There are days we will never forget where we were. Everyone in my generation knows exactly where they were when they heard: "... as the presidential motorcade moved through downtown Dallas." Lots of folks my age also know where they were when they heard Elvis had died, I don't. But I do know exactly where I was when Nixon resigned the presidency and I know where I was on April 30th 1975 -- the day the Vietnam War ended for us.
About ten years later, I picked up a tattered paperback in a used book store in West Hollywood and began a three year period where I read everything I could find on Vietnam. I finished that immersion with A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan published in 1988. I still believe that to be the best book ever written about the American involvement in Vietnam.
Since 1988 I had not read another book about that war. Then a few months ago came the word of another great Vietnam book -- Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. I put my name on the waiting list at the Berkeley library and waited, I was 36th in the queue. In the meantime, I decided to reread A Bright Shining Lie. After several attempts I gave up. It wasn't the same book, I wasn't the same person, it wasn't 1988 or 1975.
Last week, my name rolled to the top of the wait list and I picked up Matterhorn. Six hundred pages read as fast as had the nine hundred of A Bright Shining Lie, which remains the best book ever written about that dirty little war.
As for Matterhorn -- well one of the jacket blurbs got it right for me:
"Never have we seen the particular horrors and challenges of Vietnam so richly explored, and never have we felt the tactile experience of the war depicted with such mesmerizing force. We see the big picture, but as with all great novels, it's the tiny details--the mud, the leeches, the adrenaline-drenched dread of combat, and the tender joy of comradeship--that lingers with the reader long after the story is over."
If you want to know why I and others rage against the United States' involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, read these two books. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.