--Los Angeles Times
It's not easy nowadays to shock
Fine and real and terrifying.
Read it if you dare.
Gunnery Sergeant Gerheim laughs. The senior drill instructor is an obscene little ogre in immaculate khaki. He aims his index finger between my eyes and says, "You. Yeah--you. Private Joker. I like you. You can come over to my house and fuck my sister." He grins. Then his face goes hard. "You little scumbag. I got your name. I got your ass. You will not laugh. You will not cry. You will learn by the numbers. I will teach you."
Leonard Pratt grins.
Outside, I point to a wasted NVA hanging in the wire. "War is serious business, son, and this is our gross national product." I kick the corpse, triggering panic in the maggots in the hollow eye sockets and in the grinning mouth and in each of the bullet holes in his chest.
"Ten percent of you will not survive. Ten percent of you maggots are going to go AWOL or will try to take your own life or will break your backs on the Confidence Course or will just go plain fucking crazy. There it is. My orders are to weed out all nonhackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps. You will be grunts. Grunts get no slack. My recruits learn to survive without slack. Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. Am I correct, herd?"
Sergeant Gerheim orders Leonard and the recruit squad leaders into the head. In the head, Sergeant Gerheim orders us to piss into a toilet bowl. "LOCK THEM HEELS! YOU ARE AT ATTENTION! READDDDDY...WHIZZZZ..." We whiz. Sergeant Gerheim grabs the back of Leonard's neck and forces Leonard to his knees, pushes his head down into the yellow pool. Leonard struggles. Bubbles. Panic gives Leonard strength; Sergeant Gerheim holds him down. After we're sure that Leonard has drowned, Sergeant Gerheim flushes the toilet.
The Snipers zero in on us. Each shot becomes a word spoken by death. Death is talking to us. Death wants to tell us a funny secret. We may not like death but death likes us. Victor Charlie is hard but he never lies. Guns tell the truth. Guns never say, "I'm only kidding." War is ugly because the truth can be ugly and war is very sincere.
Sergeant Gerheim's beefy red face floats by like a cobra being charmed by music. His eyes drill into mine; they invite me to look at him; they dare me to move my eyes one fraction of an inch. "Have you seen the light? The white light? The great light? The guiding light--do you have the vision?"
"We can kill you. You know that." Leonard caresses his rifle. "Don't you know that Charlene and I can kill you all?" Leonard aims his rifle at my face.
I take a step into Animal Mother's path.
Animal Mother raises his weapon. He holds the M-60 waist high.
His eyes are red. He growls deep in his throat. "This ain't
no Hollywood movie, Joker. Stand down or I will cut you in half..."
I look into Animal Mother's eyes. I look into the eyes of a killer.
He means it. I know that he means it. I turn my back on him.
"I meant to read only a few pages, but I could see immediately, in one paragraph, that this was impossible. When I finished the opening section, I felt as though I'd read a whole novel, and it was twenty-eight pages long. I knew I was reading an amazing writer. He was telling a truth about the war that was so secret, so hidden, that I could barely stand it. It was a masterpiece that absolutely anybody could pick up and read in a couple of hours and never forget."
"Man, that fucking bombshell you laid on the public tells it like it is, was and always will be as long as there's a Green Machine waiting to ingest American kids and spit out combat Marines...It's an incredible piece of writing and a tribute to all of us who fiddle-fucked our way through the war as combat correspondents."
"Nothing I've read that tried to convey the monstrousness of that grave-maker known as the war in Viet Nam even remotely approaches the eloquence of The Short-Timers. It is one of the most amazing stretches of writing I've ever encountered. Like Paths of Glory, Company K and The Red Badge of Courage, it is an unsparing, clenched-teeth, last will and testament that names us all as heirs to the madness of war. Gustav Hasford has written a fine, fine book: honest and painful and terribly important."
unique, absolutely wonderful book."
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