In this memoir, Mitchell (Nurturing the Souls of Our Children, 2005) describes his Vietnam service and his political, sexual, and philosophical awakening during a subsequent European journey of self-discovery.
Mitchell, the product of a nomadic childhood, attributes his early, magical outlook on life to his “Druid” ancestors; it led him to dance naked on moonlit nights beneath the gaze of the “Goddess of the Moon.” In the 1960s, he was fired up by thoughts of battle—inspired less by Cold War–era, anti-Communist fervor than by a primordial, warrior-spirit calling, à la Achilles at Troy. He put up with dehumanizing boot-camp drills so that he could have the chance to fly helicopter scout missions. But he was struck by the Vietnamese countryside and culture, feeling that the enemy Viet Cong had a personal intimacy with nature that the mechanized, “soulless” American side lacked. (In this, he claims to have foreseen America’s defeat.) When an air crash left Mitchell badly burned, he accepted an honorable discharge without ever having the “catharsis” of taking a foe’s life. Restless, he studied the classics and traveled through Europe, where a life-changing love affair with a dashing, confident German actor finally allowed him to embrace same-sex eros (love) over the siren-song of thanatos (death). In Greece, he had a dream-vision of the goddess again, hinting at a journey of rebirth: As he puts it, “the transformation of the warrior into serving the Eros spirit is the objective of the heroic struggle in the soul between love and death.” As this passage shows, the author offers a highly intellectual Vietnam War memoir that’s more poetic than most pain-wracked soldier stories. His ruminations on mythologies, metaphysics, and human sexuality—both classical and modern—have one foot on the battlefield and the other in New Age philosophy and a gay coming-of-age story. Although this book clearly and eloquently springs from the heart, armchair commandos will find their helmets spinning at the diversity of its target acquisitions.
A genre-blending mission report from an atypical disillusioned Vietnam vet.