BUSTED by W.D. Ehrhart


A Vietnam Veteran in Nixon's America
Email this review


 The accessible, sometimes resonant final chapter in a postwar trilogy of memoirs. Ehrhart's (Passing Time, not reviewed) subject is the contradictions of justice. In 1974, during the last days of Richard Nixon's tainted presidency, the author was ``busted'' several times for far lesser crimes than the president was accused of. The book opens with Ehrhart bounced off his merchant marine ship for possession of marijuana. This first scene introduces a recurrent device: visits from his dead combat buddies, a kind of Greek chorus on American hypocrisy. Sometimes this nonfictional magical realism seems heavy-handed; at other times it works better. As Ehrhart's narrative proceeds, he reflects on the evils in Vietnam, his postwar embrace of the antiwar movement, and his conflict with his straitlaced Pennsylvania parents. His writing canters along, fueled by dialogue, with occasional arresting images: ``The war I wanted to leave behind was stuck in my throat like a stick sharpened at both ends.'' He recounts a bust by New York City cops suspecting him of armed robbery as well as one by New Jersey police looking for Puerto Rican terrorists, but the book's spine is a series of hearings before the Coast Guard on the drug charges. Ehrhart means to comment on the ironies of legal and procedural technicalities-- he eventually went free, though he had broken the law--but he excerpts too much trial transcript for such a brief book. Nixon was pardoned, Ehrhart notes. ``At least I had faced my accusers. I had never lied about what I had done or why.'' At the end of the book, his Greek chorus suggests that American power brokers are going to lie about Vietnam, ``turn the whole thing upside down and inside out,'' and urges Ehrhart to tell the truth. This has its illuminating moments, but for those familiar with Vietnam literature, there's not much new or arresting.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87023-955-4
Page count: 176pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995