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    "Push always comes to shove and you folks, you TV folks, gonna need somebody to fight your
    wars."
        -Ambush at Fort Bragg

Before we begin, let me make my views clear so that anyone who might be offended can skip this one.  I believe that homosexuality is wrong, even that it is evil.  I believe that it should be illegal and that you should be able to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual preferences.  However, I do not think that the laws should be enforced except in the most egregious circumstances, i.e. the authorities should feel free to raid bath houses or park bathrooms, or the like.  In short, if folks want to engage in this activity behind closed doors, there is no pressing societal need to interfere with them.  But where their personal behavior impacts others or the society in general, it is perfectly acceptable to me that government place rational limits on their behavior.  Which brings us to our review.

This is an excerpt that did not make the final cut for Wolfe's excellent novel A Man in Full (see review).  Instead it was serialized in Rolling Stone magazine (as was Bonfire of the Vanities) and then released in audio tape format only.  It tells the story of the clash of two diametrically opposed cultures, the US Army and the American media.  Irv Durtscher is the "Federico Fellini of television journalism" and he and his bimbette of a talking head, Mary Cary Brokenborough, are hot on the trail of a big story, the beating death of a gay soldier at Fort Bragg.  With the help of elaborate and illegal surveillance equipment, Irv manages to tape three soldiers discussing their roles in the murder.  But this, of course, is not a sufficient coup.  No, the real story hinges on a gotcha interview.  Irv has to find a way to have confront the soldiers with the videotape and film their reactions in this ambush at Fort Bragg.

That is the irony here.  The ambush that is the target of Wolfe's acidic wit is not the beating of the gay soldier, it is instead the cheap shot standards, tactics and stunts of television news journalists.  You see, in the first place, Wolfe is not particularly offended by the action of the three soldiers.  If anything, he seems to feel that they were fairly justified in what they did.  There's a terrific soliloquy by one of the men where he describes the essentials of military training and how we ask these soldiers to be prepared to kill our enemies because they are different than us, because they don't believe in the things that we do--things like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bible.  But then we turn around and expect them to accept homosexuals into their units with little care for the effect that this will have on the morale and camaraderie of these fighting units.  In addition, Wolfe demonstrates the hypocrisy of people like Irv Durtscher, who becomes hilariously squeamish at the thought of television actually describing the actions that gay men engage in, but is outraged that these soldiers are made uncomfortable by being forced to share the forced Army intimacy with them.  This juxtaposition of the sort of easy liberality of the journalists and the rigid morality of the soldiers is really the crux of the story.  Irv is representative of a class of folks for whom moral questions are almost purely abstract, because it is unimaginable that the answers to the questions will ever really impact their lives.  For the soldiers, on the other hand, such issues can mean the difference between life and death.

I remember when Bill Clinton was embroiled in his little controversy over allowing gays in the military and around that time, the profoundly cowardly movie A Few Good Men came out, giving us the Hollywood take on the issue.  Naturally, the sexuality of the soldiers involved in the movie's central incident is never addressed, virtually proving Wolfe's point about the elites' double standard.  But then, rather than simply presenting a stark moral question about whether military discipline justifies the harsh treatment of those who can not measure up to their standards, the filmmakers resort to having Jack Nicholson's character dissolve into dementia, thereby stacking the deck in their own favor and neatly skirting any real confrontation with the issues they've raised.  At any rate, we were driving home after watching the movie (my poor mother had taken me, my doctor wife, my lawyer sister and my infantry Captain brother) and we were arguing over whether homosexuality should be just cause for dismissal from the military.  My sister and I were arguing legal points when my brother simply stated, "I oppose anything that makes it harder to maintain discipline in my unit.  And the mere possibility of romantic entanglements, jealousies and the like, means that having women and gays in combat roles will endanger my men.  I can assure you, if they decide to allow this, the men will take care of it themselves."

Where Hollywood shied away from the implications of these issues, Tom Wolfe has taken them and driven them to their ultimate logic.  Wolfe's soldiers, as my brother implied they would, have taken matters into their own heads and nipped a potential problem in the bud.  Their solution may be cruel, even barbaric, but it has an undeniable internal logic.  If the sexual preference of the guy you are going to be sharing a foxhole with, threatens your life and the lives of your compatriots, then the logical solution is to get rid of him.  Obviously, this is completely unacceptable intellectually, and must be repellent to the political, cultural and media elites.  But this is the situation that they have created and Wolfe is suggesting that it is they who will be responsible when such things occur.

There is a really delightful example below of the incapacity of Wolfe's victims to even understand his purpose.  In his review Timothy Noah suggests that Wolfe comes a little too close to homophobia here and that this insensitivity nearly mars the story.  You can barely make stuff like this up.  The guy has managed to completely miss the point of the story.  Of course, he still recommends it.

There is another prototypically Wolfeian jibe here.  He masterfully portrays the journalists' obsession with the language and metaphors of warriors and machismo, even as they are condemning the very men who embody these ideals.  All of the talk of journalistic competition and ratings races is couched in military slang and succeeding in these pursuits is viewed as conveying or confirming manliness.  Indeed, the final line of the story has someone saying of Mary Cary:

    Christ, that girls got some balls! Huh?

The irony, of course, (and we have seen it in other works by Wolfe, with The Masters of the Universe, etc.) is that modern life has seen people abandon the true tests of manhood in favor of these relatively trivial pursuits.  But in order to maintain a sense of self worth, they must adopt the language and mind set of the military.  As he has done so many times before, Wolfe steps forward to announce that the Emperor has no clothes.  In so doing, he makes it clear that he favors the men who actually continue to live by these ideals and test themselves against them.  I for one agree.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

See also:

Tom Wolfe (7 books reviewed)
Audio Books
Tom Wolfe Links:

    -ESSAY: The Building That Isn't There (TOM WOLFE, 10/12/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Building That Isn't There, Cont'd: One of the most important buildings in the history of 20th-century architecture will soon be vaporized. (TOM WOLFE, 10/13/03, NY Times)
    -AUDIO: A TimesTalks Event: Tom Wolfe (NY Times, 3/08/03)
    -QUESTIONS: Tom Wolfe: Following his participation in the TimesTalks series on March 8, the author answered NYTimes.com readers' questions. (NY Times, April 24, 2003)
    -ESSAY: REVOLUTIONARIES: how the Manhattan Institute changed New York City and America (Tom Wolfe, January 30, 2003, NY Post)
    -ESSAY: Idea Fashions of the Eighties: After Marx, What? (Tom Wolfe, January 1984, Imprimis)
    -PROFILE: Status Reporter: Tom Wolfe's advice: Escape the "parenthesis states" and explore America (JOSEPH RAGO, March 11, 2006, Opinion Journal)
    -INTERVIEW: Mummy Wrap: an interview with Tom Wolfe (George Neumayr, 1/10/2005, American Spectator)
    -ESSAY: Bush's Official Reading List, and a Racy Omission (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 2/07/05, NY Times)
    Modern, All Too Modern: Tom Wolfe's new novel, largely reviewed as a satiric report on the sexual mores of today's college students, is fundamentally about the nature of the human will.: a review of of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (S. T. Karnick, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Tom Wolfe - A Clear Eye for Human Biodiversity (Steve Sailer, January 02, 2005, V-Dare)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Dana B. Vachon, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe (Ken Masugi, Claremont.org)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Priya Jain, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (S. T. Karnick, Books & Culture)

Book-related and General Links:
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: Tom Wolfe (NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: TOM WOLFE, MATERIAL BOY (Rand Richards Cooper, Commonweal)
    -TRIBUTE: Brilliant Careers: Tom Wolfe In  tangerine-flaked praise of the white-suited sprite
 whose electrically charged trochaic hammerlines jolted journalism out of its genteel New Yorker slumber (Cary Tennis, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Disciplines: What do a Jesuit priest, a Canadian communications theorist, and Darwin II all have in common? (Tom Wolfe, Forbes)
    -REVIEW of Ambush at Fort Bragg (Salon)
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe's sour note (Timothy Noah, US News and World Report)
   -REVIEW: of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ROY COHN By Sidney Zion Dangerous Obsessions (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CECIL BEATON A Biography. By Hugo Vickers SNOB'S PROGRESS (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of THE LAST LAUGH By S.J. Perelman THE EXPLOITS OF EL SID (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
    -etext: THE LAST AMERICAN HERO by Tom Wolfe
    -ESSAY: TOM WOLFE (Richard A. Kallan)
    -ESSAY: Don Dapper: Tom Wolfe conquers windmills on Brown's battlefield (Amanda Griscom)
    -INTERVIEW: "TOM WOLFE AND HIS CRITICS" (Firing Line)
    -Article: by TOM WOLFE SORRY, BUT YOUR SOUL JUST DIED (Forbes)
    -Caricature from The Atlantic
    -CBC Interview
    -INTERVIEW (Steve Hammer NUVO Newsweekly)
    -Tom Wolfe: The Satirist of Society (Caitlin Allen, Brighton High School)
    -Creative Nonfiction: Writers and Their Works
    -TOM WOLFE'S NEW JOURNALISM PICKS
    -NEW JOURNALISM by Dave Selden, Jr.
    -Parajournalism II: Wolfe and The New Yorker (DWIGHT MACDONALD, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe's Rooftop Yawp His crackling novel deserves to be news. But America is better than Wolfe's Atlanta. (George F. Will, Newsweek)
    -REVIEW: A Man in Full (Tom Walker, Denver Post Books Editor)
    -REVIEW: Georgia on His Mind: Tom Wolfe takes on the New South in 'A Man in Full' (Malcolm Jones Jr., Newsweek)
    -REVIEW: Wolfe takes full measure of 'Man' (Deirdre Donahue, USA Today)
    -REVIEW:  of A Man in Full (Sven Birkerts, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: A Riot of Egomania  (Ty Hudson, Yale Review of Books)
    -REVIEW of A Man in Full: From he-man to holy man (Salon)
    -REVIEW of A Man in Full, The White Stuff (jeffrey eugenides, Voice Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: A Man Half Full (Norman Mailer, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of A Man in Full By Tom Wolfe. (Michael Lewis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: J. Peder Zane: Far from empty, not quite full (News and Observer)
    -REVIEW: BookBrowser Review
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic (Jordan Hoffman)
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe still has the right stuff, despite snub by left-wing literary set (Chuck Moss, Detroit News)
    -REVIEW: The culture's lone Wolfe The chronicler of radical chic and trophy wives captures the nineties in his new novel (Gene Edward Veith, World)
    -REVIEW: of From Bauhaus to Our House (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW:  of From Bauhaus to Our House (Paul Goldberger, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Right Stuff (USAF site, Eric D. Brown, Capt, USAF)
    -The Birth of Way New Journalism (Joshua Quittner,  HotWired)
    -REVIEW: of The Bonfire of the Vanities  (Thomas R. Edwards, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Purple Decades: A Reader by Tom Wolfe (James Wolcott, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of From Bauhaus to Our House (Janet Malcolm, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Right Stuff (John Gregory Dunne, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine (Garry Wills, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Painted Word (Barbara Rose, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (Jason Epstein, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Pump House Gang and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (Margot Hentoff, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Dwight Macdonald, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Bonfire of the Vanities  Sherman's March to Disaster (Frank Conroy, NY Times Book Review)
    -BOOKS OF THE TIMES: The incident at the heart of Tom Wolfe's hilarious first novel is no laughing matter (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: Bonfire in Bronx!!! Wolfe Catches Flak!!! (STEVEN ERLANGER, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: Tom Wolfe Tries New Role: Novelist (MERVYN ROTHSTEIN, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: THE FLAP OVER TOM WOLFE: HOW REAL IS THE RETREAT FROM REALISM? (Robert Towers, NY Times)
   -ESSAY: HOLDING 'BONFIRE' UP TO A MIRROR (Peter Baida, NY Times)
   -ESSAY: NEW YORK IS WORTH A NOVEL - ARE YOU? (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Widening Gap Between the Military and Society: The U.S. military is emerging as an increasingly autonomous political force whose values diverge more and more widely from those of the society it is supposed to protect (Thomas E. Ricks, The Atlantic)

Comments:

As we're seeing with the recent Supreme Court decision and the Episcopalean Church, homosexuality is increasingly being accepted by society. That does not require us to accept it, nor the government. Goldwater became more libertarian as he got older. He also ceased to be significant after 1964, replaced by Ronald Reagan who came to political fame in his famous campaign speech for AUH2O.

- oj

- Aug-05-2003, 18:55

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Wait a second. You chose Barry Goldwater as the greatest cultural figure of the century (which is awesome). You said his "essentially libertarian" philosophy would one day be the norm, and that the republican party will have to realize that "the same ideas that lead them to insist on political and economic liberty must also apply to social issues like homosexuality, abortion..." But in this review you say "you should have a right to discriminate against people based on their sexual preference." Also, elsewhere on this sight, you criticize libertarianism and call libertarians "utopians." Goldwater was basically a libertarian (many libertarians consider him to be a founding member of the party). So which is it? Are libertarians good or bad? Is Goldwater good or bad? I like the site, but don't understand this contradiction. sincerely, andy

- andy

- Aug-05-2003, 15:32

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