Rudy Schwartz's Reviews

In 1980, President James Earl Carter reached the dubious decision to reinstate draft registration in the United States. This was in response to the Soviet Union's military aggression in Afghanistan, and was intended to demonstrate America's "resolve" by requiring a few hundred thousand scrawny and stoned young males such as myself to schlep their asses to the post office and sign a form which would facilitate their legalized kidnapping should Jimmy, or some other asshole subsequently occupying the Oval Office, decide that America's security was sufficiently threatened. Of course, there hasn't been a point since that time that any President has seriously considered drafting anyone, primarily because doing so would be politically unpopular, but perhaps more so because war has become a more high-tech endeavor, requiring fewer boots on the ground, and allowing a disinterested public to view it on cable news as one would normally gawk at a video game. The idea of a draft might have flitted through what one could generously call Bush's "mind" when General Shinseki broke the news that he didn't have enough bodies to quickly stabilize Iraq, but if so, I doubt it tarried for long. After scaring a gullible public into signing up for the dumbest foreign policy move since Vietnam, the genius of Bush's technique was that he succeeded in temporarily insulating the masses from the consequences of war. Bush Jr. traded in the Second World War's widespread self-sacrifice for tax cuts that would exacerbate today's debt problem, and appeals for everyone to go out and shop. With a complicit U.S. press corps all too ready to sanitize the unpleasantries, who could resist Bush's bold stratagem? Here's some money. Go buy shit. A month or two later, President Chimpy McJumpsuit strutted like a peacock on an aircraft carrier declaring "Mission Accomplished" for a war that would not end for more than another eight years, at which point the U.S. economy would lie in a smoldering heap.

But I digress. To get back to 1980 and Amy Carter's pappy, his pathetic attempt at striking fear into the Soviets' hardened Commie hearts was no doubt the source of unbridled hilarity at the Kremlin, since they probably knew that Carter's threat depended on guys like me, most of whom possessed the physical prowess of an overweight, medicated basset hound. Unfortunately for our Commie pals, the Afghans were inflicting an unexpected dose of American subsidized whoop-ass, which most likely muted their giggles a bit. But what Carter did succeed in doing was pissing me off big time at the indignity of being forced by the government to participate in this silly-assed ritual, in what was purported to be the land of the free. My petulant outrage now seems quaint when contrasted with the fates of many of my countrymen whose only crime was to have been born ten to fifteen years before me.

One such ill-fated wretch is H. T. Brown, a.k.a. Tom Brown, who spent the better part of two years trapped at great expense in the U.S. Army's maze of bureaucratic insanity. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Tom is a friend of mine, and that he and I were briefly band mates in 1992 as part of Zoogz Rift's Amazing Shitheads. But in all honesty, had we never met, I'm sure his recent book would have had exactly the same effect on me. Summer of Love, My Ass! is Tom's meticulously detailed memoir describing the extreme unpleasantness of being unwillfully sucked into America's monumental fuck-up, the Vietnam War. Because in case you didn't know, in those days an annual draft lottery was held using a convoluted system that "randomly" determined, based on birth dates, which unlucky sons of bitches would be required by their government to report for "duty."

Unfortunately, Tom's number came up in June, 1967, just when his life was swimming along very well as a drummer in a successful top 40 cover band in Southern California. Fresh off a four-day binge of sleep deprivation and awe-inducing drug ingestion, designed to convince the Army that he wasn't their guy, a twenty-two month nightmare ensued, despite Tom's Herculean efforts to make it clear to the powers that be that under no circumstances would he be willing to participate in a war that he believed to be depraved and morally repugnant. As you might expect, a failure to communicate quickly developed, producing a dizzying sequence of mostly disagreeable interactions with bewildered and abusive military personnel, FBI agents, cops, prison guards and inmates. Not to mention an unbelievably faithful girlfriend, who made weekly trips to the Ford Ord stockade to furnish contraband reefer and the occasional furtive handjob under the table.

Tom's account of his ordeal is a veritable page-turner, even for a guy like me who admittedly isn't an avid reader. His diary of perpetual humiliation and fear is rendered in excruciating detail, interspersed with enough levity to make it bearable. Having one's freedom stolen is one of those things I imagine to be unimaginable unless it happens in the first person, but to experience it against a backdrop of injustice and the pent-up violence and sadism that permeated military prisons in those days would tax any normal person's sanity.

1968 was not a particularly wonderful year for race relations in the United States. With riots erupting in many major cities after decades of institutionalized racism, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., American life was as far removed from the freeze-dried, flower power horse shit nostalgia that gets barfed up today as Sha Na Na's faux doo wop was from "Work With Me, Annie." This racial conflict made its way into the military prison system, and predictably the Army did little to control it, other than when it chose to exploit it for its ulterior purposes. So imagine being jailed for a cause you consider to be just, only to be thrust into a situation where at any moment you could be beaten, raped or killed by a fellow inmate simply because of your skin pigment. Combine that with a hopelessly opaque judicial process that not only gives you as little information as possible, but also bends and breaks the rules at will, almost by caprice, rendering the expression "Kafkaesque" completely obsolete. Anyone naive enough not to be concerned by the affronts on civil liberties perpetuated in post-9/11 America in the form of the Patriot Act and the detention bill recently signed by Obama would be well served to read Summer of Love, My Ass!, and to then imagine themselves before a purportedly fair military tribunal.

The book winds its way through the induction center, boot camp, multiple trips through jails and military stockades, escapes and AWOLs, all punctuated with horrific defining moments that I won't go into here. What gets extruded from the Army's psychological meat grinder is a 21 year old with wisdom regarding the human psyche that most people living to a hundred couldn't claim. How this guy remained the kind, affable fellow he is today baffles me. It's a truly gut sickening book to get through, but even if you're still one of those who buy into the notion that Bob Hope's and John Wayne's assessments of the Communist threat were on target, I think you'd be well served to give this a read if only to challenge many of your preconceptions about how the military operates, and how that jibes with America's purported values. It seems like the least you could do for the 58,000 Americans and 1,000,000+ Vietnamese who were butchered for ultimately no good reason.

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