THE ARNHEITER AFFAIR by Neil Sheehan

THE ARNHEITER AFFAIR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In March 1966, Marcus Aurelius Arnheiter, captain of the USS Vance, a patrol ship stationed off the South Vietnam coast, was relieved of his command by naval authorities after only 99 days, charged with demoralizing his crew, reckless military judgment, and general lack of integrity. Arnheiter -- a boyish, roundfaced man of 42 with a romantic sense of nautical history and histrionic flair -- vigorously contested the dismissal at hearings and in the press, countercharging that he was the victim of an ingenious mutiny led by conspiratorial subordinates who were hippie-type degenerates opposed to the war and that, moreover, he was being keelhauled by a ""cowardly"" naval bureaucracy acting on the basis of malicious rumor and falsehood. Enter reporter Sheehan, late of l'affaire Pentagon Papers, who initially covered the Arnheiter story for the Times and became so engrossed with the contradictions of the case that he subsequently spent about three months investigating the episode. Was Arnheiter a real-life Captain Queeg? Or was he an innocent, casual sacrifice to an impersonal military? Or was he victimized by an anti-war cabal of mutinous officers? Sheehan's impartial dig into the facts finds Arnheiter guilty and exonerates both the Navy and the men of the Vance. Arnheiter, who enjoyed playing war, fed his superiors false reports; he coerced his executive officer into recommending him for an undeserved medal; he made neurotic demands on his men and officers, driving them to the breaking point with moral-guidance lectures, bizarre accusations (e.g., there is a ""stolen"" tape recording which recalls Queeg's missing strawberries), puritan demands (a white toilet seat), fickle orders. ""Men can live in an atmosphere of whimsical tyranny only so long"" and some did crack before the brass caught up with ""Mad Marcus."" Sheehan tells it like a good Times man should -- thoroughly, competently, fairly, doggedly.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Random House