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For all the attempts on the Left to make Iraq seem like Vietnam, it's the differences that stand out most, and none more than how thoroughly we're immersed in the lives and political debates of the Iraqi people and the day-to-day duty of American servicemen. Much of this is likely a function of the lessons the military and political classes learned in Vietnam, which has led to things like embedding journalists with combat units, but it's also a matter of living in an age when information is ubiquitous and can be transmitted instantaneously--not just back to us here and home but then back again to the folks serving in Iraq. We as citizens and they as soldiers are privy to and are participants in the discussion of war aims and strategy and tactics like never before and the Iraqi people are seen and heard around the world in a way that's unprecedented for a nation in the midst of war.

Part and parcel of all this is that we already have numerous memoirs and analyses flowing out of various Americans experiences in Iraq and even TV shows about the war. This stands in stark contrast to the Vietnam War. When I was a kid we still had quite a few war shows on TV, but they were generally set in WWII--Combat, Rat Patrol, Hogan's Heroes, etc.--and then later there was MASH, which was set in Korea. To the best of my recollection there were no shows set in Vietnam until after the war had ended--China Beach and the like. Nor were there many Vietnam War movies until afterwards--the exception being John Wayne's Green Berets. Likewise, most of the novels about Vietnam came afterwards--Going After Cacciato and such. even in the comic book industry, We still had Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury fighting WWII but didn't get Marvel's Nam until America had left Vietnam. One result of all this is that while there's a plentiful literature of other wars that is content to be relatively mundane and just tell discrete stories, most of the Vietnam stuff is drenched in political purpose and melodramatic or horrific incident. Notoriously, it often revolves around the crazy vet, who either commits atrocities in Vietnam or is so ill-equipped to handle life back in the States that he snaps. Paul Clayton's semi-autobiographical novel, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam, is a pleasant antidote to this kind of hysteria and a kind of throwback to the sorts of more normal and unspectacular tales we used to get about WWII.

Melcher is a draftee in 1968 Vietnam who just wants to serve his year in theater and come home. He's pretty much of an innocent, who doesn't often swear or do drugs and thinks that somehow the right mindset may protect him from harm and that older guys are less likely to get killed. Over the course of his tour he's disabused of these notions as not only does he get injured but many of his friends and comrades in arms get killed.

The book is, of course, anti-war, but not pedantically or polemically so. For the most part, Mr. Clayton makes the war seem senseless by not connecting it to any broader issues or the people of South Vietnam. Melcher and his mates even speculate that they aren't in Vietnam or that the war is just a bit of theater worked out by American capitalists and Asian communists for economic and demographic purposes. While this is perfectly appropriate to a book that is showing a grunt-eye view of the war in '68, and amply demonstrates just how it was JFK, LBJ, and Westmoreland had made such a hash of the war, we who read it with full knowledge of the later success of Vietnamization and then the tragedy that followed when congressional Democrats cut and run are wiser and much, much sadder than Carl Melcher.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Paul Clayton Links:

    -EXCERPT: from Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam
    -ESSAY: Persistence: The story of this book (Paul Clayton)
    -ESSAY: Finally... That Cigar! Now, Where'd I Put My Lighter? (Paul Clayton)
    -INTERVIEW: Kathy Sanborn's Author Success Interview: Paul Clayton (Life and Career Coaching, February 7, 2004)
    -PROFILE: Eight Copies Sold Is Enough (M.J. Rose, 2001-10-09 , Wired)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam by Paul Clayton (Christine Forte , PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (BRETT PERUZZI, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (Marc Leepson, The VVA Veteran)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (Kevin, Collected Miscellany)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (Tom Donelson, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (Sparrow, Blogcritics)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (Cindy Vallar, Ivy Quill Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam (James, london Morning Paper)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam by Paul Clayton (Steven Rosen, Curled Up With a Good Book)

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