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How was I to wrest meaning from a succession of random firefights and ambushes that achieved nothing, of aimless patrols run over the same ground again and again, to no effect?By 1974, enough time had passed for me to have gained perspective, along with some peace of mind.
For a long time, I tried to reconcile my love of combat with my revulsion for it, until I realized that reconciliation was impossible.
As there is a duality in human nature, so is there a duality in war that must be taken for what it is.
I served 16 months with a marine infantry regiment in Vietnam. But, directly or indirectly, the experiences I just mentioned have influenced almost everything I’ve put on paper.
As a correspondent for the , I covered the fall of Saigon in 1975, and conflicts in Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Sudan. I cannot escape them; but I am not a war novelist in the same sense that Elmore Leonard was a mystery writer or Stephen King is a horror novelist. That’s a distinction , the field of armed strife has been to me what the sea was to Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville—a setting in which the conflicts and contradictions within our natures are revealed, with a clarity seldom seen in ordinary life.
However, as prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can blind the eyes, prolonged exposure to combat can blind the writer’s imagination, making it difficult to impossible to write about anything else.
I recall when Joseph Heller and I shared the stage at a literary festival in Cheltenham, England, in 1993.
The phrase, “the joy of battle” occurs frequently in his verses.
In an introduction to the accepts violence as a permanent factor in human life,” Knox continues, “and accepts it without sentimentality, for it is just as sentimental to pretend that war does not have its monstrous ugliness as it is to deny that it has its own strange and fatal beauty.” I wrestled for weeks with the fact that I had loved the war as deeply as I’d hated it.
It was winter, and for days, lost in a strange land, Eduardo had been wandering through mountains with nothing to eat and nothing to drink except what he could scoop from puddles of melted snow.
I’ve been frequently asked if I think it’s good for a writer to have been to war.