---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2003 11:32:09 -0600
Subject: Vietnam War literature
The following book described at these websites is appropriate for
classes, criticism, and discussions on the Vietnam War; it is one of the
only novels to describe infantry officer training:
Fort Benning Blues
Texas Christian University Press, 2001
ABOUT THE BOOK
From the Publisher
If you've never even been to Southeast Asia, can you be a Vietnam veteran?
In a novel that captures the life and times of a generation, Mark Busby takes
us on a journey through an era of hippies, the shootings at Kent State University,
integration, and Woodstock. Fort Benning Blues tells the story of Vietnam
from this side of the ocean.
Drafted in 1969, Jeff Adams faces a war he doesn't understand. While trying
to delay the inevitable tour of duty in Vietnam, Adams attends Officer Candidate
School in Fort Benning, Georgia, desperately hoping Nixon will achieve "peace with
honor" before he graduates. The Army's job is to weed out the "duds," "turkeys,"
and "dummies" in an effort to keep not only the officers but also the men
under their command alive in the rice paddies of Vietnam. It doesn't take
long for the stress to create casualties.
Lieutenant Rancek, Adams' training officer at OCS, is ready to cut candidates
from the program for any perceived weakness. He does this, not for the Army,
but because he wants only the best "...leading the platoon on my right" when
he goes to Vietnam.
Hugh Budwell, one of Adams' roommates, brings the laid-back spirit of
California with him to Fort Benning. Tired of practicing estate law, he joins
the Army to relieve the boredom he feels pervades his life. About Officer
Candidate School, Budwell states, "If I wanted to go through it without any
trouble, I'd be wondering about myself."
Candidate Patrick "Sheriff" Garrett, a black southerner, spends a night
with Adams in the low-crawl pit after they both raise Rancek's ire. Expecting
racism when he joined the Army, Garrett copes better than most with the rigors
of Officer Candidate School.
Busby uses song lyrics, newspaper headlines, and the jargon of the era
to bring the sixties and seventies alive again. Henry Kissinger is described
as "Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove" and Lieutenant William "Rusty" Calley
as "Howdy Doody in uniform." Of My Lai, Busby says, "At Fort Benning everybody
took those actions as a matter of course."
As America continues to try to comprehend the effects of one of the most
transforming eras in our history, Fort Benning Blues adds another perspective
to the meaning of being a Vietnam veteran.
About the Author:
Mark Busby is an English professor and Director of the Center for the
Study of the Southwest at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.
He is the author of books on Larry McMurtry, Ralph Ellison, Lanford Wilson,
and Preston Jones and has edited several books, anthologies and journal articles
about the Southwest and its writers. His stories can be found in New Texas
Short Stories and Texas Short Stories II. Busby is currently secretary-treasurer
of the Texas Institute of Letters and editor of Southwestern American Literature
and Texas Books in Review. He completed OCS at Fort Benning in
From The Critics
Like his protagonist, Jefferson Bowie Adams II, Busby attended Officer
Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1970s. His first novel
presents Vietnam from an alternative perspective, showing that those who
didn't actually see action in southeast Asia were still irrevocably affected
by the conflict. Although he is personally ambivalent about the war, Adams
knows it will break his grandfather's heart if he flees to Canada. He joins
OCS as a way to postpone being sent to Vietnam. As an officer candidate,
he goes all out to succeed, showing himself to be as tough and gung ho as
any of his peers. The candidates are harassed by seemingly sadistic officers,
in Adams's case by the brutal First Lieutenant Rancek. As the men endure
the rigorous training, contradictions become evident. Absolute obedience
and reflexive subservience are required, yet the program is supposed to produce
leaders. What Busby has going for him until the final pages is the crystal-clear
voice of an open-minded reporter as he chronicles the first weeks of training
with an objective eye. Moments of humor and a number of surprises include
an account of an afternoon Adams spends with Lt. William "Rusty" Calley of
My Lai infamy. Later, a surprisingly human side of Lieutenant Rancek is revealed.
The events of the final pages strain credulity as the impartial reporter,
affected by Kent State and My Lai, chooses sides. An unnecessary epilogue
is a letdown, but Busby still delivers a memorable account of Officer Candidate
School in the Vietnam era. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Another Story About Vietnam? Look Closely, August 14, 2002
Reviewer: M. Cortez from Sacramento, CA USA
Those who feel they do not fit the profile of the typical war novel enthusiast
should not let that consideration prevent them from picking up Mark Busby's
_Fort Benning Blues_. For in many ways, the novel is atypical of the genre,
and it is these moments of divergence that make the novel stimulating and
enjoyable. What most distinguishes Busby's efforts from other, similarly-themed
offerings, and what serves as the novel's strongest point, is the high level
of literary consciousness that the author brings to his narrative. Arguably,
all serious writers bring to their work an awareness of their literary predescessors,
of being imbedded in context or tradition, but Busby uses this anxiety of
influence in a unique way, creating a protagonist who is aware of the bounds
and conventions and classic works of the genre in which he is circumscribed.
>From the beginning of the story, when Jeff Adams relates the collection
of fiction he has brought with him to Officer Candidate School, to the novel's
Yossarianesque conclusion, books are central to Busby's tale of Vietnam viewed
from the margins. This literary consciousness is the heart and soul of the
novel, the secret life that compels and inspires the actions and attitudes
of its characters. Though the narrative ostensibly depicts the boredoms and
stresses and tyrannies of Fort Benning, and though it portrays the by-now
standard conflict between one's duty to country and one's moral aversion to
war, _Fort Benning Blues_ is actually, if we look closer, a book about books,
an exploration of the relationship between literature and marginality, books
and the state. Thus, the interesting question that emerges from the novel
is this: how much of Jeff Adams's ambivalence and hesitancy about his role
in the Vietnam conflict results from the fact that he reads, that he has
a deep and personal familiarity with books renowned for their critical perspectives
on war and resistance? That Vietnam was morally questionable is by now well-established
in literature and film; also patently obvious is the fact that Jefferson
Bowie Adams II, grandson and namesake of his proud veteran grandfather, carries
the weight of history and familial expectation upon his shoulders. What is
less apparent, however, is the fact that Adams's scholarly affiliations make
him scion of an equally weighty heritage; he is as beholden to literary forebears
Joseph Heller and Ernest Hemingway as he is to a sense of duty engendered
on the part of his military lineage. In this way, we can see that what is
less apparent about the novel--namely, its literary consciousness--is also
its most important and outstanding feature, and that it is this understated
and subtle feature which ultimately makes _Fort Benning Blues_ more than
just another story among many about the Vietnam era.
It's about the Dues that Cause the Blues, November 17, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Birmingham, AL USA
Mark Busby's FORT BENNING BLUES will appeal best to male readers who were
subject to the Vietnam War draft, an entire generation of American men who,
one way or another, had to wrap their heads around the idea that though there
was now such a thing as "limited war," there was still no such thing as "limited
death." In other words, they had to confront the very real possibility that
they could give their lives for a war with very uncertain goals. Their fathers
and grandfathers may have fought in World War II or Korea (or both), but the
objectives of WWII were never in doubt, and Korea came early enough in the
"cold war" that almost everyone believed Communism both monolithic and omni-threatening.
Vietnam was 'way different, and Busby explores that difference via his protagonist,
Jeff Adams, a Texan with a proud sense of heritage and common sense to go
with it: enough pride to recognize his legacy and responsibility, enough
common sense to be fearful and to desire a defensible meaning to the risks
We follow Adams as he takes the route many bright young men of the era
took--Officers Candidate School. Adams's "blues," then, have to do with the
dues he knows he must pay, and the novel's resonance comes from the way Busby
re-creates those troubled times, times that exacted internal wars of conscience
among most Americans, regardless of whether or not they were of draft age.
Some readers might consider Busby's literary debts ranging from William Faulkner
to British World War I-era poet Henry Reed a bit too artificial; still others
might think he makes too much use of coincidence (Adams happens to be William
Calley's driver during the My Lai trial, and he manages to see newspaper headlines
that inform him of the Kent State killings).
Adams's resolution of his conflict--his Fort Benning Blues--may not please
all readers, but it is a resolution many of that era found, making this as
genuine a tale of courage as any told by other "veterans" of the Vietnam War,
a war that we now know even our President, Lyndon Johnson, tragically questioned,
tragically could not bring himself to stop.
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