Bloody Hell - Dan Hallock (Plough Publishing House, 1999)

After the Falklands War there was a triumphal parade in London. War wounded were barred from taking part. It was felt that cripples on crutches did not project the right media image. We often hear of Vietnam Veterans holed up in the hills. No one troubles to inquire why. They are dismissed as nutters. War novels glorify war, we rarely see the reality. An exception was Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo published September 1939 as WWII broke out.

Those who experience the full horror of war rarely speak, they tell and retell their tales in their nightmares.

Bloody Hell attempts to redress the imbalance. By means of a series of interwoven sketches, fragments of letters from the front, soldiers reliving their inner hell, extracts from novels, Dan Hallock attempts to paint the full horror of war.

It is a book that can't be put down, which has to be put down. Bloody Hell is mind numbing. After the first 50 or so pages my brain was numb, I had to put the book down, even though my reading had been spread over several days.

If Bloody Hell just catalogued the horrors and atrocities of war it would be worth reading, but it goes much further. It looks at the sell, how people are seduced to go to war, either through patriotism or through their darker nature; the aftermath of war, the casualties suffered on the battlefield are only the beginning, many suffer flashbacks for years to come, others suffer permanent personality changes, if you don't suffer abnormal changes when subjected to abnormal conditions then you weren't sane to begin with; civilians suffer; the cover-ups and secrecy that surround war.

Doug was a graduate of the infamous School of Americas. He served most of his time as an assassin in Central America, part of the US dirty war. He has yet to come to terms with what he did.

Claude Eatherly commanded the path-finder aircraft that lit the way for the bombing of Hiroshima, who gave the order 'Bomb primary'. When the aircrews returned Claude Eatherly did not take part in the celebrations, he did not want to be a hero. Later he embarked on a career of crime, it was the only way he could be punished for the guilt he carried. Later he denounced the US use of atomic weapons and spoke at public rallies. He was immediately, with the connivance of his family, certified as insane (just like the Soviet system, if you don't agree with the system you must be mad) and locked away. The only ones who understood were his Japanese victims, who saw him as a victim too, he received little sympathy in the US. Ironically he died of cancer.

A distinct failure of the book is having graphically illustrated the hell of war in all its gory details it offers few solutions. A path is offered for those suffering from past wars - talk, enter Buddhist retreats and so on - but nothing to prevent the next war, from creating the next crop of victims.

Many of the veterans have found that part of their path to salvation is to do something creative that helps ameliorate the effect of past wars and if possible prevents future conflicts. Trees have been planted in inner city areas to create parks, trees have been planted in Vietnam to re-create battlefields as parks, many veterans have become anti-war campaigners, are working to help disadvantaged youngsters so that they do not fall into the clutches of the military machine.

The author is an enigma. Dan Hallock is an ex-Marine, but makes no mention of his own experiences. One is left wondering, is his extensive talks and interviews with veterans his own path to salvation?

Having stimulated the reader's interest, no follow up contacts are given. Something that should be addressed on the book's Web site.

For no rhyme nor reason other than to irritate the reader the text alternates between extremely small and a larger bold typeface. The book is small, ideal for the pocket. It would have been better if the book had been normal paperback size and the text larger.

Required reading for bloody hypocrites like British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook whose hands drip with the blood of atrocities committed in East Timor.

Highly recommended.

Books Worth Reading
(c) Keith Parkins 1999 -- September 1999 rev 0