A splintery indictment of the systematic brutalization of men in meaningless wars which advances its message relentlessly. A private in the Korean War, Ed Conduit is hospitalized, decorated, and given the title of corporal after a nightmare killing of four Chinese. He is jovially brainwashed by a civilian ""interviewer"" (""You will go, Ed, because you believe someone has to do it"") and returned to action. Introduced to ""leadership"" by a hardline major (""We are the few to whom death means less than honor"") who believes in sadistic punishments, Conduit, decent, miserable, is joyful when the trace is achieved. He is transferred to a quiet frontier outpost sharing duties with Francis, a Negro, sensitive, likable, also a lover of peace. Francis maintains an uneasy balance among the jumpy, wary men by imposing no discipline. Conduit, from the most altruistic of motives, attempts discipline, which sets off a chain of humiliations and terrors ending in the murder of Francis. Conduit, defeated in his search for meaning to his own life, winks at Francis' racially motivated murder. Civilians and military authorities and the philosophical Francis are familiar fixtures, but Korea, the horror and despair, are very real.