Bob Dylan had it right years ago when he sang about how times are changing and advised us all to start swimming or we’d sink like a stone. On the other hand, Paul Simon was equally astute when he observed that after changes upon changes we are more or less the same. Those lyrics and a bunch of others from a turbulent time in America were tumbling through what’s left of my brain this year as I undertook, yet again, to rewrite one of my novels published more than a decade past.
Unlike most fellow authors and novelists of my acquaintance, I don’t dwell on my work once it hits online outlets or bookstore. . .assuming there are still some of those anachronisms in existence. I’m mostly a fire-and-forget kind of writer. With me it’s usually tell your story, say what you want to say and let the readers—if you’ve managed to attract a few—argue the good or ill. But my rework of Duty and Dishonor (originally published in 1991 by an old-school New York publishing house which is yet another anachronism) was different. Rereading and rewriting a story about one man’s journey through post-war life, and his subsequent efforts to discover the truth about a grunt legend concerning two turncoat GIs who fought with the enemy in Vietnam, sucked me down a rabbit hole and plunked me right down outside Alice’s Restaurant with Arlo Guthrie.
I’ll pause here while those of you who didn’t live and learn about life in the pre-internet era can Google all those singers and songwriters.
The original novel followed a highly-decorated Marine veteran (like Forrest Gump with a higher IQ) through aspects of American history in the pre-Watergate Nixon era and wandered through the dope-addled, rebellious society of hippies and virulent anti-war sentiment that plagued the nation for a good portion of the 60s and 70s. It all felt so eerily familiar and I’ll admit to a big déjà vu inspired grin when I thought about my story and certain similarities to the Bowe Bergdahl case now pending in military courts. Anyway, it led to an insight or two about me, my country and the times in which I lived and wrote as viewed from Doc’s DeLorean in Back to the Future. If you need a little more Google time, just raise your hand.
As a Vietnam War veteran who, like my hero in the book, returned to a country that had virulently confused a bad war with good warriors, I was plenty pissed off when I wrote the original story. But the rewriting was a treat. I’d lost some of the heat and hate with the passage of years and the emergence of an entirely new generation of American war veterans. Sure, I still cringed and frowned when I remembered those times and the way returning veterans were treated. But backing off a decade or two also allowed me to celebrate the fact that our young men and women who return from various dangerous places in the ongoing war against international terrorism now get thanked for their service as opposed to being vilified as dupes and ticking psycho time-bombs. These days there’s a concerted effort on the part of most Americans from all political persuasions to recognize military service and personal sacrifice. There’s an effort to understand and deal effectively with the debilitating effects of war on the few Americans among us who survive and come home to heal.
Maybe my book, now available in an improved Author’s Preferred Edition wherever books are sold, will be part of that perspective for readers, and a little bit of the legacy all us scribblers want to establish. . .for good or ill. . .as our readers judge.