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By John Ketwig (reviewer)
Breaking Cadence: One Woman's War Against the War
by Rosa del Duca
(Ooligan Press, 2021)
Breaking Cadence is one hell of a book! It's a memoir of the author's relatively short-lived military career and the horrible experiences she endured as she was trying to confirm her status as a Conscientious Objector, a self-reliant adult, a woman, and a human being, all at the same time.
The author was just seventeen years old when a good-looking young recruiter for the National Guard spoke to her high school American Government class. She came from a broken, abusive family with no resources or opportunity. Rosa wanted desperately to go to college, but no money was available to make it possible. However, if she joined the Guard, she would earn enough bonus money to cover her tuition, meals, and maybe even a dilapidated used car. She took the bait and convinced her mother to sign the enlistment papers.
Vietnam veterans will recognize most of the rest of this book. It will make you remember many of the attitudes and experiences you had while in the military, and maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much. It is a nostalgic trip, but it also tells us that today's military hasn't changed from what we experienced half a century ago!
During basic training, she has begun to give up her self and become a soldier. "I couldn't help but grin up at the ceiling. For three months I'd dressed like a man. I'd rolled around in sand and mud and sweat through my uniform and hocked up phlegm so I could breathe and gulped down food like a cretin and yelled guttural yells and dug holes out in the woods to bury my shit. Yet, while I'd been feeling ugly and crude and masculine, a bunch of boys had conferred and agreed that I was a sexy girl. Holy crap!"
Or this: "Imagine you are an ant going about your ant business as part of your colony. Imagine the Army is the sun. It's blinding and powerful and you can't look right at it, but it's not always in the sky. You get a reprieve every night—enough to regroup and tolerate the sun long-term. Enter therapy. Therapy is the magnifying glass some cruel kid sticks between you and the sun, to burn off your exoskeleton. Within a few seconds, your shell is destroyed."
She sought advice from a trusted officer. "All you have left is LDAC, your MS4 year, BOLLOK 2, then your officer basic course and your branch training. After a tour in Iraq, you'll come back and go to captain school. By then you can move on, having fulfilled the requirements."
"If this was supposed to be a pep talk, it was having the opposite effect. Staring at the paper, I imagined all those hours dressed up to be someone I wasn't."
"I knew I couldn't follow through. Deep down, I'd known it for weeks, maybe months… I was ready to admit I was a traitor. I had to acknowledge my mistake, own my regret, and find a key for the lock on my cage. No one else was going to open the door for me."
She went through the motions, but she was desperately looking for a way out. It was a long struggle, and I don't want to be a spoiler. Roda del Duca is a great storyteller, and she describes every step of the way and every emotion that surges over and through her. "Who do they think they're fooling? Waves and waves of soldiers have come home and shared their horrendous stories of fighting a dirty war. Many came home broken, only to be faced with a broken system. Some brought back a violent nature. But far more returned without the will to live. An estimated 18 – 21 veterans kill themselves in this country every single day."
Rosa del Duca is a survivor, writer, journalist, teacher, and musician. In 2011, she and a friend formed the band Hunters, which produced three albums. Her most recent solo album is Love Letters. She lives in California with her husband and two children. She was and continues to be, a war resister. The fire burns deep in her soul. She values morality and humanity, and she could not stomach the Army. She could not morally participate in today's American way of waging war. She has moved on but carries that disillusionment like a burning ember in her gut. She has moved on but left behind one hell of a book!
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW and the author of two critically-acclaimed books about Vietnam, ?and a hard rain fell and Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter.