Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Johnny got his gun

This post title really isn't a fair description of We are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. This memoir is subtlely anti-war, as opposed to Dalton Trumbo's novel - which kind of trumpets its stance loud and clear.

Fifteen years ago, Moore and Galloway wrote a memoir of what's considered by historians to be the first battle of the US-Vietnam conflict, the Ia Drang Valley. Moore was a lieutenant colonel -- and highest ranking officer in the field [I'm never clear about such things as miliary rank?] -- during the battle, and the book, We were Soldiers Once ... and Young, is evidently considered a masterpiece of military memoir. In the audiobook that I completed on Veterans' Day, Moore and Galloway (a UPI war reporter) recount their several trips to Vietnam during the 1990s, where they sought out the commander of the Vietnamese that day, a General Nguyen Huu An, and revisited the battlefield of Ia Drang with him. Moore writes movingly about being back Ia Drang, marveling at a new friendship with an old enemy, and how the land shows little sign of the death and destruction that occurred there nearly 30 years previously

If only it had stopped there. But Moore goes on -- pressured by his publisher? -- to pontificate at length on the qualities of a good leader. Then, he opines about war in general, taking a number of digs at George W. Bush and his ill-advised, ill-executed war in Iraq (While I personally have no connection to the military or anyone in the military, I did enjoy hearing that a professional soldier believes what I believe: That the soldiers who have died in Iraq have died meaningless deaths. We have gained nothing by this war.). Moore concludes this book with two lengthy elegies to soldiers dearly missed: Rick Riscorla, who died on 9/11; and his wife of 55 years, who died in 2004.

Joseph Galloway reads the audiobook. He reads in an extremely deep, gravelly Southern-tinged voice that rarely varied in volume, emotion or pacing. The narration didn't change as the book moved from Vietnam to 9/11 to Moore's wife's funeral procession. His delivery was quite lulling. At the beginning of every chapter, the volume would increase significantly -- was it because he was starting fresh after a break? But, soon he would head down to his comfortable speaking voice, and the listener would be lulled back into her zen state.

This narrative choice alone I think makes the audiobook a poor choice for teenagers. But that, coupled with the second half of the book's emphasis on "adult" things: organizational leadership skills, his post-military activities, the death of his wife -- really boot it out of the teen-friendly category. I would think that the first memoir might have considerable interest for some teenagers, but -- of course -- it's not under consideration. This title made for somewhat interesting listening, but is an easy no for our committee.

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