W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (May 2002), 326 pages
We all have a soft spot in our hearts. Mine happens to be the good old war in ‘Nam. I am not a fan of gore and violence. There’s just that certain innocence of coming-of-age about that era. The protests, the songs, and Vietnam, at that time itself. Not that it should be recognized with such glory, but knowing that it was the only (?) war that the United States has “in-your-face” lost, makes the subject even of more interest to me. No I am not wondering why they lost. Too many factors (Americans were better trained in urban rather then jungle warfare, hence the Vietcong’s ‘low-tech’ but highly ingenious contraptions were underestimated ) Now looking on hindsight, its very apparent how America fed its sons to the dogs, and therefore lost. Since the best troop were then ‘oldies’, just coming from the Korean War, they had to resort to eager young men who, in the letters, did not even know what they were fighting about. Most of the soldiers, in the letters, got their zeal to fight from the ‘survival’ theory–dog eat dog, don’t hunt and you will be the hunted, and most of all, out of vengeance..they see their good friend killed and thats when the desire to kill Charlie (VC’s) arise. In other words, they really have no idea what they were fighting for to have signed up in the war (in the first place).
Anyway, I better stop before i veer off the topic, which are the letters written by soldiers from Vietnam. A couple of introductory and acknowledgements chapters, and you will be faced with raw poetry, diary, and letters (simply all kinds of writings) written, basically from when the war started 1965, until…hmm..i just noticed that the ‘latest’ of these letters are just ’69-70. A very excellent foreword by a veteran, William Broyles, Jr, gives off a good kick start to the entries:
“With the possible exception of his rifle, nothing was more important to an American in Vietnam than his mail. In 1969 I was a Marine lieutenant commanding a platoon in the mountains west of Da Nang. Twice a week a helicopter would bring out the red mail sack. The squad leaders would pass out the mail to their men along with a running commentary: ‘Hey Rinaldi, your girl changed her perfume–what’s the matter, she don’t love you no more?” Each package would be shaken, its contents the subject of often obscene conjecture; if it contained cookies or other edibles, etiquette required that it ben shared and given a rating. Men who received consistently low ratings were encouraged–not subtly–to instruct their correspondents to improve the quality of their mailings. Everyone knew who was getting mail and who wasn’t, who was having trouble at home, whose girlfriend was trying to let him down gently. It was a special time, private but also communal”
Downside to the whole work is, well, you can actually get immersed in reading the first few pages. But a content like this is really hard to sort and organize thus the lack of coherence and plot. Letters were grouped into categories like, Medics, Infantry, and “Newbies”. And later on you begin to notice that several names come up again and again. (you realize that the ‘newbie’ is now a platoon leader..) so there’s the tendency to look back again and again on previous pages so you can better follow a certain guy’s life.
I just found out that HBO released a material based on this book (late 80’s). Featuring voices of many talents such as Ellyn Burstyn, Robert de Niro, Michael J. Fox, Matt Dillon and William Dafoe. They are read by the actors, so perhaps its an “Il Postino” sort of presentation.