13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
'...a young man in a morally desperate situation that everyone back home wants to forget...',
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This review is from: My Detachment: A Memoir (Paperback)
The tone of Tracy Kidder's excellent memoir from his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1968 and 1968 is dour, full of resentment and disbelief in the value of war, and one of the stronger pacifist statements in book form. Rather than re-living the horrors of the Vietnam War and struggling to stay alive in a combat zone not marked by peripheries but rather by indistinct underground burrows where the ubiquitous 'enemy' remained hidden and disguised, Kidder's 'Detachment' was an Intelligence unit, for the most part safe from assault attack, but a unit that suffered the psychological destruction that accompanies an isolated band of men living in filthy conditions and always under the threat of 'inspection' by commanding officers seemingly more concerned with polished boots than by healthy mental states.
Kidder, who never believed in the concept of the war in Vietnam, was a Lieutenant in charge of a small band of enlisted men whose job was to gather Intelligence to pass on to the war planners. His memoir unveils his own need to transmit to his family and girlfriend back home a sense of constant danger and participation in killing, and it is this disparity between his own convictions and the 'image' he felt necessary to send home that makes his memoir so frighteningly memorable. He shares his relationship to the men under his command, the multiple problems he confronted with personality types and aberrant situations, and the manner in which he grew as a man during his prolonged exposure to the underbelly of the commanding officers of the war. 'But to represent something is to command power over it. Maps are the tools of many ambitious people, of policy makers, commanders of armies, and youths who like to play at being one of those. And the problem is that the maps are easily confused with the world'.
Where Kidder succeeds in his memoir about his war experience is in his brutal honesty, his fearless approach to report the reality of a war everyone is electing to forget, and the impact that Vietnam had on the mentality of the world and especially now with the youths who face another very similar war. His pacifism may annoy some readers, but his intelligence as a reporter and a writer cannot by ignored. As Kidder completed his tour, he observed a lifer, Major Great, on his way to back into Vietnam and ultimately society: 'I tried to imagine the life in front of him. Paperwork and acronyms and young men who wouldn't get dressed right. Too bad he wasn't a more prepossessing villain. But what a horrible life. Incomprehensible, really. And, of course, he probably walked off still shaking his head, thinking much the same about me.'
Kidder has written a gripping book, one that would serve us all well to read - a different view of the long-term effect of Vietnam, and war in general. Grady Harp, March 08