Your memoir for adults, A Rumor of War, tells of your own experience in Vietnam. What led you to write about this topic for young people in 10,000 Days of Thunder?
I thought that there was a gap in the amount of information that young adults have about this event. They don't really learn that much about it in school. What they do learn, they might learn from relatives who were there or from friends who had relatives who were there. So there's a lot of fragmentary, word-of-mouth, anecdotal information. This [book] was really to give them a picture of what the war was like, what its causes were, how it was prosecuted, how and why it ended.
Though this is an event which has now taken place rather a long time ago, its repercussions continue right on down to this day. We saw that in the 2004 campaign. I mean we're in Afghanistan, we're in Iraq, there are jobs fleeing the United States, and we've got this big argument going on about what George [Bush] and John Kerry did in the Vietnam War. But that was an example of how the divisions aroused by [that war] just continue to reverberate.
Why do you think it's important for young people to learn about this war?
The Vietnam War was the most divisive conflict we have been in since the Civil War. It both exposed and created divisions in our society that can still be seen today. The so-called division between neo-conservatives and liberals, between two different views of what America should be and what America is, really began back then. Also, partly as a result of the social and cultural upheavals that occurred during the Vietnam era, things that are now realities in America—like the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, even the environmental movement—all of those got started during that period. The America that people between the ages of 12—18 live in was born during that era. So I think it's really important for them to learn about the central event of that era, which was the war.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
What I would hope is that a 13- or a 14-year-old would read this book and come away with a clear understanding of what the Vietnam War—and to some extent what that era—was all about, and why it was so divisive. And that this young reader, if not now perhaps a couple of years from now, would be able to draw his or her own conclusions.