A soldier in Vietnam invents a uniquely absurd solution to the horrors of war.
A relatively naÃ¯ve Wilfred Carmenghetti comes to the Far East to outmaneuver the draft and save the Western world, but when he lands at the First Battalion to join an air-mobile platoon in the 13th Cavalry, the young Army lieutenant is greeted with a profane censure of communism and the offer of a $30 prostitute. Once he gets over his initial dismay, Wilfred accepts his place in this peculiar milieu by bonding with a black rabble-rouser named Joshua Henry and falling madly in love with a dilettante Vietnamese girl. Morris, once a rifle platoon leader who tread in the same rice paddies as his fictional character, writes convincingly of battle, bloodshed and the disarming brevity of sudden, violent death. He also infuses his war story with the black humor prevalent in many modern American war stories like Catch-22 or M.A.S.H. as Wilfred struggles to outmaneuver the incompetently bureaucratic Lt. Col. Clary, his lapdog Capt. Simms and an engaging, philosophical Vietnamese spy. The book, played out in discrete segments following groups of characters on missions that usually relate more to their own motivations than the company line, also carries echoes of Tim O’Brien’s similarly toned The Things They Carried. Eventually Wilfred, traumatized by his experiences and absorbed in a debate with himself over the nature of humanity, arrives at a fanciful conclusion that involves recycling the bodies of dead Vietcong to satisfy his superior’s appetite for grossly elevated body counts. â€œWhat we need to create is the functional equivalent of war: Everything except the killing,” he says. To wit, the illusion of war.
A funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace.