Wednesday, September 24, 2014

War Challenge #19

Read for the War Challenge with a Twist 2014 at War Through the Generations

Meanwhile Back at the Front – Gene L.Coon

Star Trek fans will recall that Coon’s Trek scripts such as "Arena", and "A Taste of Armageddon" had more reflective attitudes about conflict, diplomacy, and war than we would expect from TV even in the late 1960s.

As a Marine, Coon fought in the Pacific Theater in WWII. After the Big One, he was a China Marine and saw duty in occupied Japan. After WWII, he was a Marine reservist. Like many reservists, he was recalled to the USMC during the Korean War. He was assigned as a radio combat reporter during the Chosin Reservoir campaign and in GEN Rideways’ advance up the center of the peninsula. He brought all this experience to this comic novel about the marines and soldiers in the Korean War and published it in 1961.

Like Catch-22 though not as tragically absurd, it is simultaneously implausible and realistic. The satire of the war correspondents is bitingly funny. Examples of Hemingway-esque, overblown, and cliché-ridden style of war reporting generate many laughs. The large cast of characters provides various picaresque types, even real-life GEN Chesty Puller appears as “Gutsy Pusher.” All the episodes are loosely connected by a rambling plot involving a mobile bar-and-brothel in the combat zone. Predating the MASH books and TV show, the theme is the creative and daring individual versus the by-the-book collectivism of the military-minded.

With the stipulation that this is very much a guy’s book, given the emphasis on Marines and broads, this is an entertaining novel also about the uneasy place of reservists recalled to the Marines, the restive Marines under Army command, the rivalry of reporters with each other, and the tensions between embedded reporters and the military. He also pokes fun at the Marine self-image, which is something that only a Marine can do in safety, I imagine. Finally, it is worth reading if only because there must be relatively few comic novels about the Korean War not involving MASH uni

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