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Gabe Hudson’s special delivery

Gabe Hudson has quite a tale to tell. A former Marine Reserve rifleman with an MFA from Brown University, Hudson forwarded a copy of his book Dear Mr. President (Knopf) — a fictional short-story collection wryly depicting Gulf War veterans as tragic victims (see our review in the fall issue of the Phoenix Literary Supplement, available here) — to the president himself. The Brooklyn resident says he received a reply from the Big Man, but that it wasn’t, ah, very flattering. But we’ll let Hudson, who read from his work in Boston last month, explain the rest, as he recently did via e-mail with the Phoenix.

Q: Your Web site says that you received a letter from President Bush regarding Dear Mr. President. How was the message delivered and what did it say?

A: The letter came in regular US mail. There was a sticker on it that I gathered was for tracking. Very regal White House stationery. The letter began by thanking me for sending the book. Also, I’m from Austin, Texas, and the president touched on the fact I was a fellow Texan. But he was setting me up for the one-two punch: he called the book " unpatriotic " and " ridiculous " and " just plain bad writing. " He clearly wasn’t crazy about the book or what the book addressed.

Q: " Unpatriotic " and " ridiculous " — how did this response strike you?

A: It seems strategic, if nothing else. In this day and age, the current administration would have us believe that patriotism is the same as conformity, and that to question America’s role in the world is unpatriotic.

I also think the current administration is working over time to convince the American people, if not the entire world, that modern war is "clean." They use disinformation — they even manipulate language. How has pre-emptive strike become a household word, without any real consideration to its meaning? Pre-emptive strike? Translation: killing human beings who in likelihood mean the U.S. no harm. I mean, this all started with President Bush's father. The Persian Gulf War was censored. The government has done everything it could to cover up the existence of Gulf War Syndrome. What is being glossed over is the emotional and physical toll that all this takes on human beings, on both sides. People die; people commit horrible acts in these wars. Lives are destroyed.

Things seem even worse now. These are scary times. U.S. troops are being deployed all over the world. More troops will be deployed in the next year. No one knows what is actually happening in Afghanistan. No one knows anything, and the media is failing to do its job. Instead of letting the people know what is happening, it has become the voice box of the White House. Thus the White House has the most effective propaganda tool in the world. Never before has the media worked so closely with the wishes of the White House. I mean, look at the anti-war demonstrations this weekend. These were the largest demonstrations since the Vietnam demonstrations, and yet we barely heard about it. How can thousands of people converge on the White House in protest like that, and it not be a bigger deal in the media? Because this is not information that the White House wants publicized. So I think these President's response seems strategic.

Q: A Q&A publicizing this letter first appeared in McSweeney’s, a journal that’s been known to pull more than a few publicity stunts. How do we know you’re telling truth?

A: The letter will eventually be published in a national publication. There’s something of a bidding war in the works, but I think we’re really close to making a decision. But I will say we want to handle this with as much grace and dignity as possible. This is, after all, the president.

Q: You’ve also said that there have been some odd occurrences with your Web site.

A: keeps crashing for no reason. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but we have a device on the Web site that allows visitors to send a letter to the president. We’re holding this contest, where the best letter sent to the president each week wins a signed copy of my book, as well as a copy of the letter the president sent to me. We post the winning letter each week at, as well as other letters that we liked. So far, there have been roughly 800 letters sent in to the president.

Q: You just read in DC. Any strange visitors?

A: At my recent readings there has been a guy in a suit, slouched in the back. These FBI guys don't even realize cartoons of themselves they are. I mean, no wonder our Intelligence in this country is so bad.

In D.C., this guy just hung around the table where I was signing books, pretending to look at books in the Kid's Section, because that's where my table was. After all the people who wanted their books signed had been through the line, it was just myself and a friend talking, and the guy was lingering around, looking at kid's books, trying to hear what we were saying. To mess with him, we dropped our voices to a whisper.

Q: Having been in the military, what are your thoughts about the fact that Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad, the man charged with capital murder in the sniper attacks, both served in the Gulf War?

A: I think this is a terrifying and possibly revealing fact. I do not feel comfortable discussing it, beyond the connection that you make, and are right to do.

Q: Although you didn’t serve in the Gulf War while you were in the military, you have met plenty of people who did. In your personal experience, how did Gulf War veterans feel about the government after their service?

A: In my experience, a lot of veterans do not feel good about the government after having served. They’re haunted by questions about the morality of what they did in the Persian Gulf War. I tried to deal with this in the book. I wanted to reveal the psychological toll that this had on veterans of the Gulf War — a lot of them saw or did horrible things.

While I was tour, I had a good number of Persian Gulf vets come up to me and thank me for giving a voice to their experience. It's a marginalized group of people. At first I was afraid they were going to beat me up. But basically these are people who have this monumental experience of having gone to war, and yet for a long while now their experience has been mostly forgotten. And they have seen first hand how these ambiguities surrounding the Gulf War have been covered up. A lot of the veterans feel a deep sense of disillusionment. I know for a fact that at these great demonstrations this past weekend, in many cases, Gulf War veterans were asked to lead the marches, and they did.

Issue Date: October 31 - November 7, 2002
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