground:
"Once I was in Vietnam I saw a different version of the US Government's `just and righteous' cause. I saw arrogant and swaggering generals putting photo ops and career advancement before the lives of the men they commanded. I saw a war waged according to rules that made rubber trees more valuable than human life... The seeds of bitterness were nurtured so deeply in my heart that I gave up my love for my country for many years, replacing it with a brooding distrust..."
For as long as nations have conducted wars, people have been aware that war has a destructive physical effect on the soldiers who fight. They come back scarred, impaired, limbless, wounded, and dead. That participation in warfare also has a cruel psychological effect on many veterans is at last becoming well known and socially understood.
This book is primarily Kendall Hatton's story of how he came to grips, aided by a loving wife, with the searing mental and emotional demons his Vietnam service unleashed. This highly personal story is told through an unusual dual viewpoint, with insights and commentary written by Paula Hatton interspersed throughout. Step by step, the book explores Kendall Hatton's Vietnam War and its shattering aftermath. He plainly saw his share of blood, death, misery, and suffering in that misbegotten episode. It goes on to describe, in prose and poetry both powerful and poignant, the ways in which his ambiguous attitude towards the war crippled his marriage to a remarkable woman. We also learn how, together, they rose above the circumstances that cause many marriages of veterans to disintegrate.
On account of the subject matter, a number of sections in this book make for difficult (sometimes agonizing) reading, and even though no experience in war can ever be fully resolved for the participant, there is good advice here for survivors of trauma. There is, in the much-abused phrase, light at the end of the tunnel.
This work is a labor of love by two gifted writers, who pull no punches in their exposition of how they overcame the aftereffects of Kendall's war. Because of its artistry, Laughing in the Dark rightly deserves a special place in the pantheon of post-Vietnam memoirs. While it may not be a book for all readers, for those willing to tackle it, well worth the effort.