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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have four novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York will publish my latest novel, Secretocracy, early in 2020.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the 13 years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

Secretocracy tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the current administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation.

 

The American Can-Do Attitude (3)

Featured on the wall of my piano room is a photograph, taken by the artist-photographer Ann Gonzalez, of the jungle combat boots I wore for many years in Vietnam. At the bottom are the words, “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.” That’s the motto of my novel Last of the Annamese, set during the fall of Saigon. And it is the theme of the book—how those of us in Vietnam knew we had to be prepared to give our all for our country.

The photo of the empty boots suggests, almost subliminally, that their owner did just that and that now all that is left of him is his boots.

Men and women who put their lives on the line for the country are a manifestation of the can-do attitude writ large. We do what we have to do, whatever it takes. And we know that our sacrifice is worthwhile and honorable.

The tragic irony is that those who fought in Vietnam were undercut by the downside of the American can-do attitude, the assumption by our commanders that we superior Americans would easily defeat that “raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country,” as Lyndon Johnson called North Vietnam. We were too blinded by our arrogance to understand how to fight the North Vietnamese. And we lost the war. Some 58,000 of us died.

So we Americans need to rethink our way of seeing the world. Let us make the most of the good side of out can-do attitude and learn the humility to grant equality to others who are not like us. Let us do what we have to do, whatever it takes.

The American Can-Do Attitude (2)

My blog post of yesterday brought a thoughtful response from Rose Kent, a writer of wonderful children’s books: “Some assets can also be liabilities. Our can-do spirit has served us well at times. Surely it brought us independence from the most powerful nation in the world in the 18th century. It saved the world from totalitarianism as well. We Americans need to do a better job of learning from our mistakes. Vietnam became a topic nobody wanted to speak of from early on after the war. But there was a great deal there to unpack.”

As usual, Rose brought balance to my thoughts. Despite my intent, my words came off stressing the negative. What I meant to say is that our can-do attitude is admirable but can mislead us. As colonies and later a young nation, we faced challenges that required us to be stalwart and positive. Our westward push to the coast of the Pacific Ocean succeeded because we held our heads high and carried on. And our performance in the two world wars bespoke our optimistic leadership. Our can-do attitude on the whole is a good thing.

But we as Americans need to learn not to look down on other cultures who have suffered defeats and disasters we have never known. We must learn the humility to see others, who are different from us, as our equals. We especially need to overcome out linguistic arrogance and learn other languages. In the process, we’ll learn deeply about how people in other cultures think.

And Rose is right that we need to look at the Vietnam war and understand why we lost. A good many books have come out in the last half-dozen years examining in detail where we went awry. We can’t afford to lose wars because we don’t understand the culture and strategy of the enemy and can’t figure out how to counter it.

My sense is that younger Americans, those under fifty and especially those in their twenties and thirties, have learned from the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. They will do better than we have done. I pray that they study the languages of those who oppose us. I propose that they start with Chinese, a language that taught me volumes about how to think in general and particularly about how the Chinese think.

The American Can-Do Attitude

We Americans are a positive and optimistic bunch. We start out assuming that we’ll find a way to be successful at whatever we attempt. We expect good weather and happy outcomes. And we never doubt our ability to deal with whatever lies ahead.

We also assume, without saying so, that we are a superior culture. We find other civilizations quaint and faintly amusing. We take for granted that American English is superior to the English spoken in other countries and get impatient with foreigners’ struggle with our language. We seem to believe that if others were superior like us, they wouldn’t have any trouble speaking American English.

We make little effort to learn the languages of other countries, expecting, instead, that others will learn our language. We are alone in the world at assigning ambassadors to other nations who do not speak the language of those nations.

Our can-do attitude served us particularly badly in Vietnam. We judged, correctly, that we were the strongest and best-equipped military in the world. Defeat of the Vietnamese communists was never more than a year away. We were baffled when, time after time, we set out to attack the enemy but found that he’d decamped before we got there. We never understood the North Vietnamese fighting strategy, summed up by Mao Tse Tung:

Enemy advances, we retreat.

Enemy camps, we harass.

Enemy tires, we attack.

Enemy retreats, we pursue.

It’s telling that we won every major battle we were able to engage in during the war, but for the first time in our history, we lost the war.

The can-do attitude is a flawed perspective.

Sleep

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but sleep is becoming one of my favorite pastimes. I can’t seem to get enough, and I prefer it to almost every other way to spend my time.

Granted, recent events turn me toward sleep. The most important of those was my hernia surgery in the middle of October. I’m annoyed and frustrated that it’s taking me so long to recover. And I am amazed that I’m capable of sleeping such long hours. During the week after the surgery, I slept twelve hours one night and then took a two-hour nap the next afternoon.

But it’s more than the surgery. I hate to admit it, but much of it is aging. I find that I can sleep at any hour of the day or night. My energy level is failing. That’s at odds with my very busy life and full schedule.

The message I’m getting is that I’m going to have to slow down and do less. Not acceptable. Instead, I’ll try to prioritize and eliminate non-productive but time-consuming chores (like eating and house cleaning) to allow more energy for essential tasks, like writing and doing presentations.

Sometimes I feel like the decks are stacked against me. But that’s been true many times in my life. In Vietnam, the odds were often against me, but I survived. I’ve always managed to squeak by doing what needs to be done, and I’ve suffered few permanent wounds. I’m good at conniving and cheating.

I bet I figure out how to beat this latest downturn, the need for sleep. Stay tuned.

The Deer

For reasons I don’t understand, the area I where live in Columbia, Maryland, is alive with deer. I see them on the streets, and I see them in back of my house in the land surrounding the pond. I wonder why they are so numerous here in the middle of a city.

A couple of days ago, I looked east through the windows in my piano room and spotted a stag and a doe. They wandered through the open grass munching and investigating. Then the doe wanted to move further into the area, but the stag decided he didn’t want her there. He moved toward her, and she took off back into the woods. A little later, I spotted another doe moving through the grass. The stag watched her but did nothing. They were still there when I moved on to other ventures.

Why are they here? Why don’t they migrate to woodsy areas free of humans? That’s among the many things I don’t know.

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, when we celebrate those who have served in the military in defense of our country. As readers of this blog are aware, I support veterans and do all I can to help them.

Howard County, Maryland, where I live, is home to more than 20,000 veterans. As a veteran myself, I feel very much at home here.

Yesterday, Sunday, 10 November, I marched in a Veterans Day parade in Columbia, Maryland and then was in the audience for a tribute to veterans on the shores of Lake Kittamaqundi. The ceremony repeatedly brought tears to my eyes as speakers recounted the sacrifices veterans make for their country, including the last full measure of devotion, and musicians and singers sang patriotic songs. Last night, I attended a gala to celebrate veterans, especially Marines—10 November is the Marine Corps birthday.

Every month I attend the county Veterans Commission meeting where the progress of programs for veterans is reviewed and new initiatives are considered. The county goes out of its way to create respect for veterans and to honor them. And every month I meet with fellow veterans at our American Legion meeting. I am honored to be included. I would be a proud member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars except that I wasn’t officially in uniform during my many times in combat. I was under cover as a Marine or soldier, but I was still a civilian.

We veterans are becoming fewer. In 2016, 7 percent of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18 percent in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. When the draft ended in 1973, people stopped joining the military voluntarily.

I think the dwindling number of veterans is America’s loss. I would favor reinstating the draft because military service is a superb learning experience for young men and women. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without my time in the army. I learned, among other things, what I’m capable of.

So let us celebrate veterans today. Go out of your way today to find a veteran and say to him the words I so yearned to hear after Vietnam: “Thank you for your service. And welcome home.”

Autumn Trees

The trees on the street where I live and a few around the pond in back of my house are at their autumn peak, their leaves brilliant yellow, red, and orange. I don’t recall a year in which they were this bright and colorful.

Directly behind my deck is a tree about half the height of the house. For several days it has shown itself in bright yellow-orange. It catches the morning light from the east (to the right of the deck) and the afternoon sun from the west. Despite the cold (it’s been freezing at night), I bundle up and sit on the deck and take in the glory.

For all that, most of the trees around the pond are still green. Maybe when they turn, they will be equally amazing.

Maybe the trees have always been this bright. In earlier years, I was so focused on my work that I barely noticed. I commonly worked twelve-hour days and weekends. I worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) and was intent on watching the communications of nations unfriendly or even hostile to the U.S. I didn’t have time to take in the beauty of nature all around me.

That’s all changed now. I’m a full-time writer, able to alter my schedule and allow myself time to bask in nature’s beauty. I’ve missed a lot. It’s time to drink my fill of the glory all around me. And the autumn trees are a glory in and of themselves.