From the moment I heard that Robin Becker wanted to create a modern dance inspired by
my book on Vietnam (They Marched Into Sunlight), I knew that it would be beautiful and
interesting, like anything Robin undertakes. But it was not until I saw a workshop performance
of parts of her dance, Into Sunlight, at a studio at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on the Friday
evening of November 12, that I fully understood the power of what she is doing. Before that
night, I wondered how she would connect her choreography to the storylines of the book
and how deeply I would feel a connection to what I wrote about and what I would see in the
movements on stage. That question dissolved as soon as her wonderful dancers began. From
their first piece, I was utterly absorbed, feeling my book in a way that I never had before, and
that sensation stayed with me until the night was done.

    My book is about war and peace. It is a nonfiction account of two days in October 1967
when war was raging in Vietnam and the antiwar movement was raging in America. It is about
two simultaneous events, a battle and a protest. They involved two very different worlds that
were nonetheless about the same thing. In Vietnam, on the morning of October 17, a battalion
of young American soldiers walked out into the jungle on what was known as a “search and
destroy” mission and got destroyed themselves in an ambush set up by the Viet Cong; sixty men
killed and sixty wounded in a few hours of fighting. Back in the U.S., at about the same time,
students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison were protesting the presence on campus
of job recruiters from Dow Chemical Co., the makers of napalm and Agent Orange, two of
the horrific weapons of war. The protest turned into the first violent confrontation on a college
campus during the war when local police waded into the sit-down protest and bashed heads with
their billy clubs.

    Those are the specifics of the story, but the themes are what drive the book, and what energize
Robin’s amazing dance. As different as the young soldiers and the young protesters might seem
on the surface, more bound them together than separated them, and it is the commonality of the
human experience that Robin evokes – the fears, the questions, heading off to the unknown,
young vs. old, brother vs. brother, love and hate, the meaning of loyalty and patriotism and the
eternal sorrow of war. There is a scene at the beginning of her dance that evokes the first chapter
of my book, of young soldiers on a ship sailing from the West Coast of the U.S. to the port of
Vung Tau in Vietnam where they will march ashore – into sunlight, into war, many never to
return. Watching her dancers move en masse in elegant slow motion across the stage, with one
dancer standing above them, walking on their backs, hooked me completely, it was so simple,
dramatic, symbolic, and real, and I was taken by the performance from that moment on.

     Her work is powerful, and the themes are always relevant, alas. When my book came out in
2003, I said it was about a time when young American men were fighting and dying in a place
where they didn’t know the language or the culture, where they didn’t know who was a friend
and who was an enemy, fighting in a war that started under questionable circumstances and that
no one seemed to know how to end, when there were serious questions about the meaning of
patriotism and the role of dissent in American life. It was about Vietnam, but it had a familiar
ring seven years ago, as it does still today. But it is one thing to hit on a timeless theme, it is
quite another to bring true art to the stage. That is what Robin and the dancers are doing. This
is a major work that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible on the largest possible
stages. I have no stake in this other than pride and astonishment in what Robin and her troop are
doing, and my deep hope that they get the support and acknowledgment they deserve.

David Maraniss

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