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Originally published in , Webb s classic novel of the Vietnam War follows three soldiers from different worlds who are plunged into a white hot murderous realm of jungle warfare as it was fought by one Marine platoon in the An Hoa Basin inThey each had their reasons for being a soldier They each had their illusions Goodrich came from Harvard Snake got the tattoo Death Before Dishonor before he got the uniform And Hodges was haunted by the ghosts of family heroesThey had no way of knowing what awaited them Nothing could have prepared them for the madness to come And in the heat and horror of battle they took on new identities, took on each other, and were each reborn in fields of fireFields of Fire is James Webb s classic, searing novel of the Vietnam War, a novel of poetic power, razor sharp observation, and agonizing human truths seen through the prism of nonstop combat Weaving together a cast of vivid characters, Fields of Fire captures the journey of unformed men through a man made hell until each man finds his fate James Webb was one of the most decorated U.S Marines that served in the Vietnam war and his experience brings brutal authenticity to his well crafted novel Webb has gone on to serve as Secretary of the Navy and is currently a U.S Senator from Virginia None of that takes away from the power of this novel of war. James Webb s intense novel about Vietnam, Fields of Fire was mentioned in Rachel Maddow s Drift and it was this recommendation that made me want to read it My step father dead almost 10 years now due to a heart attack survived 3 tours in Nam, but remained a racist SOB after his return I do recall his recurrent nightmares similar to those of Goodrich in the book in fact a babysan on the horizon, not sure if she is hiding a threat or innocently saying hello This image epitomises the depic James Webb s intense novel about Vietnam, Fields of Fire was mentioned in Rachel Maddow s Drift and it was this recommendation that made me want to read it My step father dead almost 10 years now due to a heart attack survived 3 tours in Nam, but remained a racist SOB after his return I do recall his recurrent nightmares similar to those of Goodrich in the book in fact a babysan on the horizon, not sure if she is hiding a threat or innocently saying hello This image epitomises the depiction of the war in this book The moral ambiguity of this conflict escalated by Johnson and sending tens of thousands of young Americans into the meat grinder Inflaming public sentiment against war and imperialism Mixing social groups in the theatre of blood, bullets, and bombs All of this is described in beautiful, devastating detail by Webb Lieutenant Hodges, last in a long line of warriors going back to the his namesake Robert E Lee s army He held his helmet on his knees and cupped a cigarette inside it, lighting it Not supposed to, but screw it It s three o clock The goners are all in bed Nonetheless, he continued to cup it as he smoked There s always that chance One sniper round can do it Every now and then it happens p 225 William Senator Goodrich, Harvard student who signs up forthan he asked for and buffeted on all sides by forced beyond his control A violent, thunder less noon rain scudded across a blue sky and soaked them thoroughly, even as the untroubled blue peeked around its edges Then it suddenly abated, leaving them inside a thin, steamy mist In minutes the resupply helicopter powered through the mist, driving it away with rotor wash, whipping the mist as winter wind drives chimney smoke And they cringed, naked on the terraced hillside, feeling new horizontal rain that was driven by the helicopter blades, lifting from long leaves of greening sawgrass p 256.Ronnie Snake no last name given , arguably the most heroic character in the book, always fatally trying to help his teammates Snake dragged Marsten down the hill Marsten screamed each time Snake jerked the poncho Snake reached his hold again and called for the Doc No Doc He screamed again Still no Doc He despaired of Doc and pulled the lone battle dressing off of his own helmet, hatting Marsten for leaving his up the hill He reached in and felt the hole Marsten screamed as if in torture when Snake s fingers slid along the slick wet inside of it p 62 No detail is spared all the dirty politics, the sketchy orders, the pointless suicide missions, the boredom followed by intense firefighting illuminates the pages of this riveting testimony to the courage of fighting Marines without closing its eyes on the atrocities that were committed on both sides The battles are so real that you feel deafened by the bombing, you feel trepidatious when walking thinking of the anti personnel mines, you smell the phosphorous and napalm in the air James Webb s book has the feeling of authenticity without succumbing to bland condemnation or justification Its narrative technique of passages of intense warfare punctuated by flashbacks to the pre war lives of the various protagonists and their comrades in arms, is convincing and compelling This is truly an important read for those who wish to look at modern warfare from an unadulterated, uncensored and apolitical standpoint It is a monument and deserves wide readership KidsAbout a third into Fields of Fire, it hits you all these characters are children, big children, and children with guns but children nevertheless The influence of Lord of the Flies is unmistakeable The training of these Marines is aimed at creating not functioning adults but perfectly behaved children who are respectful and obedient, who speak only when spoken to, and who continuously grumble about taking revenge on their elders, but only among themselves What they do on their own time is KidsAbout a third into Fields of Fire, it hits you all these characters are children, big children, and children with guns but children nevertheless The influence of Lord of the Flies is unmistakeable The training of these Marines is aimed at creating not functioning adults but perfectly behaved children who are respectful and obedient, who speak only when spoken to, and who continuously grumble about taking revenge on their elders, but only among themselves What they do on their own time is their business the adults would rather not know.The sociological glue which keeps them functional is not an ethos of foxhole camaraderie but the rules of the unsupervised playground They are members of a gang The first rule of gang membership is that only the gang matters To be excluded from the gang means merely social isolation in the playground Here it means injury and death The opinion of other gang members about oneself is the crucial determinant of behaviour,important than fear of death, the need for shelter and food, and inhibitions about ruthless homicide.The details of their existence emphasise their infantile status They all receive nicknames upon arrival in combat Not Stinky, Curly, or Four Eyes mocking their physical features but Wild Man, Snake, and Psycho reflecting their relative states of derangement In addition to the usefulness of these names as a constant reminder of gang membership, they also serve paradoxically as a mechanism for dealing with the loss of comrades through injury and death since the names are transferable to replacements as required.Like most boys, the Marines are greatly impressed by technology The sights, sounds and smells of heavy artillery, fast aircraft, and automatic rifles ours not theirs are thrilling The frustrations of pursuing an elusive enemy in unbearable physical conditions are mitigated by periodic displays which don t have much effect on the enemy but momentarily boost morale The standard response to these lethal pyrotechnic shows is Get some , said with the enthusiasm of a ten year old pulling the wings off flies after receiving a beating from his father.And this abuse is often very much what they had become accustomed to as young people Many feel at home with it even as they resent it Some because they have been brought up on the streets with violence as the norm Others because they have been indoctrinated into a tradition of violent patriotism Others because they naively allowed themselves to be manipulated by the system Their resentment is encouraged by the absent adults who understand that the Marines aggressiveness will be proportionate to their dissatisfaction.These Marines are indeedZombie people, regurgitated by the gluttonous monsterThey have been processed into children who are constantly on the edge of puerile rebellion That they rarely go over that edge and kill their military masters is a tribute to the refinement of their training Children are lost without their parents Without parental direction and encouragement, they become a mob not a gang And mobs are dangerous for their members as well as for everyone else As I said Lord of the Flies comes to mind.The theme common to almost all war fiction, especially that of the American war in Vietnam, is resentment for lost youth Some are resentful for being forced to go Others for naively believing in the reasons they went voluntarily Others for the lifelong guilt they suffer for the things they had to do The only way, it seems, to assuage this resentment is to subject following generations to the same conditions they endured Pitiful but true What a species we are.Postscript Another GR contributor alerted me to the poetry of Randall Jarrell Here is his poem Losses, which, I think captures the reality of boys in war It was not dying everybody died It was not dying we had died before In the routine crashes and our fields Called up the papers, wrote home to our folks, And the rates rose, all because of us We died on the wrong page of the almanac, Scattered on mountains fifty miles away Diving on haystacks, fighting with a friend, We blazed up on the lines we never saw We died like aunts or pets or foreigners When we left high school nothing else had died For us to figure we had died like In our new planes, with our new crews, we bombed The ranges by the desert or the shore, Fired at towed targets, waited for our scores And turned into replacements and woke up One morning, over England, operational It wasn t different but if we died It was not an accident but a mistake But an easy one for anyone to make We read our mail and counted up our missions In bombers named for girls, we burned The cities we had learned about in school Till our lives wore out our bodies lay among The people we had killed and never seen When we lasted long enough they gave us medals When we died they said, Our casualties were low They said, Here are the maps we burned the cities It was not dying no, not ever dying But the night I died I dreamed that I was dead, And the cities said to me Why are you dying We are satisfied, if you are but why did I die My father was a radio operator in Vietnam, 69 70 He saw things that are still beyond my realm of understanding A few Christmases ago, he played a recording he had of a firefight he was in for my brothers and me It was harrowing What he told us after he were through with this recording was that his CO, James Webb, had written a book about this very firefight and other portions of the Vietnam War in a book called Fields of Fire Three days later, just before one of my brothers was set to lea My father was a radio operator in Vietnam, 69 70 He saw things that are still beyond my realm of understanding A few Christmases ago, he played a recording he had of a firefight he was in for my brothers and me It was harrowing What he told us after he were through with this recording was that his CO, James Webb, had written a book about this very firefight and other portions of the Vietnam War in a book called Fields of Fire Three days later, just before one of my brothers was set to leave, my father presented all of us with this book I have read many Vietnam novels the topic is one of fascination and horror for me.While I read this book, the tape recording of the firefight was its soundtrack It moved me to the point of tears sometimes All I could think about was an eighteen year old Marine caught in this hellish world and knowing he still had X amount of days left before he was able to go home, if he was fortunate enough to make it home And let me be the first to say, this book isthan just a war novel It really looks at the Vietnam War from the perspective of some of the soldiers that fought in it Poor or rich Volunteer or draftee It even gives some extremely great insight into the psychology of the Vietnamese There are parts that are graphic But the violence is never over the top or there for purposes of shock I will never ever truly understand what my father experienced, but this book brought me closer to him.HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDTION