I asked Joseph for a piece from the perspective of a veteran on veteran and war literature and film in general and this is what he sent. Give this a go and then get your hands on some Hirsch.
If you kill People your Dick might stop working (for a while)
by Joseph Hirsch
I remember in the introduction Vonnegut describes an evening spent with his old army buddy, bullshitting around the dinner table and reminiscing about the war while said buddy’s wife glowered and shot hostile looks at Kurt from time to time. Finally he (or his buddy, I can’t remember) finally asked the woman what was wrong.
She said words to the effect that the two men were just children when the war was fought, and that when Vonnegut sat down to write about his war experiences, he would make himself look like a tough guy. Vonnegut assured the woman that he would do nothing of the sort, and even subtitled his book The Children’s Crusade, lest he forget her admonition.
It pains me to say this, but Ebert was wrong. When I was in the Army (2004-2008), I knew plenty of guys who loved war and loved Platoon. Like with the drug dealers who worship Scarface (penned also by Stone), these guys took what they wanted from the film in terms of quotes and scenes, and they ignored what didn’t already fit with their agenda and ideology.
Is it possible, ultimately, to make an antiwar film or to write an antiwar book, something so wrenching and horrific that any member of our species who saw/read the film/book in question would develop a total and permanent aversion to war? I don’t think so.
Alpha Mike Foxtrot is also a wonderfully-nuanced treatment of a subject that too often serves as grist for revenge fantasies or lame entertainment.
I’ll admit that the premise of a vet losing their mind upon returning to society has led to the creation of some great and terrifying work (i.e. Taxi Driver), but what I find even more terrifying is the opposite, the idea explicated once by the great crime writer Charles Willeford.
Willeford, who served with the Tenth Mountain Division in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded, once wondered about the men with whom he shared the service, many of whom were violent sociopaths who thought little of murdering men who’d already surrendered, or who blithely decapitated a woman with an artillery round simply because she had the temerity to stick her head out of the window of a building at the wrong moment. How, Willeford asked, could these killers ever return to society and stop killing?
That, to me, is a lot more terrifying than the idea of a guy with a Mohawk gunning down a pimp, or some ‘roided up Sly Stallone making life hell for Brian Dennehy out in the Boonies. Contra to what Johnny Rambo would have you think, you can just turn it off.
My sex life is fine now (thank you), but the humiliation I experienced in the aftermath of the war was so total that I still have no idea why I would make it such an integral plot element in my novel.
Several answers proffer themselves now:
• I’ve been writing for too long, and existing at the margins of society in my own nightmare realm for far too long now to really care what anyone thinks or knows about me.
• James Jones was right when he said there isn’t much difference between a writer and a man who practices indecent exposure in public, and I just felt compelled to flash my cock (flaccid or no) in this last book.
• I thought (subconsciously) while writing, that if I talked about the real consequences of war, those shameful little details that not even a romantic with a death wish could valorize, that maybe I could give some young man pause before throwing himself into the next major ground conflict our nation engages in (and there will be another, and another, whether the next president is Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, or the mullet-headed, Libya-bombing, cackling farce of a sociopath that is Hillary Clinton).
Kill people and your dick may stop working.
It was the best I could do. Sorry.