Forlorn Wars, Hot Rod Cars and Ancient Stars
Today the consensus is that the Vietnam war was useless and unjust, but that in no way lessens the sacrifice made by the soldiers who were drafted to spend their blood there. Here in Forlorn Wars, the author has written an intense biographic essay about his friend, one of those young soldiers, ripped from his carefree teenage existence and thrown into the hellish nightmare of the Asian jungle.
The author became friends with Bob Malinowski through a shared interest in hot rod cars. Over time, as their friendship developed, Bob began opening up about his experiences as a grunt in Vietnam. Author Norman Weisberg is a great writer, and captures his friend’s stories in detail. Bob left as an optimistic eighteen-year-old, but quickly learned the lie. Weisberg takes the reader through a history of the politics of the WWII-through-Vietnam era, and exposes the false premises and hubris that led to the continuation of a futile conflict. He writes about the military tactics of the Vietnamese fighters, as well as those of the American soldiers, sent into conflict with inferior weaponry and lacking the necessary support. Alternating between the broad view of the political situation and history, and Bob’s view from the ground is a powerful device, masterfully used, with perfect pacing to amplify and realize the horrors these young men faced. The casualty rates were astounding, and the soldiers had no grand cause for which their lives were being thrown away – they were all too aware of the farce the war had become. Their only concern had to become survival.
The book is gripping, well-written, with an eye for the important detail as well as the broad stroke. This is not a history text; no footnotes or bibliography; the statistics and events are well-known. The genius of the book is showing the human, personal side of the war through Bob’s stories. The distant, antiseptic policy decisions are seamlessly connected to Bob’s experiences. If there is an overarching theme to the book, it is to be aware of impact of war. We may say that we know, but unless we have been there, we can’t really. But books like this get us a close as we can get, so hopefully we won’t forget, so we realize the true costs and avoid repeating them.
This is just the first book in a planned trilogy; the next two, projected for 2015 and 2016, address Bob’s reintegration into home life and how he overcame PSTD caused by his military experiences. I have every expectation that they will be as gripping and emotionally authentic as Forlorn Wars. An excellent book.