Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Vietnam War Novel for Veterans Day

Dave Barry once said that "the badness of a movie is directly proportional to the number of helicopters in it." I agreed with his sentiment, especially because helicopters often appear in action or war movies, my least favorite. But after reading Matterhorn, the Vietnam War novel, by Karl Marlantes, I now view helicopters differently. The helicopters brought water, food, ammunition, and most importantly, a ride out of the jungle, or "the bush". This devastating war novel includes the racial tensions and the military callousness or incompetence that occurred during the 9-year war forty years ago. The book describes the brotherhood that develops when soldiers fight together, but for the most part “the kids” (most were 18 or 19) are feeling extreme misery, fear or boredom.

It took Marlantes three decades to find a publisher for Matterhorn. Marlantes went to Yale and Oxford before shipping out to Vietnam with the Marine Corps. He had started writing the novel in the 1970s, in response to a group of war protesters who yelled obscenities at him when he returned home, and he wanted to tell his side of the story. Marlantes' first draft was 1,600 pages. With an editor, he cut it to 598 pages to speed up the pace of the plot. Over the years Marlantes improved the book by reading Tolstoy and Flannery O'Connor and others -- and asking, 'How did they do that?' The story gives you an historically accurate and alarming vivid experience of the conflict and the unfolding of the day-to-day lives of soldiers - a leech getting stuck inside a soldier's penis, an argument over an afro, or “humping” for 4 days in the fog with no food, water or shelter.

So tomorrow we should think about veterans of all our wars - those that died, were disabled, suffer still with post traumatic syndrome, or have returned from their service intact, but have still lost out in career and family time. You know that they never stop thinking about it.

No comments: