October 31, 2006
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Fields of Fire

A nice side-effect of the toxic Republican smear campaign under way in Virginia (and in several other states) has been the revelation that the James Webb who is running for the Senate is the author of Fields of Fire , one of the finest novels I've read about the Vietnam era.

I read this in graduate school, and I had literally no idea that the two Webb's were the same person. I remember Fields Of Fire as an accomplished and daring novel. I disagreed with its politics. It argues that anti-war sentiment was cruel to returning soldiers, while I believed (and still believe) that this cruelty was necessary to ending an unjust war which the soldiers should themselves have been resisting. Fields of Fire reaches the opposite conclusion; if asked, I would have said that it was a conservative Republican argument, but one I could respect and that deserved to be heard and thought through.

I'd class Fields of Fire with Dispatches and Going After Cacciato , the other Vietnam books I read in that year. Assuming Webb is elected, will he be the best Senatorial novelist ever?

All that the Republicans can see nowadays, it seems, is a sex scene, and they are shocked— shocked — that soldiers would be depicted as thinking about sex. It's a despicable and silly attack, and it appears to have backfired.