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An Iraq veteran's response to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez I'm trying to be objective about this book. I've only read the Barnes and Noble free sample, and checked out several reviews. One of those reviews, which spoke about the novel in glowing terms, was from a reviewer I trust (http://indiscriminatecritic.wordpress...). This book was a National Book Award finalist, and has just been nominated for a major award in the UK. I found out about the UK award when I went to Fountain's scheduled appearance at a Houston bookstore, only to be told he cancelled because he was on his way to London.

I have serious problems with this book. The first is that Fountain isn't a veteran. Yeah, I know, I'm not being fair. Any good writer can write a good war book if he does his research, right? How dare I expect The Great Iraq War Novel to have been written by an Iraq vet. I mean, it's not like there are millions of Iraq vets around the country who are qualified to write about the war. Oh wait, yes there are. Well, I guess none of us are writing about it. Oh wait. . . yes we are.

Let's forget all that. I've been assured that Fountain spoke to many veterans to make sure he got the technical aspects, jargon and attitudes correct. Fine. Personally, I think a virgin could study sex, interview thousands of people who have had sex, and still not know what sex is really like. But I'll forget that too.

Next on the list of my hang-ups about this book is this minor, irritating little fact: the vortex of the story, the "Victory Tour" which exposes the greed, corruption and callousness of Bush, Cheney, Fox News and the American public, could not have happened. Billy Lynn and his soldiers are in the firefight one day, a few days later have already been awarded Silver or Bronze Stars, and suddenly find themselves on a plane back to America (with the body of their friend, no less). This is a ridiculous, nonsensical turn of events.

During my deployments, soldiers who received Army Commendation Awards for Valor, which are lower than a Bronze Star, waited months for the approvals to go through. One incident I know of happened in early August, and medals weren't awarded until November. Another soldier who received a Bronze Star for the same incident didn't get it until a year after the battle. U.S. Marine Dakota Meyer and Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta didn't get their Medals of Honor until years after the fact.

In other words, soldiers don't get awards for valor that quickly. There's an approval process involved, and the higher the award, the longer the process. But, once again, I'll forgive Fountain's fictional transgression. Either he didn't know this fact (and heaven forbid he ask an actual veteran) or he ignored it for plot purposes. I'm a fiction writer myself, and sometimes I've skirted the improbable for a plot's sake. Not the impossible, but the improbable. Fountain went full impossible.

Next on the list is the Victory Tour itself. Iraq was an "economy of force" war, which means we used as few troops as possible to accomplish missions. Small units covered huge swaths of territory, and platoons that by doctrine were supposed to be in physical contact wound up holding isolated outposts miles from sister units. Guys like me on convoy escort teams had three humvees, with nine guys, to escort twenty or thirty civilian supply trucks through hundreds of miles of hostile territory. Every soldier on my team was in a critical role as gunner, driver or vehicle commander; we just didn't have anyone to spare. In Fountain's story, Billy's squad is sent back to America for propaganda purposes, and the question of "who's covering their sector?" is never addressed. Neither is that fact that our troops haven't been pulled out mid-deployment for victory tours since maybe World War II.

I'll forget that too. The fact that a situation probably couldn't happen is no reason to exclude it from a novel. You can't make a fictional omelet without breaking the eggs of reality.

Now I get to an obstacle that I just can't overcome. As I've said, I've only read part of Fountain's story. I refuse to buy the book. That's because I'm hesitant to give money to someone who I think may be insulting our troops.

"Whoa", you might say. "Why do you think Fountain insulted the troops? He's actually standing up for the troops, trying to protect them from being used for political purposes. What's wrong with that?"

Fair question. Here's my answer. I think it's insulting because, based on the little bit of the book I've read and the reviews I've seen, Billy Lynn and his fellow soldiers are portrayed as nothing more than child victims. They're too young to understand the war, they don't get the fact that they're being used by the evil Bush administration to drum up political support, they don't realize that people don't actually care about them. They're just too dumb to know what's happening.

Lines like these, about one of the soldiers, have been highlighted by a reviewer: "He grew up in a ditch, he don't know from being cold!" "It's like giving a pig a Rolex, ma'am, he's got no appreciation for the finer things in life." According to the same review, this line is in the book: "Maybe this low-grade band of brothers isn't 'the greatest generation', but they are surely the best of the bottom third percentile of their own somewhat muddled and suspect generation."

Until I read this, I wasn't aware I was part of the bottom third of anything. I have to wonder, was this characterization supposed to apply to all of us? I served with many highly intelligent, well-educated soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority of those guys either had successful careers and families back home, or were waiting to complete their military service before starting families and beginning careers. They weren't losers in the mythical "bottom third percentile".

Come to think of it, is there some reason Fountain chose the name "Billy Lynn" for his protagonist? Does that name evoke a down-home redneckishness that Fountain thinks epitomizes all our soldiers? I'd bet the answer is yes.

My impression might be wrong. Maybe Fountain doesn't think our troops are too stupid to know better. However, I've seen this kind of thinking so often I'm not surprised by it, and have come to expect it from highly-educated people. When my cynicism is flowing freely, I suspect much of their "support" for troops is actually pity. Pity for us poor, young, uneducated, mostly minority children who were tricked into joining the military because we had no other options.

I've heard a woman with a PhD speak of the "poverty draft", which was the military's alleged targeting of poor teenagers (according to her, "There are no recruiting stations in Beverly Hills"). People like her, who like Fountain were never in the military, seem to think they understand those of us who made the conscious decision to serve in the military during wartime. Gee, thank God they're here to save us from our own decisions.

To Fountain's credit, he acknowledged his lack of credentials during a November 13th New York Times interview: "Since I've never served in the military, never been in a shooting war, I felt like I had to earn the right to write a book like this. I'm still not satisfied that I had the right to do it." He also said, after talking about receiving praise from vets, ". . . I don't doubt that there are plenty of current and former soldiers who've read a couple of pages and chucked it aside in disgust or boredom. But I don't hear from them, or at least I haven't yet."

Well, he's hearing from me now. I'll address the remainder of this post directly to Mr. Fountain, in the probably vain hope that he'll actually read it and care what a combat vet has to say.

Mr. Fountain, I assure you that even though you never served, you have the right to write war novels. Likewise, even though I'm not a college guy, I have the right to write a book about what being in a fraternity is really like. In this country, anyone can write any stupid book about anything. The First Amendment, rather than anything we've done, guarantees it.

In the NYT interview, you mentioned that Leo Tolstoy wasn't even alive during the Napoleonic era, yet still wrote War and Peace. You used this to prove your lack of military background doesn't mean you can't write a good war novel. However, Tolstoy had two huge advantages over you. First, he was an actual war veteran, having served in the Crimean War. Second, and more importantly, the soldiers he wrote about were dead. When his book was published, few if any veterans of the war he wrote about were alive to point out what was real and what was absolute crap. In a hundred years, someone can write a World War II novel about a lesbian who leads the invasion of Normandy from her wheelchair, and no WW2 vets will be around to figuratively stab the author in the face for it. Unfortunately for you, there are still plenty of Iraq vets around who may take exception to your depiction of who we are.

But what really pisses me off, or potentially pisses me off, is that you think you have the authority to tell anyone what the war/soldiers/homecoming/whatever is really like. If your book was comedy or something inconsequential, I wouldn't be bothered. But from what I gather, you wrote this book to make a statement, to tell some alleged truth about our soldiers, our war, and our country. My gut reaction is that nobody who hasn't been there can tell the truth about any war. You don't have to be a soldier in a war to see this truth, but you have to at least visit. I don't like what Ashley Gilbertson had to say about the Iraq war and our military, but at least his opinions came from firsthand experience.

My last word to you will be partly an apology. I haven't read your book, so my suspicions and criticism may be completely off. I will read the book if someone gives it to me for free, or if I find it at my library. I'm willing to forgive if you'll just acknowledge that central tenets of your plot, the light-speed awards and Victory Tour, could not have happened. I'll praise your writing ability, and admit that I envy your talent. If I read the book and discover that you've done us justice, I'll post an apology on my blog.

However, if I do read the book, this is what I expect to find: it was written by someone who knows nothing of the war, for people who know nothing of the war. I expect it to pander to an audience that openly despises the previous presidential administration and quietly despises our military. I suspect your novel has much in common with the ridiculous movie The Hurt Locker, which received fawning praise from nonveterans and was laughed at by those who had been in Iraq. I think your book will make Billy and his friends look like morons, rather than adult men who freely decided to serve their country in combat. I think you've done nothing more than offer us pity disguised as support. I think you've committed the same offense you accuse others of; the characters in your novel use Billy's squad for political purposes, while you, by the same token, use us soldiers as devices to further your own career.

Not that I expect my feelings to matter to you; I'm sure that whatever complaints soldiers have about your book, you'll happily walk across our backs to the bank and awards stage.

If your book shows that most of us live by the mantra, "My country was at war; I joined the military; I knew what I was doing," then I congratulate you for your success. But I think you've portrayed us as something other than volunteers who willingly chose wartime service and all the pain, anger, and frustration it entails. If that's the case, if you've shown us pity disguised as support, then you can kiss my "bottom third percentile", proud Iraq veteran ass.

Chris Hernandez
Iraq/Afghanistan veteran
www.chrishernandezauthor.com


message 2: by Andrew (last edited Dec 08, 2012 09:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Andrew Mr. Hernandez,

It's my pleasure to inform you that you are incorrect about "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk". I *did* read it (the whole thing), and I can assure you that it in no way demeans the intelligence or courage of our armed forces.

Your concerns about factual integrity are fair, and I cannot contest them. All I can say is what you already have: sometimes an author must abbreviate or alter reality for the sake of the more important parts of the story. If you feel that Fountain's choices were harmful to the message overall, then I respect your judgment.

The quotes you selected (about the ditch, the pig, the bottom percentile) are spoken by the soldiers themselves, as a means of mocking each other in the presence of civilians (and at the same time confusing and mocking the civilians). They are not an authorial commentary on the soldiers.

I think if you read the book, you'll find that Fountain is saying something very similar to you: *nobody* knows what war is like until they experience it; *nobody* is truly prepared for the experience of taking a life or seeing a friend die violently; and *no* civilian can truly understand the experience of the soldier. Far from being clueless rubes, Fountain depicts most of his soldiers as possessing a deep, incommunicable knowledge that permanently separates them from the rest of American society, whether they like it or not. Are some of them young and reckless? Certainly. As are people the world over, soldiers or not.

Fountain tries to imagine what it must be like - and that's the point of fiction: to do our best to inhabit other people's lives and worlds. And as you noted, he said in his NYT interview that he isn't sure that he should have made the attempt. Would America be better off if nobody was even *trying* to make this connection between the civilian and military worlds?

But it must be said, Mr. Hernandez: *you* do not have the right to scold and condemn Mr. Fountain preemptively, based only on a "free sample" and "several reviews" of his work. And it is outrageous that you would accuse him of "happily [walking] across our backs to the bank and awards stage." To make such a grave accusation surely demands a full and careful reading of the evidence, which you have admittedly not undertaken.

I sincerely hope that you will rectify your mistake, and read the rest of "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk". I trust that you will read it with an open mind, and not let your expectations color your judgment. And I hope that you will find it, as I did, a serious and respectful meditation on the nature of war, politics, and American society.

Sincerely,
Andrew Jurado


message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Andrew,

Thank you for your response. You bring up valid points, the first of which is that I haven't read the book. As I acknowledged in my first post, I may read it and discover I'm wrong. As I also said, I'm trying to be openminded. Given my experiences with people who totally misunderstand soldiers but think they "get" us, being openminded isn't always easy. However, next week I should get a library copy and I do plan to read it.

However, other points you make don't go far toward defending Fountain. For example, you pointed out that insulting lines of dialogue ("giving a pig a Rolex") were spoken by the soldiers themselves. Given the fact that Fountain wrote the entire book, and any words spoken by the soldiers are words that Fountain chose to give them, your defense falls flat.

I'm not a college graduate, and only attended two years at a community college before leaving without a degree. As I mentioned in my original post, I could write a book about what college fraternity life is really like. I have no credibility to do so, but I could. If I created characters who speak to each other about how much they love date-raping sorority girls and was criticized for that dialogue, I couldn't defend myself with "But it's the frat guys who said it." I wrote the book, I wrote their words, I'm responsible. Fountain wrote this book, the words he put into the soldiers' mouths are his responsibility.

Regarding your comment about Fountain saying the same thing I'm saying, I'll see if that's true when I read it. If he writes that some of our experiences must be lived to be understood, then good; however, my issue is that I don't think he wrote that we freely chose those experiences.

Fountain seems to be just one more link in a long chain of people who deny that we in the military chose this life and this fight. Another review I read today said that Billy Lynn had the choice to either go to prison or join the Army; I hadn't read that in any other reviews and don't know if it's true. If it is true, it's more evidence of a mentality about us that's just wrong. For the vast majority of troops, especially the infantry, going to war is something that takes much time and great individual effort. It's not something that we're forced or tricked into.

I understand your point about fiction being an attempt to live someone else's life, so to speak. I don't have a problem with any writer who wants to do that. And nobody would or should care if I did; this is a free country. What I have a problem with is someone with no credibility who thinks they can speak some truth about my motivations, my experience, and my mentality. Writers with no military background write horrible, ridiculous military fiction all the time. I pay no attention to any of that Special Forces/SEAL/Recon/backflipping hatchet attack Ninja nonsense because those writers don't endeavor to represent or speak for me. Fountain, I think, believes he's "standing up" for the troops, and then insults us by making us out to be moronic and childish. That's my opinion thus far, and I know you disagree.

I will disagree with you on your last point. I absolutely have the right to scold and condemn Mr. Fountain, as well as accuse him of using us for profit. He did literally use us and our experience for his personal profit, while at the same time writing about us in an insulting manner. I doubt he's guilt-ridden over that fact.

I find it odd that you defend Fountain's right to write what he wants even though he has no experience with his subject matter, while simultaneously telling me that I don't. Just as Fountain has the right to write on a subject with no knowledge, experience or credibility, I can publicly state what my gut reaction to that writing is. And I believe I've gathered more than enough evidence to make that initial assessment of his thoughts about us. I feel that I'm being fair by admitting that I haven't read it, and giving the reason why.

I expect to find much in Fountain's book that I agree with. I've experienced some of the mindless pseudo-patriotism that is supposed to be in the book (for example, I've been asked "How many ragheads did you kill?"). I've also experienced what I believe to be actual support and patriotism from sincere people. I will probably agree with much of what Fountain has to say about politics and American society. I'm not criticizing his portrayal of our culture, even if I won't agree with it all. But if the book insults us soldiers the way it seems to, I stand by every statement I've made.

Thank you again for your comments, and I will update this discussion after I've read the book.

Chris Hernandez


Andrew Chris,

I'm glad you decided to read the book. I look forward to your next review.

Perhaps I should clarify what I said about the soldiers' dialogue: Fountain's soldiers are not being *serious* when they call each other pigs, or talk about being in the "bottom third percentile". They're messing with each other. And even if the characters *did* mean what they said, that doesn't mean that the *author* believes their opinions to be true. If every fiction writer actually believed everything his characters did, then I think most of them would be writing from mental institutions.

- Andrew


message 5: by Chris (last edited Dec 23, 2012 11:50AM) (new)

Chris Hernandez I read it, and did my best to be openminded. I was told that I would probably feel differently about the book after I read it. So I finished it, and reached some conclusions:

First, nothing in the book violates the laws of physics. That’s good. Just about everything in the story [infantry sergeant pins a private to the wall and kisses him lovingly on the mouth after a firefight/Billy almost has sex with a Cowboys cheerleader in the stadium during the game/stadium cops treat the soldiers like crap/fans make fun of the troops and nearly provoke a fight/troops are forced to participate in the Destiny’s Child halftime show – and get all freaked out from PTSD!] is severely unrealistic, but, I suppose, not impossible.

Second, I was wrong when I said the soldiers were portrayed as morons. They’re not – exactly – morons. Losers with no self control is a better description.

Please keep in mind that none of what follows is a criticism of Fountain’s writing. The man is a good writer, and his nearly twenty years of dedication and perseverance show. Despite the fact that I had to hold my nose at the subject matter, I actually enjoyed parts of it and finished it in about a day and a half. I even laughed out loud at one line of dialogue where the squad leader, Sergeant Dime, messes with a Hispanic soldier about the Battle of the Alamo.

Unfortunately, other than that and a few other lines, Fountain displays almost no understanding of our troops. I was told by more than one reviewer that Fountain shows the troops to be intelligent and fully aware of their situation; unfortunately, this partial list of incidents/descriptions seems to refute that.

-Two soldiers get into a wrestling match on the floor of a gift shop, in their dress uniforms
-Two soldiers get high on marijuana with a waiter at the football stadium just before making a public appearance at the game
- A soldier tells his mother to buy a $100,000 vehicle because he might be part of a movie deal (and of course she buys it, because she’s a dumbass too)
- The entire squad runs around an end zone throwing passes and tackling each other, without permission from the stadium personnel, in their dress uniforms
- The entire squad gets into a fistfight with a crew of roadies in front of 70,000 people, again in their dress uniforms
- A soldier chokes out a fan in front of thousands of people in the bleachers
- A soldier gets high on Valium and sings out loud to passing strangers (in his dress uniform, in the stadium)

And so on. I may be the only person who feels this way, but if I saw a group of soldiers acting like that I would be embarrassed for the Army.

On the other hand, I guess when you assume all soldiers come from the lowest rung of society, you expect or forgive moronic behavior. Once again, I was told that Fountain did not describe soldiers as being low class losers. Then I ran across this passage, describing the backgrounds of soldiers in Billy Lynn’s squad:

“On Holliday’s last visit home before shipping out, his brother told him, I hope you f**king die in Iraq. When Mango was fifteen his father cracked his skull with a wrench, and Mrs. Mango’s comment was, So maybe now you’ll stop pissing your father off. Dime’s grandfather and one of his uncles were suicides. Lake’s mother was an OxyContin addict who’d done time, his father a dealer who ditto. When Crack was eleven years old his mother ran off with the assistant pastor of their church. Shroom, he barely had a family. A-bort’s father had been the deadbeat poster dad for the state of Louisiana, and Syke’s father and brothers blew up their house cooking meth.”

As I mentioned in my previous post about this book, Fountain said, “I don’t doubt that there are plenty of current and former soldiers who’ve read a couple of pages and chucked it aside in disgust or boredom.” When I read the passage about the soldiers’ backgrounds, coming soon after Billy Lynn’s “Go to prison or join the Army” story, I almost threw the book aside in disgust. If I needed confirmation that Fountain portrayed soldiers as the “bottom third percentile” (he does in fact use that line toward the end of the book), I believe I’ve found it. And it is an insult.

Before anyone says it; yes, there are many soldiers who come from rough backgrounds. But it’s not all of us. There are actually people in the military from wealthy families, who have no criminal background, who didn’t grow up around violence, who had every opportunity in the world to do what they wanted and chose to serve. The military is a true melting pot. An honest portrayal of soldiers would show the blend of backgrounds, not highlight only those with tragic childhoods. I’m sure Fountain would scoff at a fictional squad of soldiers who are all saints determined to enter the priesthood, but his version of our troops is just the other side of that same unrealistic coin.

My instinct tells me that Fountain did in fact speak to a few soldiers about the Army and Iraq, and learned a few bits and pieces of truth from them. But when they left information gaps, Fountain simply filled those gaps with old Vietnam stereotypes (see the references to choosing prison or the Army, casual drug use and dead-end childhoods). While reading this book, my head was often filled with the immortal Paul Hardcastle’s words, “In World War Two the average age of the combat soldier was twenty-six. In Vietnam he was nineteen.” I was reminded of this every time Fountain reminded the reader that poor Billy Lynn was only “nuh-nuh nuh-nuh nineteen!” And when Billy’s sister begs him to desert the Army and allow an anti-war group to hide him.

I guess the whole deserting the Army thing is realistic. After all, just as the Vietnam War produced thousands of draft-dodgers and deserters, the Iraq War produced a handful of celebrated cowards who refused to honor contracts they voluntarily signed. Sure. It’s the same thing. And your average soldier would seriously consider becoming a deserter, just like Billy Lynn did. All of us draftees truly hate the Army and the war, and just want to escape, right? Actually we’re volunteers, and many of us went to great lengths to have an opportunity to serve in combat. But let’s just ignore that irritating little truth.

I should point out that not all the flaws in Fountain’s description of our troops relate to Vietnam stereotypes. He did get ambitious and reach all the way back to World War II at one point. This bit of nostalgia arises as Billy casually mentions that before going to Iraq, his unit was briefed that they should all expect to die.

Folks, there are certain things we say about survival in the military, such as "we don’t train to die", "don’t ever give up," and "nobody’s dead until the medic says he’s dead". Maybe certain individuals get fatalistic, and the whole “they told us we’d die” thingy sounds really cool and ominous and all, but it’s just stupid. Any commander who said that to his troops would/should be kicked out of the Army in disgrace. It’s one thing to acknowledge a hard reality, that a unit should expect casualties. It’s another thing to tell your Joes you expect them to die. That’s just wrong. But on the plus side, we know that Fountain watched that neat-o scene from Band of Brothers where the crazy lieutenant tells a soldier he should consider himself dead already.

To be fair, Fountain doesn’t only insult and caricaturize soldiers. He shares the wealth with many other groups as well. In this story,

- Conservatives are IDIOTS
- Wealthy people are IDIOTS
- The general public is made of IDIOTS
- People who watch Fox News are IDIOTS (Billy’s father, perhaps the most odious character in the book, does nothing but watch Fox News from his wheelchair)
- Devout Christians are IDIOTS
- NFL players and fans are IDIOTS

Many fans of Ben Fountain probably read that list and said, “Yeah, that’s all true” (which sort of proves the point I’m about to make). I don’t want to argue about all of it, but the last two points deserve some elaboration. I’m agnostic, no fan of religion. But throughout my life I have known and trusted a great many people who were devout Christians, Jews or Muslims. I don’t believe for a second that having faith requires low intelligence, or that it’s a simplistic mindset. While I can argue logic against faith, I understand why people have faith and how important it is to them. In Fountain’s book, I don’t recall a single reference to faith that wasn’t a backhanded insult.

Regarding the depiction of the NFL, I have to admit something: I liked it. I’ve never been a football fan, and have never understood why athletes get paid such ridiculous amounts of money for tossing a ball around. Whenever I see two pro teams playing on TV, I hope they both lose (although I do like the Texans, mostly because they’re underdogs and thus far the players aren’t running around acting like spoiled bozos). So when Fountain has three football players in the locker room ask if they can go to Iraq for three weeks to “help”, then get angry when Billy tells them they’d have to join the Army (“We got jobs, this here our job, how you think we gonna quit our job and go join some nigga’s army? Fah like what, three years?”), I think it’s funny and real. It’s probably not real, it’s a caricature, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of NFL players. But I like it BECAUSE I’M ALREADY PREJUDICED AGAINST THEM.

Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s a strategy I’ve already identified.

1) Reader has a biased, unrealistic view of a certain, anonymous group of people. [cough **soldiers!**cough]
2) Reader reads Billy Lynn and sees a caricature that confirms his biased, unrealistic view.
3) Reader thinks, “Gee, this book is so real!”

I know I’m biased against pro athletes. I understand I have a skewed view of the NFL. Therefore, I won’t write a review saying, “Fountain captured the football players perfectly”. He didn’t. Instead, he played to my prejudices. He preached to the choir. Aside from all the other complaints I have about unbelievable nonsense in this book, Fountain’s habit of preaching to his choir bothered me the most.

To sum things up: If you secretly think our troops are losers but won’t admit it except to your liberal friends, are anti-bush, anti-war, anti-religion, and feel the bulk of America’s population is made of morons who are far beneath you, you will love this book. You’re Fountain’s choir, and this book was written for you. But if you have a true, multi-dimensional view of our troops, if you see the flaws of our war effort but still support the cause, if you think this is a pretty damn good country all around, then don’t bother with this book. Because it’ll just make you mad.


message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Andrew,

I also wanted to respond to your comment,"And even if the characters *did* mean what they said, that doesn't mean that the *author* believes their opinions to be true. If every fiction writer actually believed everything his characters did, then I think most of them would be writing from mental institutions." You're right, obviously an author doesn't believe everything his characters say. What I'm seeing with Fountain's writing is that he expresses a constant, consistent theme about the soldiers being lower class. Sgt Dime is the only soldier who seems to have any education, and he "failed out of college and joined the Army". This depiction of the soldiers as "bottom third percentile" is an undercurrent that runs throughout the entire story. It's not just one line spoken by one character.

Chris


Scottnshana Chris--

Full disclosure--Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, so I get it. Also a big fan of literature and social commentary and good satire.

I also read the entire book. I read "Catch 22" in Iraq (which is now on the USAF Chief of Staff's Reading List!) and when the lit press started calling Fountain's book the Iraq War's "Catch 22" I decided it was worth a look. I don't personally agree with that comparison but there may be a better argument for it when Fountain's book celebrates its own 50th anniversary. It's too bad Joseph Heller isn't around to offer his perspective on this.

Here's the rub. It's hyperbole. Fountain--like you--is a damn good writer. You're right that he's never going to have the street cred of Heller, Norman Mailer, or even Dexter Filkins because he wasn't "in the shit". But I'll bet he's been to at least one Cowboys game; I'll bet he's watched at least one cable news report (let's be fair--Fox is the most egregious but if you want decent news you have to go to the BBC because in the US all the news needs to be on someone's side now) on "the troops" and wanted to Elvis the TV set; I'll also bet he truly wants to do right by those same "troops". I am certain that for at least 365 days of his life he was also nineteen years old and experienced the catharsis of giving up locker-room jackassery in exchange for his "adult" card.

Oftentimes, Chris, good literature is also social commentary. "The Mouse that Roared" was a far-out assessment of Post-WWII US foreign policy. "The Bonfire of the Vanities" looked at race and class relations in NYC in the early 80s. Anything by Ayn Rand is hyperbole and in my opinion should be treated as such. Each of these cases works because each holds a kernel of truth that the author can build on to make a point. George Orwell beat the crap out of the Bolsheviks with Animal Farm via talking livestock. He was never a talking hog, but I'll bet he visited a farm at some point and we know from his letters during the Spanish Civil War that he interviewed plenty of disgruntled Leftist soldiers.

In short, Fountain's book is okay. It didn't knock me over like Karl Marlantes did with "On War". It's not the graphic and ugly depiction we see in Bellavia's "House to House". If, however, a non-veteran wants to take an exaggerated look at the American public and the place veterans now hold within it (and I think he's done a pretty good job of stating that we are no longer giving up our stockings and gasoline for the war effort), I support him in that endeavor. As you stated earlier in the thread, it's his right to do so and I think his intentions are bueno.

Scottnshana Sends


message 8: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Scott,

I hear you about the social commentary aspect. Any book that exposes a truth, through hyperbole or any other mechanism, is worthwhile. I read Catch-22, which is full of unrealistic satire, in high school and didn't really get how much truth it contained until I was in the military. So I understand the value a book like this can have.

What chaps me about it, however, is that it reinforces perceptions that are just flat-out wrong.
In my first post I talked about the difference between support and pity for the troops; I think Fountain pities us. I think his characters, being lower class, PTSD-stricken, dead end losers, evoke pity from the reader but not respect.

Two years ago I had the surreal experience of being in an argument with 8 people about the war. Of the 8 people, only one had served in the military, or at least claimed to have been a SEAL in Vietnam. They supported changing the law so that troops could selectively claim conscientious objector status (i.e., "I'll go to Afghanistan because that's a moral war but I'd be a CO in Iraq"). One of them referred to the use of National Guard troops in the war as "the National Guard draft". Naturally, that irked me, because we're volunteers just like everyone else. When I pointed out that in the NG we have infantry, tanks and artillery, and that we volunteered, and that I had gone to war, twice, with thousands of NG troops and had never heard even one soldier claim that we're not supposed to go to war, they didn't believe it. It was ridiculous; these people assured me, the only one in the group who was an NG combat veteran, that National Guardsmen don't want to go to war. And gosh, didn't I realize they were on my side, they were trying to change the law to help soldiers like me?

I don't want their help, or pity. The proudest achievements of my life came from my service in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wanted to serve and wanted to be in combat. Jumping out of an armored vehicle into a raging firefight, risking my life to help other soldiers who were under fire, ducking bullets that were aimed specifically at me, all those things enriched my life.

I don't need Fountain or anyone else "standing up for me". I'm a grown man, I made a choice to be a soldier in a war, and I accept what comes afterward. Nobody needs to pity me or the poor, uneducated losers who served with me.

A book that tells a truth is a good thing. But a writer should tell his own damn truth. If you don't have a clue what I've done or why I did it, don't try to tell mine.

Scott, I appreciate your point of view. Thanks for your comments, and your service.

Chris Hernandez


Scottnshana It's all good, Chris. I don't think OEF or OIF has given us its great novel yet. People like you and me are gonna have to grind it out. Write what you know, My Brother, but don't do it angrily. We were all somebody else before taking the oath and I think that's the start-point. I wish you luck with your book.

Scottnshana Sends


message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Scott,

Without anger, where's my motivation? :)

Good luck with your writing as well.

Chris


Ernie Wood So there were two other major novels about the war in Iraq published last year:

"The Yellow Birds" by Kevin Powers
"Fobbit" by David Abrams

Both of these authors served in Iraq and write from their experiences. I'd be interested to hear what the vets in this discussion thought of those books.


message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez I wrote reviews on both those books.

http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/...

http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/...

Basically, I liked Fobbit but didn't think YB had much to do with Iraq. And I think Kevin Powers inflated his military experience, which is a major issue.

Thanks for the question, and for your interest in veterans' opinions.


message 13: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Chamberlin It seems that when a book comes along that critiques the American Cultural Imagination, and does so with the eloquence of this novel, hackles rise.

Fountain, in linking the spectacle of war with the NFL eviscerates the cultural mythos that obscures war as the murderous enterprise that it is. In so doing, it is the entirety of American that is called into question. As Chris Hedges writes, "War is the pornography of violence." Why then, I think Fountain's book asks, do we so encourage our young people to join up and fight?


message 14: by Chris (last edited Mar 24, 2013 08:17PM) (new)

Chris Hernandez Greg,

My hackles did rise, but it wasn't for the reason you described. I don't have any issues with someone criticizing the war, opposing our involvement, or pointing out obvious jingoistic motivations. One of my pet peeves has always been the "war is like a football game" lie that has been told for decades. If Fountain had written a book making that point, with an insightful, intelligent American civilian as the protagonist, I wouldn't have had an issue with it. My complaint is that Fountain thinks he's speaking for me, and putting his thoughts into soldiers' heads.

As I said to Scott earlier, Fountain should tell his own truth. My truth as a soldier is mine to tell.

Thanks for your well-written comment, which I don't disagree with in general. I don't disagree with all of Fountain's points either.


message 15: by Jeff (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jeff Bull I have a couple comments to add and, full disclosure, if I'm like anyone in Billy Lynn, it's Albert.

1) I viewed this as less a novel about the war than the home-front's experience of what was, let's face it, one odd friggin' war. In other words, the purely military aspect of the novel was secondary to the public response to it. And, yes, Fountain's characterization of that response is highly uncharitable. In his defense, have you watched FOX? It is that cartoonish too often.

2) The major point that I believe Fountain sought to communicate was the idea that the American public abandons the troops once the cameras move on. That, to me, was the grand metaphor in the moment of Bravo being left standing on the stage at halftime.

2a) I wrote something longer about this, perhaps something objectionable (eh, screw it; it's not terrible to these States-side eyes), but I'd suggest, politely, that the weight of Chris' personal experience leads him to focus too heavily on the side of the situation to which he relate - e.g. the military side - while I focused on the side I knew, the civilian weirdness at home. And it was weird, on both the Right and the Left. One of the strangest things about the war was the Left's inability to think differently about the war during the Surge; they effectively ignored any gains, which makes no less sense than the gung-ho approval you see in Fountain's novel.

3) I viewed Dime and Shroom as respectable characters, but I get Chris' complaints about the rest. The one vet I knew (long story as to why I no longer know him, but it wasn't something between him and me), while not perfect, was highly intelligent and accomplished.


message 16: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Jeff wrote: "I have a couple comments to add and, full disclosure, if I'm like anyone in Billy Lynn, it's Albert.

1) I viewed this as less a novel about the war than the home-front's experience of what was, le..."


Jeff,

I agree with the overall theme of your comments. The book was more about the public's reaction to the war and the troops than it was about the details of the war and the troops. I can agree with criticism of empty patriotism and short attention spans. My issue with Fountain isn't that he was (totally) wrong about the public, it's that he caricaturized us just as badly as he accuses Fox of caricaturizing the war.

The easiest and least honest way to "prove" a point is to present a one-dimensional, unrealistic view of a group. If that group is your opponents, you present them as stupid, angry, violent and/or unreasonable. If they're your supporters, you present them as pure, intelligent, altruistic, caring and honest. If that group is someone you need to be a certain way, you make them that way.

Fountain needed soldiers to be low-class, unintelligent victims, so he painted us as low-class unintelligent victims. Portraying us as grown adults who volunteered for wartime service didn't fit his narrative. For me personally (and you're right that my personal experience makes me lean heavily to one side), it's an absolute insult. I come from a middle-class family instead of poverty, I reenlisted knowing I would be sent to Iraq, I reenlisted after Iraq, I volunteered for Afghanistan, and I served with a bunch of extremely intelligent men and women who knew the reality of the situations and were still dedicated to the cause. We weren't a bunch of fools being cynically manipulated for political purposes.

Dime and Shroom were respectable to a point; however, Shroom "barely had a family" and Dime only joined the military after failing out of college. The fact that both were volunteers wasn't emphasized. Their willingness to serve wasn't emphasized.

All we see is the tragedies and failures that led them to the military, and how Dime and the others survivors are being re-victimized by the public. Tragedy and victimhood in war only begets more tragedy and victimhood at home. Those poor guys can't even be around a musical performance without being reduced to tears by PTSD (ridiculous), they're being assaulted and insulted in public (ridiculous-er), and at least one seriously considers going AWOL (ridiculous-est). In my opinion there's nothing fair or respectable about the way those troops are portrayed.

That's just my opinion, which carries no more weight than anyone else's. Thanks for your comments, Jeff.

Chris


message 17: by Jeff (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jeff Bull Chris wrote: "Jeff wrote: "I have a couple comments to add and, full disclosure, if I'm like anyone in Billy Lynn, it's Albert.

1) I viewed this as less a novel about the war than the home-front's experience of..."


Chris:

Your opinions carry more weight in some areas than others and that's a good thing. Having read your comments - and not just to me, but to several of the notes above - I would politely suggest that you something of a cause, a point of view that you find vitally important. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that; I'd encourage you to write it, in fact, and hope that you are.

I appreciate your willingness and patience in discussing not just this book, but your experiences in the wars. What I do wonder - and this is something that's been written about here and there through the length of the 2000s, was the idea of a sociological divide between the troops and the country they serve. With that, I'm simply wondering aloud how a book you would write, or one just written in the vein in which you're interested, would go over with the public.

Again, thanks. It has been an interesting conversation.

jeff


message 18: by William (last edited Apr 16, 2013 04:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

William Chris wrote: "I'm trying to be objective about this book. I've only read the Barnes and Noble free sample, and checked out several reviews. One of those reviews, which spoke about the novel in glowing terms, was..."

Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage without actually serving in the Civil War. Nonetheless, I like your review of the book. I am a veteran corpsman of the Vietnam War by the way, so maybe that's why I did like the book. You should go back and watch some of the movies they made about our war: Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, just to mention two that I thought were insulting. So I empathize with your complaint; and wasn't there a movie that came out right about the time the book was published that struck me as almost part of the plot of Billy Lynn?


message 19: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Jeff wrote: "Chris wrote: "Jeff wrote: "I have a couple comments to add and, full disclosure, if I'm like anyone in Billy Lynn, it's Albert.

1) I viewed this as less a novel about the war than the home-front's..."


Jeff,

I personally don't see a divide between the troops and most of the public. In general, the public supports the troops no matter their feelings on the war. What I see is a difference in the nature of that support. Many people show support by respecting our troops for their choices and service. Many others show pity (such as Fountain) but call it support.

In Afghanistan I worked with the French Army. They truly did not reflect the public they defend, enjoyed very little support, and felt separated from the French people. I felt like the French troops identified much more strongly with American soldiers than with their own population. Just my gut feeling.

I actually have a book published, titled Proof of Our Resolve, about an infantry platoon in Afghanistan. It doesn't make the troops out to be heroes or boy scouts, but it does show them as I saw them: ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.

I appreciate your comments and interest, Jeff. If you check out my book, even if you don't read it, I'd like to hear your thoughts. It's on Amazon.


William Well, the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (and perhaps soon, North Korea, God forbid) enjoy much more support than we did in Vietnam. Better PR man? I didn't think Fountain pitied our troops, only that anything in the
U. S. can be bought or sold or commercialized. Even cancer has become an industry here. Maybe I'm getting cynical in my old age.


message 21: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez William,

Stephen Crane is, I think, something of an anomaly. He did write a good book about the Civil War, according to me and veterans of the CW (or so I've read). It's not impossible for a non-veteran to write a good war book, but it's rare, and takes a lot of work.

I don't think Fountain did any real research on modern troops or soldiers before writing Billy Lynn. The references to "join the Army or go to jail" and "they briefed us that we'd all die", not to mention the impossibly fast awards, lead me to believe he just wrote what he thought, based mostly on VN war stereotypes.

I have watched Platoon and FMJ, and I liked them with a caveat. I knew parts of those movies were ridiculous. My first platoon sergeant in the National Guard was a 25th ID VN vet, and he was pretty upset about the way his division was portrayed in Platoon. I was a Marine before I joined the Army and know some of FMJ was nonsense. I don't claim those are true representations of the military or American culture, although I have been told the combat sequences are very accurate. I understand why you would be insulted by those movies.

Not sure what movie similar to Billy Lynn you're referring to, sorry. I'lll keep an eye open for it.

I understand your point about anything being commercialized. I've had the misfortune to have to learn about autism, and there are multiple "get rich quick" schemes about autism floating around.

Chris


message 22: by William (last edited Apr 17, 2013 04:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

William I think the movie I referred to that sounded like the one they were going to make in Billy Lynn was called Act of Valor. I haven't seen it so I don't think I should say anything good or bad about it. Nor have I seen Zero Dark Thirty, but I am sure that if this film had been about Nam it would have included scenes of soldiers pissing on dead Afghans, families being massacred by troops, misguided drone attacks killing Pakistani civilians and been called Soldiers Without Borders, or some such. I took a group of students to see Platoon at their request. At the end of the movie, they mobbed me and asked is that what it really was like. I counted heads, check my watch, and told them, "No." In another incident after seeing another Vietnam film, I pointed out to my companion that if they were going to create fictions I'd rather have John Wayne in the lead role. I had just gotten tired of Hollywood's agenda and message. I did see heroes, actually more heroes than villains, but you'd never know it from watching some of these movies. Also I found it amusing the Herr, the author of Dispatches, later said the entire book was fiction disguised as fact. It is still one of the best Vietnam books. They'll never write a book or make a movie about what war is really like: no one would read it or go see it; it would be too horrifying.


message 23: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez I saw Act of Valor, and thought it was way too comic-bookish to take seriously. I have to admit I enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty though, although I didn't take it as an accurate portrayal of anything involving the war on terror.

If you want to see a movie that focuses completely on war crimes, watch "Haditha". It's basically a propaganda movie, with horrible acting and ridiculous caricatures of our troops.

I've read Dispatches, and really liked it. I hadn't heard that Herr later said the book was fiction. He wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket, and a lot of the stories and quotes from Dispatches are in FMJ. According to Wikipedia Apocalypse Now also has some influence from Herr.


Linda Just finished The Blue Cascade: A Memoir of Life after War by Mike Scotti. No military experience myself, although friends, family members, and co-workers are vets. Those who've read The Blue Cascade said his experience was theirs, even though a different war. Have any of you vets read it?


William Chris wrote: "I saw Act of Valor, and thought it was way too comic-bookish to take seriously. I have to admit I enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty though, although I didn't take it as an accurate portrayal of anything inv..."

If you ever get a chance, watch the movie The Battle of Algiers. It will give you a lot to think about.


message 26: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez I have not seen The Battle of Algiers or read The Blue Cascade. I need to check those out. Thanks for the heads up, William and Linda.


message 27: by Scottnshana (last edited May 27, 2013 09:07PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Scottnshana Finished "Yellow Birds" and am most impressed. Don't care where Powers served in Iraq or what he did there. He nailed it.


message 28: by Chris (last edited May 29, 2013 01:44PM) (new)

Chris Hernandez Scott,

You really thought so? I found that story to be a generic war story that happened to be set in Iraq. The central problem revealed at the end felt completely unrealistic for Iraq, and I found Vietnam references spread throughout (i.e., the photo in a helmet liner). Several other vets I know liked it, though. Do you mind letting me know what about it appealed to you?

Also, I agree that what Powers did or where he served isn't an issue. I wrote a novel about an infantry platoon, despite the fact that I was never infantry. What bothered me is that Powers described himself as a machine gunner, which is a very specific job, when he wasn't. Like Powers, I spent a lot of time behind a machine gun on a humvee or MRAP. But I'd feel completely dishonest telling people I was a machine gunner.


Scottnshana Chris--

Gave it 4 stars. Here's the review:

Okay, full disclosure. Did a tour myself, so I'm a little biased and a lot interested when another veteran takes his shot at "the Iraq novel". I can say that this is the best one I've seen so far (and Powers came back from Tal Afar in 2005, so I'd say it's had enough time to marinate before he put pen to paper). "Yellow Birds" takes place in Iraq, but the novel runs deeper in its examination of war, the socialization of young men into cohesive units, PTSD, atonement for sins (Is it omission or commission?), Fate, mother-son relationships, and ruminations on "Why did I survive when X didn't?". There is a character in the book, too, Sergeant Sterling, that is so powerful and instrumental in the plot that he--like the Judge in Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian"--will inspire a lot of thought long after the reader puts the book down. There are scenes and events in "Yellow Birds" that resonated quite a lot with me--I also did pre-deployment training at Dix, came home through Kuwait, and am pretty familiar with Kaiserslautern (though, admittedly, I've never visited the whorehouse Powers describes)--especially the passage on flying back to the US and how the transition from ocean to coast to green heartland is so inspirational when capping off a trip downrange. The defining scene in the book, though, is its climactic event, which the author has infused with images of blood, dirt, Valhalla, and indiscriminate (again with the Fate) death. "Yellow Birds" is pretty short, but though Powers is economical with his words (he studied poetry at UT Austin) nothing seems left out. The book jacket has Tom Wolfe, whom I respect, implying that this is the "All Quiet on the Western Front" for Iraq and Afghanistan, but I've never been real jazzed about these comparisons (i.e., calling "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" the "Catch-22" for Iraq). The book stands on its own as a literary examination of war--like Mailer's, Homer's, and Hemingway's did (and Karl Marlantes two recent books are also quite respectable in this regard). Like I said, this is the best one I've seen so far and I have no reservations about recommending it.

I liked it more than "Billy Lynn" because there wasn't any satire or farce in it. At the same time, I don't think Powers was trying to one-up Bellavia's "House to House" with another "There I was" narrative. The symbolism, the themes, all of it was surreal but obviously Powers had been letting his impressions of the army and what he saw in Iraq marinate for awhile before grinding it out.

I myself spent a lot of time with the M-60 back in the day, but would also never call myself a machine gunner. I just figured some over-zealous PR dude at the publishing house probably put that on the book jacket. I think Dexter Filkins's book "Forever War" has a lot to say about combat because he's seen it. He was no infantryman (and neither was Ernie Pyle) but he took good notes and I think his intellectual perspective on war is therefore valuable with or without an MOS to brag about.

I don't think this is "the book," as I stated in my review, and anyone who talks about "the book" is a jackass or the aforementioned PR dude at the publishing house. "Billy Lynn," even if they dug up Norman Mailer and got him to say so on the book jacket, isn't either. If, however, a hundred years from now someone was trying to weave together a perspective on what we were doing in OIF and how literature was responding to that, I would put these two books on the reading list for him.

I'm going to spend the rest of my life analyzing my personal experience in Iraq (which in many ways was as surreal as Powers's novel) and what the country experienced during the Bush Administration. I found both these books helpful in that endeavor.

I hope all is well on your end and am glad to see you're still checking the thread, Mon.

Scott


message 30: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Scott,

Sorry for the long-delayed response. Life's been pretty crazy lately.

Several of my veteran friends have enjoyed YB. I just didn't; it didn't feel like Iraq to me, the characters seemed cartoonish, the central problems were like nothing I've ever heard of from Iraq, and the homecoming seemed completely contrived.

Hope you're doing well, Scott. My next novel should be published next month.

Chris


William Scottnshana wrote: "Chris--

Gave it 4 stars. Here's the review:

Okay, full disclosure. Did a tour myself, so I'm a little biased and a lot interested when another veteran takes his shot at "the Iraq novel". I can ..."


I have been trying to understand what happened in Vietnam to me and others for more than forty years. Good luck trying to understand your war. We were children and war is not a kid's game.


Scottnshana William, Chris, et.al.--

If you haven't checked out Dakota Meyer's book yet, I recommend it.

Scott


message 33: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Roger that Scott, I'll check it out. I've been meaning to, just being cheap lately.

I did read The Outpost recently, hell of a story.

Chris


message 34: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan Newman This is overall one of the most interesting discussions of a book I've found on goodreads--I am someone who never was in the military, and I have similar political views, I suspect that Fountain has--I looked at this book as surreal, not real--the position that Bravo company was put in would not, as Chris Hernandez pointed out have happened, and frankly, and very sadly, I doubt a heroic young soldier in todays volunteer army could generate enough interest in the US to be featured with Beyonce at halftime at the Superbowl. Some of the satire was rather lame: Hilary Swank?? There are many cheap shots, but the cult of celebrity, and the marketing of everything rang true. Whether or not they are representative of todays military or not, the men of Bravo company, who found solace and even family in eachother, moved me. Their characterization was what made the book worth reading. Perhaps all of us noncombatants read a story like this so we can feel less guilty about ourselves--but I felt very real empathy for Bravo Company--this cant be a bad thing


message 35: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Alan,

I appreciate your views on this book. Much of what you said I agree with. I also doubt a heroic young Soldier would garner much attention today. The same week Miley Cyrus appeared on the MTV video music awards, a young Marine corporal was awarded a Silver Star. Everybody knows about Miley Cyrus, nobody cares about the Marine. I appreciate that you felt empathy for Bravo company, and perhaps I haven't given Fountain enough credit for generating empathy. But my personal feeling is that the feeling he tried to generate wasn't empathy, it was pity. And I detest the thought of people pitying me for the wartime service that I freely chose and will always treasure.


Sharon Chris wrote: "I'm trying to be objective about this book. I've only read the Barnes and Noble free sample, and checked out several reviews. One of those reviews, which spoke about the novel in glowing terms, was..."

I hope by now, you have borrowed Billy Lynn from your public library. --Bookslinger1


message 37: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Sharon wrote: "Chris wrote: "I'm trying to be objective about this book. I've only read the Barnes and Noble free sample, and checked out several reviews. One of those reviews, which spoke about the novel in glow..."

Way ahead of you Sharon. I read it months ago, and posted another review. Scroll up to see it. :)

Basically, I thought it was well written but the depiction of the soldiers bothers me. Plus, it's totally unrealistic.


William Chris wrote: "Sharon wrote: "Chris wrote: "I'm trying to be objective about this book. I've only read the Barnes and Noble free sample, and checked out several reviews. One of those reviews, which spoke about th..."

It is not supposed to be realistic. It is a satire about how America can commercialize just about anything, including war.


message 39: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez I didn't get that message at all. I felt that the story was specifically about the Iraq War, and how poor simpleton soldiers are being used for propaganda purposes. I think it would be pretty funny for an author to rake in tons of money for a book complaining about commercialization.


Linda I do think Fountain was writing satire but I don't think that all he intended to satirize was commercialization. I think he wanted to make a point how those who have not been to war cannot understand what it does to someone and should not pretend they can and so he painted the civilians at the football game as buffoons.


message 41: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Linda,

I understand your point, but if that's the case how does Fountain know what war supposedly did to us?

One side issue, not something directly addressed in Fountain's book, is that much of the public thinks all of us are damaged by our experience. I've run across that assumption many times. Fountain's scene where the soldiers break down from halftime show-induced PTSD reinforces that incorrect belief.


Linda Chris,

I don't know about your statement that "much of the public thinks" vets are damaged. I would not tag all vets as "damaged." I have to believe that they are changed/impacted by the experience, as we all are by experiences that are quite different from the lives we lived before the experience.

I did not understand Fountain as conveying any position on what war has done to its participants. I understood him to be saying that anyone who has not experienced war cannot know how it impacts those who have, just as someone who has not had a child killed can know, at least emotionally, what that does to the parent.

I often find satire hard to read and it is definitely not among my favorite writing styles. I have to constantly remind myself that it is satire and not meant to be a realistic portrayal but rather an over-the-top portrayal.


William Chris wrote: "Linda,

I understand your point, but if that's the case how does Fountain know what war supposedly did to us?

One side issue, not something directly addressed in Fountain's book, is that much of t..."


I have recently read an essay by a vet from Afghanistan who was begging to have less talk about PTSD because it is making it impossible for returning vets to get a job. He goes on to say that, yes, many do have PTSD but they deal with it like all the vets from previous wars. Having served in Vietnam, I can appreciate and sympathize with his sentiments. Of course, we were "Baby Killers" too. How do you market heroes?


Scottnshana Chris--

Recently picked up Andrew Bacevich's "Breach of Trust" at the BX Bookstore. You should give it a look; it effectively conveys in essay form what I think "Billy Lynn" was trying to do with satire. I'd be interested in your observations.

Scott


Steven Hull I read "Billy Lynn" and will momentarily post a review. I see it as essentially an anti-war novel focused on the emotional gulf that exists between warriors and the country that sent them to war. I have just read through this lengthy exchange between readers and have appreciated the depth of thought, the various views expressed and the valuable information all of you have provided.


message 46: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Scottnshana wrote: "Chris--

Recently picked up Andrew Bacevich's "Breach of Trust" at the BX Bookstore. You should give it a look; it effectively conveys in essay form what I think "Billy Lynn" was trying to do with..."


Scott,

Sorry, I didn't see this until recently. I will check that book out, thank you and hope you're doing well.


message 47: by Chris (new)

Chris Hernandez Steven wrote: "I read "Billy Lynn" and will momentarily post a review. I see it as essentially an anti-war novel focused on the emotional gulf that exists between warriors and the country that sent them to war. ..."

Steven,

I agree with your assessment, and will look for your review. Thanks for commenting, this has been an interesting discussion.


Steven Hull BTW, Bacevitch is a West Point grad, a Vietnam vet, and he lost a son who was killed in Iraq. I have heard a great deal about him and appreciate the recommendation to read his work.


Gregory Very interesting thread of reviews, so thanks to all of you for contributing. I finished Billy Lynn last night and thought it was fantastic. If I could add my two cents to a point made above, it's that nothing in Catch-22 is realistic, but that doesn't stop it from being a great war novel. I'm adding Billy Lynn to the same shelf.

And if I've gotta add my two cents for personal credibility, I'm a West Point grad (class of 88), military history degree, Ranger, and former infantry officer.


message 50: by Ron (last edited Mar 30, 2014 07:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars


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Books mentioned in this topic

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (other topics)
The Blue Cascade: A Memoir of Life after War (other topics)