Dirty Echoes from A Dirty Distant War
November 15, 2013
Through the travail of the ages
Midst the pomp and toil of war
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.— General George S. Patton, Jr.
Did Patton really believe in reincarnation? Later scholars have speculated that Patton was such an astute historian that perhaps his memories of personal experiences began to blur with what he had learned about the past. Patton read his Bible regularly and cursed like a stable boy. He had no reservations about sending his men into battle and cried for them when they died.
John Reisman had personal conflicts as well. Previous tours of duty in a variety of theaters on several continents had burned memorable events deeply into his psyche. His childhood in tough neighborhoods in Illinois had imprinted him with a confident sense of self-preservation. Now he was conflicted. He could kill with impunity. He harbored little sympathy for the plight of others. He bonded strongly with the men in his command. Like the stories of sailors, he had a woman in every port — some he cared for deeply.
Attached to the OSS, he had seen enough of the war from both sides to know what was going on — he thought. His next assignment would test his strength of character, his morals, and everything he’d learned from his previous experiences. In German, “Reisman” means mercenary. With regard to this assignment, E.M. Nathanson tells us this about Reisman, “He would do it, though the cause was not his, because the doing itself had become his way of life.”
When last we heard from Reisman, he was listed officially as “missing in action” by an official report detailing the results of “Project Amnesty.” That was the conclusion of The Dirty Dozen which we reviewed HERE. In the transition from the printed page (of the novel) to the big screen, Reisman was promoted to major. In print, that same promotion occurred in the transition to the sequel, A Dirty Distant War. A significant (and inanimate) “character” in the sequel is the C-46 cargo plane. As the story begins, we find Major Reisman about to parachute from a C-46 and he reminisces about the similar jump he had less than a year before. It was the day before D-Day and he led a group of twelve men on a secret mission.
A Dirty Distant War opens with Reisman again parachuting from a C-46. This time, he’s plummeting into the mountains of western China, along the Burmese border, north of Thailand and French Indochina. As in his previous assignment, Reisman will witness an execution. This time it’s not expected and he loses a friend.
Reisman’s adventures take readers into the depths of dark jungles in Southeast Asia, plush palaces in China, and into a labyrinthine maze of personalities, morals, war-time ethics, and mystery. He becomes disoriented in the confusion of whom to trust. What happens to Reisman in 1944 and 45 presages and parallels that of American GI’s in the 60’s. His experience has taught him to trust no one. This assignment will require that he trust someone if he is to be successful and, indeed, if he is to survive.
Fortunately, he reconnects with the few survivors of Project Amnesty. Will their assistance and trust be enough? Together, they encounter a vibrant underground movement hoarding weapons intended for use against the Japanese. Why aren’t they using them? They find hoarding by the Chinese also. Why aren’t our allies using these weapons against Japan? He meets a man who changes his name for a new role. Previously unknown, it will become a household name world-wide in the sixties.
Nathanson looks back at the end of World War II with the benefit of having seen what happened in Tonkin in the 1960’s. Using a popular protagonist with an established reputation, he tells a tale laced with historical facts to help us better understand how America got involved in Viet Nam.
A Dirty Distant War offers an eerie analogy of 2013 world events. Nathanson offers a brilliant and thought provoking examination of our past — filled with lessons for the present. If we, as a nation, had the ability to learn from the past, would we still be in Afghanistan and Iraq after ten years of fighting?