Against the War
A novel of the Vietnam War era by Roland Menge
Statement of Purpose

Against the War is a historical novel examining the response of the Vietnam War generation to the Vietnam War and the effect of the war on American society. The effect described is a broad phenomenon extending from the theater of war overseas to the growing response to the war at home, as evidenced in the “war on poverty,” the anti-war movement, and the counterculture that arises from the anti-war movement.

The military draft, Against the War shows, was the underlying reason why this phenomenon of effect spread so widely. All military-eligible men of the age group described in this novel (graduating from college in the years 1965 to 1970) were presented, through the draft, with the requirement to reply to the war in some form. Some reacted by volunteering for service or allowing themselves to be drafted; others reacted by “resisting the war” through filing as conscientious objectors or refusing induction; still others reacted by positioning themselves with respect to the draft through “deferments” or “dropping out;” and out of this collective reaction emerged not only an extensive and often horrible encounter with the war, but also a challenging of the authority that demanded response to the war and a questioning of the society that made such authority possible.

Had it not been for the war and the draft, Against the War shows, the young men of this generation would not have had the exposure to take such questioning far; but conditions were soon at hand, as the novel describes, to widen their exposure. Draft-deferrable programs like the Teacher Corps and VISTA (amply available in the “war on poverty” of this era) pushed many out into assignments among poor and excluded Americans;—in effect, enlisting these men (and soon their female peers) as advocates for social change against institutions like local governments that impeded such change;—opposition to the war brought interactions with other bulwarks of the status quo like draft boards and schools; and the ensuing confrontations, intended to force social change or oppose the war, provided a real-life education in the intricacy of societal control. The scope of questioning thereby expanded beyond the social structures initially identified with the war to the whole fabric of society.

Adding to this expanding inquiry, the novel shows, was the shared experience, for both men and women, of demonstrations, marches, concerts, defiant speeches, appeals to solidarity, invitations to drugs, cross-cultural contacts, and itinerant “searching,” coalescing into a counterculture of societal opposition, and bringing—for this generation raised in the complacency of the 1950’s—a new mentality toward cultural expression: new taking serious of politics, music, and art; new fervor in exchange of ideas; new “lifestyles;” new disregard for propriety and long-held norms.

On the war side of the growing cultural divide, as also documented in this novel, another experience shared by many members of this generation, the war itself, forced a mentality change of a different kind. Accommodations to the slaughter of combat, personal danger and deprivation, contemplations regarding the ambiguities of an impugned war, and the comradery engendered by the war situation, combined to form this mentality. As the novel demonstrates, however, for many like the character Jim Morris, this was a mentality ineffectively applied to making sense of the war and returning with no problems to civilian life.

The four main characters of Against the War,— Morris, Tom Steward, Matt Brandt, and Bill O’Rourke,—in the historical record of this novel, represent the young men of this era, the choices they made under pressure of the war and the draft, the ways they conducted themselves on both sides of the societal gulf of the war, and the results of their choices in terms of individual conscience, the indictment of the war, attitudes toward authority, distribution of political power, fulfillment of democratic ideals, changes in gender roles, and other facets of American life.

Men, as said, were the ones directly challenged by the war, but the women of this generation also became involved in the war effort, sometimes as spouses or lovers of soldiers, committed to supporting them in their war experience or in their resultant injuries, such as the character Ellen Kass Morris in this novel; and sometimes as voluntary participants in the war, such as the character Army nurse Barbara Carpenter O’Rourke. Women were also the earnest soldiers of the counterculture, as it developed, active in the war resistance, feminism, and political, social, and cultural change, as well as in the great flowering of music, writing, and art that the counterculture brought. Mary Kass Brandt, in this novel, represents the best of these women. Kristine DeSolt Steward is an example of the courageous women of the era, not consciously feminist but influenced by feminist ideas, who struggled for personal independence in face of cultural restraints. As the double surnames given here indicate, these female characters are the eventual spouses, within the story, of the four male characters listed above.

As also described in this novel, the broad phenomenon of war and response had repercussions at home and overseas far beyond the transformative experiences of the young men and women that are the focus of the central story of the novel. At home, the placement and activities of these educated idealists amidst previously ignored and desperate people created an expectation of democratic participation, civil rights, economic advancement, and educational opportunity. This expectation, in turn, led many in these populations to assert themselves, as exhorted to do by their young volunteers, creating a chain reaction that, over the course of the four and a half years described in this novel, activated individuals and communities all across America. Overseas, an effect of like magnitude occurred, in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, as the result of the insertion into these countries of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and the American machinery of war, bringing contact with American concepts of democracy and civil rights (as well as with the demonstrated belief in martial coercion), capitalization of local economies to provide goods and services to military bases and soldiers, corruption sowed by the free flow of Yankee dollars to illicit activities like prostitution and sale of drugs, and the societal burden of recovering from the widespread damage inflicted by carpet bombing and defoliation.

“The war was a lie,” decides Jim Morris, patriot, combat pilot, prisoner of war, “true believer;”—one who, in the story, starts out with the highest of ideals;—and, indeed, as the record contained here reveals, this was a war prosecuted for many years without a hope of being won while actual people, such as Morris represents, were risking their lives for the purpose of winning the war. This was a war, as the record also reveals, involving atrocities perpetrated by American forces and kept secret, while heroic soldiers, such as depicted in this novel, were sacrificing their lives for fidelity to their nation and devotion to one another.

The counterculture of this era was, also, in the final analysis, revealed to be flawed, as it rose in what seemed at first a single voice of protest and cultural promise, then crumbled upon itself as the conflicts between its inconsistencies grew: peaceful vs. violent “revolution;” “egalitarianism” vs. the desire for possession; serious inquiry vs. “letting things be;” self-discipline vs. self-indulgence; social participation vs. dropping out. Against the War documents this arc of the early counterculture in the period described.

 In not only this, but in all aspects, Against the War is meant to be historically correct. For this reason, the novel includes a comprehensive bibliography giving sources for all facts presented, and many developments in the story are tied by accurate dates to political, social, and military events. The case made here is conveyed with a documentary exactness to permit a fair judgment of the ways this generation’s response to the war and building of the counterculture should be emulated or corrected by future generations.

Roland Menge (2013)




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