Friday, April 24, 2009

Monkey Wrench Gang - Vietnam POWs

In a disturbing episode toward the end of the book, Hayduke reveals that he had been a prisoner of the Viet Cong, and had travelled with them and been their medic.
Kids, most of them. Teenagers. They wanted me to plan their raids. Satchel charges and that kind of thing. I wanted to but I couldn't quite do that. Not that. So they made me their medic... After fourteen months they threw me out - - said I was a burden on them. The ungrateful little Communist robots. Said I ate too much... Then came six months in Army psycho wards... The Army thought I wasn't adjusted right for civilian life... The Army sure didn't want to let me go. Said I had to be 'processed and rehabilitated.' Said I couldn't wear the VC flag pin on my Green Beret. Finally I caught on and said what you're supposed to say... (and) they let me go.
pages 359-360
So what gives with that? Stockholm Syndrome? Or self-loathing? Many Vietnam Vets still cannot mention the Jane Fonda incident without fury. Hayduke expressed sympathies with the VC. This is a jarringly disturbing part of this book.

I don't know what to think about this. At the time Abbey was writing this novel, everything about the war, and everyone involved with the war, was considered to be evil. Perhaps Abbey was merely expressing his anti-war sympathies.

The main and almost universal exception to Vietnam=Evil (in the 1970s) was the POWs. In the early 1970s, everyone started wearing POW bracelets in support of the servicemen held in captivity in Vietnam. It was popular. It wasn't free. All these teens sent off their babysitting money for the week, to get a bracelet with the name of a missing serviceman. Everyone in school wore a bracelet.

It's possible that the popular interest in the POWs (and the POWs' resultant heroic reputations) was not widespread at the time that Abbey was writing Monkey Wrench Gang. Even 35 years later, that episode in the book seemed jarringly wrong. The POWs were the good guys. They were heroes. They were superstars.

When the POWs came home, everyone was glued to their TV sets, and pored over the lists of returnees. ("My" POW never came home. I visited Spec 5 James Klimo of Muskegon Michigan at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. They never found his body.)

Abbey uses Hayduke's disaffection with the war as part of the explanation for his willing participation in the destruction. Did Abbey purposely make Hayduke be a POW? or was it accidental?

A co-worker who grew up in the Southwest says they were less aware of the POWs that I was, growning up in the Midwest. Perhaps it was a more regional awareness.

I continue to bless The Wall for returning our respect to our service men. Perhaps this is another reason Monkey Wrench Gang is not a pleasant or entertaining read for me.

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