“The Play Soldier” is an historical novel that explores the enduring fascination with war, particularly among those who reject military service or touring a danger zone to see for themselves. Veterans of combat admit it was their paramount experience. The issue is relevant, given the refusal of most eligible youth to enlist and the inability of 99% of the nation to empathize with the few that go.
The plane ticket below to Saigon was cut in May 1968, the deadliest month of the Vietnam War: 2,169 U.S. combat deaths. The draft inflamed the unpopularity of the lost cause then with many Americans evading military service. Now look close. The ticket wasn’t used.
Two days before I was to leave, a kidney stone blocked my return as a U.S. Navy journalist to the most extraordinary war America will ever have, but now I was a petty officer in an elite rating. Five years later, fresh out of college, needing “experience,” and with America not at war anywhere as far as I knew, I began bush bumming in the African Horn and the Sudan to pick up something of what I missed in SE Asia. Yes, the risk was less than a shooting war’s, except when it didn’t feel that way.
Grand tours like that are anachronisms now, even suicidal. Too bad because they can produce epiphanies and teach empathy, which is perhaps the rarest life skill.
I wanted “The Play Soldier” to inform. The story necessarily involves social issues. They are not given honorable mentions; they are not tropes. Besides combat allure, they include the enduring phenomenon of manufactured valor. By the way, the Library of Congress, found only one other novel about stolen valor, and it’s French—-Jean-Francois Deniau’s “A Very Discreet Hero.”
I publish Illumination Rounds.com.
Photo: In Ethiopia in 1974, persuading an Afar why my camera didn’t steal souls. Yes, I’m contaminating his culture, but I’m trying to keep myself safe.