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Photo courtesy Craig DiLouie

Craig DiLouie issues a warning with Our War

By Troy Hasselman, September 20 2019 —

The last few years have been rough for pretty much everyone. We’re more polarized than we’ve ever been and live in echo chambers of our own creation. Everything is ammunition for an endless culture war that is, of course, based in politics, but also transcends politics and living conditions. Discourse is stifled through a sea of misinformation and mischaracterization that serves to only vilify us towards one another. American-bred and Calgary-based author Craig DiLouie has noticed this and has used it for the basis of his new novel Our War, which was released by Orbit Books on Aug. 20 and takes place in America, telling the story of the country’s cultural divisions giving way to a full-fledged war.

“Over the last couple of years I became increasingly aware that I was living in a dystopia so I wrote a dystopian book,” DiLouie laughs. “I’ve been politically aware for many years and have watched with dismay as my home country, the United States, has become increasingly politically polarized. That kind of tribalization is dangerous, not just because nothing gets done but because people end up living in entirely different realities. Every single thing that happens on the news, one person on one side of the political spectrum will interpret it entirely differently than a person on the other end of the political spectrum and feel passionate about it and say ‘We’re right’. ”

While these concerns have festered for years, they have become more prominent since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and the galvanization of extremists across the country in its wake.

“When Trump was elected a lot of this came to the fore because he’s pretty far-right and the Republicans have been shifting to the right for years. The far-right movement celebrated and started to talk civil war,” DiLouie says. “The rhetoric started to be hotter and hotter to say ‘If he’s impeached we may take up our guns, if he loses the election we may take up our guns,’ . This kind of freaked me out like it should freak anybody out. That rhetoric matters. It may not mean there’s this giant orchestrated movement but it matters to individuals who then act.”

This increasingly hostile rhetoric and polarized landscape served as the inspiration for Our War, with DiLouie envisioning what this environment could lead into.

“The genesis of my novel Our War is what if this actually happens? What if they put their money where their mouth was? What if a Trump-like president was impeached, the senate convicted him and he said ‘I’m not going’ and a national, armed protest by the right suddenly happens and armed groups are seizing government buildings? You find that this isn’t a protest, it’s a revolution,” DiLouie says. “Then you would have the response, with police departments responding and people arming themselves to defend their own neighbourhoods which would be the start of the militias on the other side.”

This vision of a second American Civil War bears a stronger resemblance to sectarian conflicts found in places like Syria and the Balkans in the 1990’s, as opposed to the American Civil war which had a clear divide between the northern and southern parts of the country. The conflict in DiLouie’s book will look more at the divide between urban and rural areas in the United States.

“I didn’t look at it as red state vs. blue state,” DiLouie says. “What I looked at is how did people vote on the county level? If you look at that map, the United States is all of these islands of deep blue in a sea of red and purple, I imagine the battle lines in the war would be drawn around those boundaries so that the war would be like civil wars in Syria and other countries. The war would be everywhere and everyone would fight. The military meanwhile would be paralized because whose side do they take? If they do take a side, are they going to have soldiers shooting at each other because the ranks are going to be divided? The military is frozen because they are looking at the president and congress to make a political solution, meanwhile the militias are out there fighting.”

While DiLouie has noticed more tense rhetoric since the election of Trump, he doesn’t want to specifically blame the right wing for our current conditions.

“I think liberals and conservatives both have something to say and I think the best government we can get is through the conflict between these parties and that’s a good thing. There are no villains in my book,” DiLouie explains. “The viewpoints of both are espoused fairly. I tried to keep myself as much out of the novel as possible even though I have strong ideas, if there’s a real villain in the book its the war itself. It’s the idea that we’ve become so polarized that we start shooting each other.”

DiLouie doesn’t think that having moved to Canada has changed his perspective towards his home country a great deal and instead sees his perspective on Canada to be different than that of most Canadians.

“I’d love to say yes but not really. As an American living in Canada I’m still an American patriot and I follow the news there but I’ve grown to love Canada. I’ve been living here for quite a long time now and have roots here, my children are here and I couldn’t be happier living here. My main reflections aren’t so much on how I look at the US and more on how I look at Canada,” DiLouie says. “I lived in New York City and my wife at the time survived the World Trade Center attack in 2001, she was on the 87th floor of the North Tower and that was a hell of a time. Within two years we decided to leave and we ended up coming to Canada rather than staying in the US. I’ve really come to appreciate the fantastic health care and general peacefulness. It’s not as polarized, the political process is a little more sane.”

While DiLouie hopes that Canada doesn’t reach the same points of division that he sees in his home country, he does see it as a possibility.

“I think there’s a potential for it,” DiLouise says. “It depends how the elites treat their constituencies, especially the more extreme fringe of their constituencies. If they latch on them and bring them into the mainstream and make them a part of the face of the party then that’s very polarizing and Canada risks going down the same paths in terms of polarization and turmoil. I really hope that doesn’t happen here because I feel like regardless of what party’s in power, I could always look at the other side and say I respect them and they’re not crazy and I don’t like what they’re doing but I don’t hate them and I want them to succeed for the country.”

DiLouie sees no easy answers to the current, polarized state of affairs and sees his book not as a means of offering solutions to our predicament but rather as a way of sending a warning about the current path that we find ourselves on and the dangers that can arise from it.

“I’ve written a dystopian novel which provides a warning. If we take something bad from the present day and take it to its logical conclusion and accelerates it into the future this could happen,” DiLouie says. “For me, as the author, my main job was to point at the problem and exaggerate it to call attention to it and say ‘this is a warning, how do you feel about this?’ The novel’s main purpose is to entertain and engage the reader viscerally. If they come away reflecting on the themes and they discuss it with other people, that’s even better. The easy answer is both sides should be talking less and listening more. But there’s so much institutionalized and so much money and power vested in the polarization I’m not sure what the solution would be.”

Our War is available wherever books are sold in physical, e-book and audiobook format.

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