Donald Duncan: The New Legions. Victor Gollancz. 35s.
Donald Duncan suffered a hellish training course for the privilege of fighting in the Special Forces (the Green Berets) of the us Army in Vietnam. But after 18 months in and about the combat area, after ten years in the Army, he resigned with honour and a row of medals. His book is an eloquent denunciation of that war and a passionate warning to his countrymen against the increasing power and influence of the us Military in civilian life.
The American Military is ‘an organization employing more people, owning more land, controlling more money than any other organization in the world, reaching into every facet of our society, touching everybody and everything. . .’ The indoctrination of the American people into accepting Universal Military Training (the draft) as a natural and normal phenomenon and their paranoid response to Communism have helped to form the nation into what he terms a ‘new legion’. (His reference is to the French Foreign Legion’s motto ‘The Legion is our Fatherland’.)
‘To military men there is nothing worse than not having a war—not that they’re anxious to be killed, but as a means of justifying their existence,’ he writes. But in Vietnam the problem has been how to tell the enemy from the people.
In the clubhouse, after a gruelling jungle foray, a disillusioned sergeant with a long combat record set Duncan thinking when he tossed out the question: ‘Did you ever stop and think that the reason they (the Vietcong) fight the government is that they know it’s as rotten as we do?’
Theoreticians and politicians quite possibly could annihilate Duncan; he seems politically unformed but brilliantly competent to describe his own experiences. The intense and detailed description of a reconnaissance patrol which he led in a Vietcong jungle area is superbly written in short, sharp sentences, like a man breathing under duress.
Duncan offers no new solutions to ending the Vietnam War; like Time magazine he says the Administration and the Military are well aware what the solutions are. He claims that if the military could have found a ‘nice’ war somewhere else it would have cleared out of Vietnam three years ago.