THE BOMBING OFFICER by Jerome Doolittle

THE BOMBING OFFICER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Bombing Officer is Fred Upson--a youngish, timid, non-military Embassy type who is sent to Laos in the late '60s to be Air Force liaison officer for the low-profile US action there: ""What I do. . .is approve or disapprove requests for bombing strikes, depending on whether they fall within the rules of engagement, in my mature judgment as a man with one year of ROTC under his belt."" And, very predictably, Upson is soon becoming disillusioned about US conduct in Indochina. He hears various military/diplomatic rationales for the American warfare in Laos. (""Every commie our little guys can tie down here is one less commie shooting at American boys in Vietnam."") He is exposed to the crude hijinks of the Embassy staff, the blind racial prejudice of the Ambassador's wife--who is scandalized by Upson's open ""fraternization"" with his maid/mistress Somchan. And, above all, he begins to realize that his job is a sham, that the US bombing is indiscriminate, that civilian casualties are being blithely covered up. So the increasingly courageous Upson starts bucking the system a little: he persistently turns down a bombing-strike request; he visits a refugee camp; he collects evidence of the US military mayhem. But only after he is unfairly harassed does Upson go public with his story. And only after his efforts bring on the melodramatic demise of beloved Somchan--sexual abuse followed by suicide--does he become physically aggressive at last. First-novelist Doolittle, a Foreign Service and newspaper veteran, does a convincing, detailed job with the Laos backgrounds here (a scenic tour of the Plain of Jars, a visit to a Vientiane brothel, the Embassy lifestyle); and his often-acerbic narration is sturdily professional. But Upson's transformation--a slow, rather crude variation on one of the most hackneyed diplomat/disillusionment formulas--isn't absorbing enough to raise this above the journeyman level: competently dramatized historical material, too pat and moralizing for satisfying fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1982
Publisher: Dutton