Amy's Reviews > Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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's review
May 30, 12

bookshelves: military
Recommended to Amy by: NPR
Read from June 11 to 12, 2012

This book is about the "victory" tour of the eight surviving soldiers in Bravo Squad. After a firefight caught on camera by an embedded Fox News team catches the short span of attention of the American public, the soldiers are paraded across the country to be an heroic face of the war effort. Most of the story takes place on the final day of the tour, Thanksgiving Day, at a Dallas Cowboys football game and is told from the point of view of Billy, a nineteen year old soldier and reluctant hero. Their is also a movie producer traveling with the group, trying to arrange a deal to produce the movie of their story. The view of Hollywood and the professional sports industry as seen from Billy's point of view shows how bizarre and disconnected the civilian attitudes towards the war and soldiers can be.

I grew up with stories of how disgracefully the Vietnam veterans were treated after returning from their service and was at first proud as an adult to see that as a country we had grown more sophisticated. For or against the war, we were able to treat our homecoming troops with respect and support. But as the Iraq war continues and as our economy gets worse, I think that the country as a whole has lost interest in this war. Our support has dwindled into a condescending, selfish display we pull out on Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veterans' Day.

Some rough notes because I can't write anything coherent without some processing time:

The reason for the war (or lack of a compelling one) is an important theme. Billy does not have any clear sense of what the desired outcome is, other than to stay alive and keep his buddies alive for as long as possible. The American civilians continue to yammer about fighting terrorism and protecting our way of life. The conspicuous consumption on display at the Dallas Cowboy stadium doesn't seem worth protecting to me. Billy's sister tries to arrange for financial and legal backing if Billy will stay home instead of returning. Billy decides to continue fighting because of the bond he has with his military brothers and because of the slight hope of hooking up with his cheerleader in the future. Although interesting as a literary device to create some tension, I don't think there was ever any chance of Billy choosing to go AWOL.

One part of the book suggested sending all of our NFL troops to battle. Which for me, ties back to the reason for the war (or lack of such). The NFL players obviously did not have any moral problems with the war, as shown by the desire to arrange a ride-along with the troops - kind of like today's version of an African hunting safari?

The idea of who is responsible for fighting this war also struck personally with me. It reminds me of my graduate school days. As a single parent with 9 years active duty time (mostly pre-war), I was struggling with whether to stay in the Navy reserves. Continued reserve service most likely meant a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan or Djibouti sometime in the near future. I had enough of the military spirit drilled into me to feel like I could not stay at home while my country was at war. But I also did not feel like I had the right training or mindset to deploy with the Army, something the Navy reserves were doing a lot of. (I was a Navy Nuke Officer, a very cerebral job far removed from the front lines.) I struggled with whether I owed more to my daughter or my country for several years, with my name in the hat to get called up for active duty. I struggled to not be angry with my fellow college students. They were all relatively unencumbered (compared to me); I felt like they should at least be strongly considering military service. At the same time, my faith in the civilian leadership of our country and our military eroded.

As you can tell, I had a very personal reaction while reading this book. I'm not sure it would work for everyone. I think it lined up well enough with my personal political views and with my prior life experiences to really resonate with me. I'm not sure that it would work for everyone.

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Quotes Amy Liked

Ben Fountain
“So perhaps, it occurs to Billy, this is the whole point of civilization, the eating of beautiful meals and the taking of decorous dumps, in which case he is for it, having had a bellyful of the other way.”
Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Ben Fountain
“At some point Billy realized he was expecting the president to act, well, embarrassed? Ashamed? For how fucked up everything obviously was. But the commander in chief seemed well pleased with the state of things.”
Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Reading Progress

06/11/2012 page 48
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