Sunday, August 25, 2019

Book Review: Where Have All the Soldiers Gone

Book Review: 'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone' by Con Sellers

5 / 5 Stars

Connie Leslie Sellers (1921 - 1992) was a WW2 veteran who was discharged from the Army in 1956 (apparently for alcoholism). Sellers turned to writing pulp fiction, and ultimately authored over 230 novels in genres ranging from pornography, to melodramas, to crime, to romance, and even television tie-ins (Dallas). 

'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone' (174 pp) was published by Popular Library in February 1969. This was not an easy book to track down, as it's long been out of print, and copies in good condition have steep asking prices.

The novel is set in an undisclosed area in South Vietnam in the late 60s. Lee Boyd, the protagonist, is newly deployed and, as a conscientious objector, is assigned to be the platoon's medic. Boyd comes to Vietnam with plenty of baggage; back in his hometown of Monterey, California, he was an ardent antiwar protester, and the subject of considerable media attention, when he faced a four-year jail sentence for refusing to be drafted. 

Boyd ultimately chose to serve in Vietnam rather than spend four years in a cell. He arrives in-country filled with bitterness and self-pity over his fate, and determined to expose what he sees as the gross immorality of the U.S. military intervention (author Sellers makes clear that Lee Boyd is the physical embodiment of the antiwar sentiment inherent in the Pete Seeger song that serves as the novel's title).

The opening chapters of the novel detail Boyd's efforts to conduct his antiwar mission in the face of skepticism, even indifference, from his fellow soldiers. But as one combat mission after another unfolds, it becomes harder for Boyd to view the war with the simplified ideology he employed back in 'The World'. 

And as for Boyd's major nemesis in the platoon, the veteran Sergeant Garrick ? Lee Boyd finds that the seemingly brutal actions of the Sergeant must be viewed in a new light, as the platoon finds itself trapped in a ville and surrounded by a large force of VC and NVA regulars........

'Soldiers' is proof that for some 'one-man fiction factories' like Con Sellers, the act of issuing such large quantities of literary 'product' results in the fashioning of a capable writer. The novel is fast-moving and the frequent combat scenes convincing (likely benefiting from  Sellers's own experiences in the Army).

Its political stance is subtle, and incidental to the plot, rather than being a Message that the narrative struggles to accommodate. 

'Soldiers' is not perfect; the segments where Lee Boyd finds solace in the stifling bedroom of a Vietnamese bar girl derive a bit too much from Sellers's craft as a porn paperback writer. And the dialogue issued by the black GIs is more than a little unconvincing (few are the white writers who can keep their renditions of 'Black English' from sounding like unwitting parody).

But summing up, perhaps because of its straightforward narrative, and its treatment of the conflict at a time when the war was actually ongoing, 'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone' stands as one of the better Vietnam War novels. It's unfortunate that its long-out-of-print status makes prevents it from getting the recognition it deserves.

No comments: