There it is. Private Crouch nails it.
“The Play Soldier” is an historical novel that explores that fascination with war, particularly among men that avoid military service or touring a danger zone to see for themselves. The issue is relevant; warfare remains popular in all media, although most eligible youth refuse to enlist and most Americans can’t empathize with the 0.4% of the country that does go. But do the others regret not serving? In 1785, that perceptive Englishman, Samuel Johnson, observed, “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier or a sailor at sea.” His observations tend to be timeless.
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 that lost cause 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 JO (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 felt it wasn’t.
Grand tours like that are anachronisms now, even suicidal. Too bad because they can produce epiphanies and teach empathy, the last one being 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.” It became the movie, “A Self-Made Hero”, which took Best Screenplay at Cannes in 1996.
Photo: In Ethiopia in 1974, trying to persuade an Afar my camera doesn’t steal souls, maybe harming his culture but keeping myself safe.
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