Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Harrowing and Unstinting Look At the War in Vietnam

Sympathy for the Devil is a brilliant look at the war in Vietnam as seen through the eyes of one very literate Special Forces soldier. Like the war itself, it's a nasty, brutish, profane examination of the way in which men approach combat and at the ways in which it affects and transforms them.

The protagonist, a "college boy" named Hanson, was drafted into the war three years into his college experience, as was the author, Kent Anderson. And having had the opportunity to hear Hanson discuss his experiences in the war, it's clear that much of this book is based very closely on those experiences.

It's not a pretty sight. And it's clear that, while Hanson and his closest compatriots may be fighting for a variety of different reasons, patriotism and a belief in the American mission in Vietnam have little or nothing to do with it. Mostly, they're fighting to protect each other and because to a large extent, they've become intoxicated by the experience of war. They have virtually no sympathy for the South Vietnamese soldiers whom they are supposed to be assisting in the war. They don't like them; they don't trust them; and they think that the South Vietnamese forces are lazy and generally useless.

The same is pretty much true of the officers and politicians who lead their effort, most of whom appear to be interested only in advancing their own careers and other interests at the expense of the troops they command. From beginning to end, from Basic Training to the end of Hanson's second tour, this is a harrowing, beautifully written and gut-wrenching ride that builds to an unbelievable climax. Although a novel, this book has the solid ring of truth, and it's probably the best book I've read yet about the war in Vietnam. 4.5 stars.

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