Start your review of Matterhorn Write a review Shelves: vietnam "Just below the grim tranquillity Mellas had learned to display, he cursed with boiling intensity the ambitious men who used him and his troops to further their careers. He cursed the air wing for not trying to get any choppers in through the clouds. He cursed the diplomats arguing about round and square tables. He cursed the South Vietnamese making money off the black market. He cursed the people back home gorging themselves in front of their televisions.
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See how this article appeared when it was originally published on NYTimes. Every war novel must at some point confront a central contradiction. Only the truth has any real value, but the truth about war is that it contains nearly unbearable levels of repetition, boredom and meaninglessness.
To write honestly about war, you should make readers feel they have endured those things as well. Yet no sane novelist wants to inflict that much discomfort on the audience. And so we read novels and watch movies filled with the kind of bravery and drama that make war look at least entertaining, if not admirable.
Many of those works are tremendous artistic achievements. It was originally 1, pages long; now it is Reading his account of the bloody folly surrounding the Matterhorn outpost, you get the feeling Marlantes is not overly worried about the attention span of his readers; you get the feeling he was not desperate or impatient to be published. Rather, he seems like a man whose life was radically altered by war, and who now wants to pass along the favor. And with a desperate fury, he does.
Chapter after chapter, battle after battle, Marlantes pushes you through what may be one of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam — or any war. The story is told from the point of view of a young second lieutenant, Mellas, who joined the Marines for confused and vaguely patriotic reasons that are quickly left in tatters by military incompetence. At great psychic and physical cost, Mellas and the rest of Bravo Company, Fifth Marine Division, climb a steep mountain near the intersection of Laos and the DMZ separating North and South Vietnam, then build an outpost capable of withstanding enemy artillery.
As soon as they finish, they are told to abandon it because they are needed for a large operation farther south. There ensues a multiweek stagger through impenetrable jungle, the company plagued by lack of food, lack of ammunition and inadequate resupply. One man is killed by a tiger. Another dies of cerebral malaria. Starving to death and bearing a dead friend on a pole, the men of Bravo Company finish their mission and are allowed a brief rest at one of the main support bases.
Image Khe Sanh, It is there, on the flanks of their own outpost, that the horror and absurdity of war are finally played out.
It was indifferent. So, too, was the world. Evil, then, must be the negation of something man had added to the world. Ultimately, it was caring about something that made the world liable to evil. And then the caring gets torn asunder. Everybody dies, but not everybody cares. It occurred to Mellas that he could create the possibility of good or evil through caring.
He could nullify the indifferent world. But in so doing he opened himself up to the pain of watching it get blown away. There is a blizzard of names, ranks and military terms, for instance, and despite the glossary and unit schematic included in the book, I still felt lost much of the time. But when Marlantes hits it right — which is most of the time — he can lay you out like a boxer with a killer jab. Voices were silenced. Other Marines stopped to watch them, wanting to say an encouraging word yet not daring to break into their private world — a world no longer shared with ordinary people.
Some of them were experiencing the last hour of that brief mystery called life. Soldiers openly contemplate killing their commanders. They die by the dozen on useless missions designed primarily to help the careers of those above them. The wounded are unhooked from IV bags and left to die because others, required for battle, are growing woozy from dehydration and have been ordered to drink the precious fluid.
Almost every page contains some example of military callousness or incompetence that would be virtually inconceivable today, and I found myself wondering whether the book was intended as an indictment of war in general or a demonstration of just how far this nation has come in the last 40 years. One is left feeling that facile comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam amount to a mockery of Vietnam.
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Plot[ edit ] The book is set in Vietnam in and draws from the experiences of Marlantes, who commanded a Marine rifle platoon. The novel presents an unflinching look at the hardships endured by the Marines who waged the war on behalf of America. At the beginning of the novel, the Marines build the base, but later they are ordered to abandon it. The latter portions of the novel detail the struggles of Bravo Company to retake the base, which fell into enemy hands after it was abandoned. Reception[ edit ] Matterhorn received high praise from many critics. In The New York Times Sebastian Junger called it one of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam—or any war. Donald taking charge , two platoons from Charlie Company fought several times to reach and secure the summit, taking 15 or more casualties with at least seven killed in action; including a Canadian Marine, CPL George Victor Jmaeff , acting as platoon sergeant, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
The Vietnam Wars: ‘Matterhorn’
Share via Email A soldier motions to a helicopter in Vietnam, Photograph: Rex Features In the summer of , Karl Marlantes, a recently demobilised Vietnam veteran posted to US Marine Corps headquarters after 13 months of highly decorated active service, found himself walking some sensitive military papers across to the Capitol. He was challenged by a group of young anti-war protesters "hollering obscenities", chanting "babykiller" and waving north Vietnamese flags. Six weeks before, I was killing North Vietnamese guerrillas in combat. I just wanted to tell my story".