How to tell a true war story? Is the title of the chapter that lawyer Daniël Grimmelikhuijzen has already reread five times, even before the war in Ukraine broke out. In the book, author Tim O’Brien presents the struggle of someone who is trying to explain what he experienced in the war to people who have never lived in a war. “Outsiders are often not interested in the truth. They just want to hear a good story. But a true war story has no moral,” says Grimmelikhuijzen, which is why it’s so difficult to tell a true war story. “To be able to convey what you want to say, you sometimes need to twist the facts, leave things out or inflate them. But once you do that, it’s no longer a true story.”
Grimmelikhuijzen is doing a PhD in criminal law, ‘where stories are also told about the facts’. “In court, you can’t mess around with the truth, but as a lawyer you must be aware that someone will inflate facts and omits information to tell a story.”
Author Tim O’Brien shows that people want events to have meaning, even though a war story is merely ugly or banal. That’s it. Grimmelikhuijzen can accept that life is sometimes just ugly – ‘otherwise you shouldn’t study criminal law’ – as is criminal law itself. “In history, criminal law was nothing more than the right of revenge on someone who had harmed you. The process of retaliation may now have been institutionalised, but essentially nothing has changed. People hurt each other through criminal law.”
The question remained unanswered
Grimmelikhuijzen does not understand why not all law students choose criminal law. For him, it’s the most interesting discipline, with the most important questions. After a social studies class at secondary school, he knew that he wanted to study Law. “The teacher couldn’t explain why the sentence for grievous bodily harm with intent was longer than that for unlawful wounding. I didn’t understand why it was worse to inflict grievous injury on someone than unlawful wounding. That question remained with me.” He now knows that it concerns the intent. Causing someone harm with intent is worse than when it happens by accident.
Favourite genre: “I have a huge weakness for fantasy, but in recent years, I find less that excites me. Now I mainly read historic books.”
Main motivation: curiosity
Number of books a year: 10 – 15
Reading is (not) working
Unlike other students, Grimmelikhuijzen read all the literature during his studies. For his PhD research into public-private partnership in criminal law, he read a lot. Now that the four-year renovation of his house in Nieuwegein has been completed, he can now read again in his free time, although he wouldn’t call himself a critical reader. “I am very rarely totally gripped by a book.” Before the conversation, he considered why The things they carried is such a good book for him. “This will get quite nerdy,” he warns.
“On the one hand, a book can be very gripping. It’s a wonderful feeling when you are gripped by the story and can’t put the book down. That rarely happens, but when it does, it’s fantastic. On the other hand, there are books that are sometimes a bit more work. It’s not so much fun while you’re reading them, but afterwards you’re glad you read them, because they contained lessons. This book has the perfect balance between being gripped and becoming wiser.”
Daniël Grimmelikhuijzen is PhD student at Erasmus School of Law. He is researching public-private partnership in criminal law. Before his PhD, he worked as assistant professor and tutor at EUR.