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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.
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 was then stationed in Rome as the in the original (and failing miserably), I had an epiphany.
In a burst of insight, I saw parallels between Dante’s tale and the one I was trying to write.
The meaning that I’d sought for so long lay not in the events but within myself and in my mental journey, through months of combat, from the false light of youthful illusion to a descent into darkness and evil, and finally, an ascent into a new and truer light of self-knowledge.
You probably won’t believe this, but I saw, literally saw, the entire book scroll through my mind in seconds, so that my task then seemed to be to transcribe that vision into a coherent narrative.
Some drill down and discover that they don’t have any. ”is simply a story about war, about the things men do in war and the things war does to them.” To expand on that thought a bit—the things men do in war is often a measure of the things it has done to them I began the book in the spring of 1967 in the bachelor officer’s quarters at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and finished it in a cabin in Pine Creek, Montana, in the fall of 1976. Anger and fear—for a long time, I couldn’t sleep without a loaded gun at my bedside.
Guilt—I was almost court-martialed after my platoon killed two Vietnamese civilians mistaken for Viet Cong.
Grief—the names of 18 comrades are etched into that black marble wall in Washington.
Finally, the nature of the Vietnam war worked against me.