Thursday, December 29, 2011


I just completed listening to the audiobook version of Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, having read the book about a year ago. This book's massive success puts to lie the little cartoon above. Yet, in a way, it is the exception that proves the rule. Matterhorn is more like going on deployment than reading a novel.  It is unrelentingly brutal but not even a pale shadow of the real brutality that was the Vietnam War--"my" war.

In response to several of Marlantes' observations, observations I myself have remarked on at times in my ravings to friends, I was moved to put out a second edition of my book, Surfing Vietnam. In this second edition, I wanted to underscore the fact that a real war was occurring half a world away, as my protagonist wanders through an America sickened and subverted by the lies and brutality the political war was spawning at home.

In order to heighten the reader's awareness of the real war, in addition to including seven military-style obituaries at the ends of chapters for male characters appearing in those chapters, that I put in at the last minute in the first edition, I began each chapter in this second edition with a pithy quote about war. Tofurther underscore the fact of the "real" war, I wrote an epilogue in which my protagonist describes a meeting in Paris with a highly decorated Marine Captain in Paris in 1975 who bears an eerie resemblance to the protagonist in Matterhorn and to Marlantes himself.

In the Epilogue, the Marlantes figure reiterates some of the observations he makes in his book. He exposits through one of his characters that there is nothing to steal in Vietnam. All wars are probably immoral, but some are also illogical. It is sane and rational to steal another country's wealth, land, gold or oil--not moral, but logical. Vietnam was neither moral nor logical. The double whammy of lunacy inherent in such a war and the government's attempts through intimidation, lies, and betrayal to rationalize and justify the lunacy were the seeds planted during the Vietnam War that are bearing fruit now in a country that is enslaving its own citizens, throwing out Constitutional Law, English Common Law and all decency in the name of fighting the so-called "war on terror" and preserving corporate interests.

I never set out to write Surfing Vietnam as a political polemic, but rather a worm's eye view of a society enmeshing itself in the lies and betrayals necessary to conduct such a lunatic war. Fighting a war in the jungle was not protecting NewYork from a communist take-over. The little brown men who fought like tigers and died like flies were not fighting for Marx or Lenin, but for a homeland that housed their ancestors and families and provided their livelihoods. One week in the jungle in combat would have persuaded Kennedy and Johnson,  Kissinger and McNamera  that the "principles" they were fighting for were just a load of bullshit Sophistry.

I would hope that some young people read Matterhorn and Surfing Vietnam. I pray they are not all as vapid as the young lady in the cartoon at the head of this blog post.

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