Friday, April 6, 2007

Platoon Leader by James McDonough


Platoon Leader is the story of a lieutenant fresh out of West Point sent over to Vietnam to command his own platoon. He tells his story of battle experience, leading men, and dealing with civilians. A plot synopsis here would be a little silly -- imagine all the bad things that could happen in war, and fill them in with a Vietnamese context.

Unable to sleep, unable to move, I lay there wondering which I would turn out to be: the crazed killer I had met in Qui Nhon or the blatant coward beside me in the dark. Which one was more devoid of humanity, I did not know.

+ Interesting Story I typically say this a lot with the books I read because a moving plot line is pretty much required for me, but I really enjoyed the story. Like most war stories, it can be rather episodic, but it's still interesting just to know what happens to one guy during his year in Vietnam. It's also nice how he juxtaposes interesting stories with his opinions on the events. The explanations he offers of the feelings one experiences in a war like Vietnam will make you think. It helps you understand how such atrocities could occur like the famous My Lai massacre.

+ True Confessions McDonough writes as an officer leading a small group of no more than 20 men in a hostile Viet Cong-controlled section of north Vietnam. The best part of his narrative is that he doesn't hold back. Most men in a position of power would write their memoirs without revealing the 'bad' parts. McDonough, however, writes about the good and the bad: his strengths, his weaknesses, his fear, his courage, his anxiety, his skepticism of military orders, his successes as a leader, his failures as a leader. He lays it all out for the reader, baring it all, even through some embarrassment. It's refreshing for someone to admit to all these various aspects of fighting a war.

+ Universality Did I just make that word up? Anyway, the other cool thing about this book is that a lot of different people would enjoy it. Of course, people who have no interest whatsoever in anything military might not enjoy it. But otherwise, it's interesting enough to entertain someone who isn't a military buff, but still offers enough to someone who is. Some critics have even gone so far as to say that every platoon reader should read it before assuming command.

I'm sure there's something wrong with this book somewhere, but I'm not in a very judgemental mood and I'm not going to waste my time to search for something to write here. Read it and find the problem for me if you're concerned about it.

Overall: A-

3 comments:

Carlton said...

This sounds pretty interesting.

Anonymous said...

This memoir is very special - it still haunts me some years after I first read it particularly the humanity of the author and how sometimes the best of intentions turn into tragedies.

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