I just finished reading and reviewing Doug Stanton’s new book, The Odyssey of Echo Company: The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War (Scribner, 2017). I’ll post the URL of the review as soon as it is published.
Odyssey is the best-written book on Vietnam that I’ve read, and as readers of my blog may already have guessed, I have several shelves full of Vietnam books, going back to Bernard Fall’s 1961 Street Without Joy. Stanton possesses what I call “the gift,” that rare inborn genius for knowing how to put words together to create a text so compelling that the reader forgets he’s reading and becomes immersed in the narrative. The text, in this case, is a depiction of combat with such realism that I had to stop reading from time to time to deal with my own emotions.
My reading of Odyssey interrupted my transversal of Lucia Viti’s Dr. Tom’s War: A Daughter’s Journey (Rogue Books, 2011) and followed my reading and review of Daniel P. Bolger’s Our Year of War (Da Capo, 2017), both on the Vietnam war (I’ll tell you the URL of the review for the Bolger book when it comes out). It’s clear to me from reading these books that current writers no longer shrink from explicit descriptions of combat in all its brutality. The old unspoken authorial principle that one must spare the reader the grim details no longer applies.
That shift in writerly ethics is more than welcome. Some of my readers over the years have taken me to task for my insistence on the gruesome aspects of combat. I’ve followed that path because I want readers to know. We Americans need to understand what we’re getting into when we go to war and especially what we’re subjecting our young soldiers and Marines to. That understanding will guide us in our decisions on war.
I’m vindicated that other current writers have moved away from delicacy and now show combat as it is. Maybe we Americans will profit from a deepened understanding of the grisly nature of war.