Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Chico novelist takes a wry look at the Vietnam War
By DAN BARNETT
An author's note for Chicoan Michael M. Peters says he was a sergeant during the Vietnam War, "working on F-105s, F-111s and C-130s."
His novel, "Lawrence of Vietnam" ($14.95 in paper from Stansbury Publishing, www.HeidelbergGraphics.com) "is a teenager's view of the war."
The story is told by a young man named Broadleaf, stationed somewhere in Vietnam. At one point he's asked how he got his name. "I was born in the South." "How'd you wind up here?" "I'm in Vietnam avoiding the draft." So why did he really join? To forget a girlfriend? "I dunno," Broadleaf replies. "Maybe I'm a mercenary. Maybe I joined up for the 25 bucks a week."
Broadleaf and his compatriots, Turnly, Dortmunder and Weirdo, share plenty of beer and leaf. Broadleaf becomes a sergeant, is sent home to the states, encounters a war protest at the local university, meets a coed named Cyndi and impresses her with his talk of "secret missions," and is shipped back to Vietnam. Broadleaf is associated with all kinds of planes and helicopters, but it's unclear just exactly what he does. He's always being asked that question and doesn't have much of a reply.
There's the mission "to fly a cargo plane into a besieged airbase and rescue everybody there that was on our side." At one point Broadleaf is left on the airstrip while he waits for rescue himself. "I walk to the side of the runway and lean up against a wooden shack. ... I sit down on the ground to make a smaller target and light up a joint." When he's picked up the crew chief notices that Broadleaf "had all kinds of fun shooting your rifle. We watched you from the plane. You like it out here. You're Lawrence of Vietnam."
Broadleaf survives and returns to college but can't stand the profs who think they know all about the war. "I disagreed with them, trying to explain that we left South Vietnam in 1972 and three years after we left, the South Vietnamese lost, not us. This upset their way of thinking and made them confused and rather than admit they were wrong and that their lives were useless, they flunked me."
As for Broadleaf, he's still trying to figure out his own life. The book ends with some of his poetry, most better left unpublished, though there is this line: "His wives were of such variety / He had no time for piety." Not much piety in the book, either. Cynicism will have to do.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.