Review: ‘Chickenhawk’ by Robert Mason

Originally posted on Goodreads

“What did we win? We don’t have any more real estate, no new villages are under American control, and it took everything we had to stop them,” I said.
“We won the battle. More of them got killed than us. It’s that simple”

This powerful book shows us how the war machine chews up and spits out whatever it touches, whether enemy combatants, innocent bystanders mistaken as combatants (or who just happened to be in the wrong place), or its own troops. Fuelled by hubris, arrogance, and entitlement, America entered a war it needn’t have done. With the professed goal of protection, American forces burned Vietnamese villages, killed villagers, and trampled roughshod over a way of life, justifying such actions by labelling anyone killed as an enemy, collateral, savage, or some combination of the three.

Chickenhawk is a raw glimpse into the life of a man serving in a war he increasingly views as futile and wrong. Through stories of his interactions with Vietnamese, Bob shows us that they are not savages. Through stories of the missions he flew, we learn about the relentless back and forth with very little gain, where success or failure is measured by crude metrics like the ratio of lives lost on each side rather than on ideological merit or human benefit. Through stories of friendships, we discover the camaraderie that brings people together around common trauma, and is one of the few genuine positives to come from the experience.

This is a great book. Well written, and necessarily honest about the realities of war, the lies required to justify it, and its ability to shatter the lives of those forced to endure it. Mason’s accounts of attempting to navigate civilian life with the burden of post-traumatic stress disorder are heartbreaking, and provide the best insight I’ve yet read into what that experience must be like. And, more damning, how little support is provided by the very institutions whose actions led to it.

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