I think this book is probably as realistic a depiction of the jungle combat as is possible to convey in words to someone who has never been in the military. The utter stupidity of warfare comes through in every paragraph.
There wasn't much of a plot other than the struggle for a few guys with nothing in common to work as a team, and stay alive while being bombed daily from the air and periodically sent into battle to gain a few feet of jungle. The characters were something of a motley lot. Interestingly, the "heroes" were not particularly heroic. The cowards were more interesting and in many ways more sympathetic. The only women mentioned in the story were thousands of miles away, and they were for the most part stereotypes. It was less a story than a tableau of a few guys' experiences during a critical battle in a long war.
I can't help but comment on the experience of reading the book itself. It was originally published in 1962. The rules for fiction were different then. I think I like those rules better than the rules today. Jones had the luxury to meander around in his story and provide a level of detail about the inner lives and back story for the characters that would be verboten today. I loved the narrative detail and the opportunity to get inside the heads (and hearts) of multiple characters. The story was the same as any other war story: stay alive, keep as many of your buddies alive as you can and don't piss off the brass. Jones shows the reader, from inside the characters' heads, what that was like.
It was fascinating (and frightening) to see how ordinary people from many walks of life and various socio-economic classes can be turned into killers. Jones describes in detail the psychological transformation that comes over soldiers during combat, and he doesn't shy away from their struggles to return to some sort of normal state after the fighting stops. It's obvious that many of the soldiers in the story will end up so psychologically scarred they can never be the men they once were.
That caused me to think about the young men and women serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those kids have been deployed for years. Even the ones who don't have physical wounds must be emotionally and spiritually traumatized, whether they are aware of it or not. How can someone be in a combat zone for years at a time and not suffer permanent emotional damage? The statistics on the numbers of homeless veterans from Vietnam and Desert Storm do not bode well for our currently active duty soldiers.
I don't understand how political leaders can sleep at night after sending their countries' young people into combat unless it is absolutely necessary. (In my opinion the only absolutely necessary military action since WWII was the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.)
As is typical when I read about almost any war, my ultimate reaction to this story was the final line from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai -- "Madness!!"
This post was queued up for publication before President Obama requested Congress to authorize military intervention in Syria.
I voted for President Obama, twice. I read his email about his reasons for requesting Congressional authority to intervene in Syria. I follow his reasoning. It makes logical sense. But, it strikes me an updated version of the old Domino Theory that brought us the Vietnam fiasco. I do not believe that some sort of limited "shock and awe" military intervention would make any difference in Syria -- or anyplace else. We should have learned from Vietnam not to EVER get into a fight without a concrete end in mind and a strategy for accomplishing it. I give the president credit for getting Congress involved in the decision, since war powers rest with Congress (a fact, that presidents -- including President Obama -- have been ignoring since the Truman administration). However, the place to be having those discussions is at the United Nations, not the U. S. Congress.
It is past time that a country (my preference would be the US) would be brave and visionary enough to say, "Stop the madness!" We must find a way to settle political disputes that does not involve violence. We will not alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people by dropping bombs on top of poison gas.