“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. The topic is relevant, given America’s deepening civil-military gulf. Whether sublimated from base instinct by ruling elites to protect or increase their wealth, or a simple fascination exploited by them to do the same thing, veterans of combat state it was their paramount experience.
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 Navy journalist/photojournalist 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 chose to begin bush bumming in the deserts of the African Horn and Sudan to experience something of what I missed in SE Asia (I’m a romantic that likes desert). I knew about the Horn, particularly as it was in the 19th century. I also knew things were changing. Yes, the risk was less than a shooting war’s, except when it wasn’t.
Grand tours like that are anachronisms now or suicidal. Too bad because they can produce epiphanies and teach empathy, which is perhaps the rarest life skill.
“The Play Soldier” also explores the enduring phenomenon of manufactured valor—-stolen valor. Like combat allure in the novel, the deceit does not get the usual honorable mention either. The Library of Congress, found only one other novel about it, and it was French—-Jean-Francois Deniau’s “A Very Discreet Hero”. I wanted “The Play Soldier” to inform, not just entertain.
I publish the ezine Illumination Rounds. www.illuminationrounds.com.
Photo: In Ethiopia in 1974, persuading an Afar why my camera didn’t steal souls. I had several incidents with Afar who believed it would capture theirs. Yes, I’m contaminating his culture, but I’m trying to keep myself safe.