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“Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk”, (2012) by Ben Fountain.

19 year old Iraq veteran Billy Lynn and his squad are sent on a flag waving tour by Vice President Dick Cheney to drum up wavering public support for the war….


Very much in the style of, “Flag of Our Fathers” we are party to the experiences of American soldiers plucked from obscurity and sent across the US to present a human face to warfare. Billy Lynn and his mates have been involved in a YouTube sensation in which they engage the enemy heroically only for one of their comrades to perish. There is talk of a film deal and we pick the story up as the squad arrive at the Dallas Cowboys football stadium to be entertained before joining Destiny’s Child (complete with Beyonce) on stage as part of the halftime Thanksgiving Day entertainment.

I can remember being thoroughly depressed by the response of UK soldiers when watching Ross Kemp’s necessary 2009 documentary when he visited Helmand Province to ask the question, “Why are we in Afghanistan?” There was not one jot of idealism on show. Indeed the young people looked confused when Kemp popped the question. After much head scratching and looking at the floor a Scottish lad piped up, “for each other”. That answer is why we on the Left should never take the moral high ground and criticise those who join up.

Be it in the British in Afghanistan or the US in Iraq, those working class girls and boys are largely there because they are clean out of options and are not prepared just to live the lives that are expected of them by the Capitalist class. The tragedy is that by joining up they are doing the very thing needed by the bosses; fighting and dying to protect financial interests.

What the The Billy Lynn novel does best is to expose how the Flag Salutin’ MoFos that populate the GOP and Big Business are quite happy to yell USA, USA! in unison, but as soon as they perceive a threat to their interests, however slight the attitudes flip right over and the nasty side quickly comes to the fore. The billionaire football club owner is all over the boys with lofty talk of Hollywood, but once he realises there maybe a financial gamble things take a sinister turn.

The story is set over the four hours or so that our group are at the ground and much ground is covered with Fountain managing the pace masterfully; I like space in a narrative. Context is dealt with via flashback but the book is very much rooted in the here and now. There are nods to “Band of Brothers” in the tight knit relationships as well as “Catch 22” (you MUST be insane if you want to go back!) and Hunter S. Thompson regarding the brutal satire on offer.

I really enjoyed this book and it felt nothing like 307 pages long, always a good sign. Billy is far from being the cartoon cut out of blue collar America and his family life is especially interesting. I understand it has been filmed for release this year with Ang Lee in the director’s chair. I can see this going south if not handled with subtlety (someting actor Vin Diesel is not usually known for) as the action scenes could lend themselves to misunderstanding.

War is horrible, and I especially abhor the vicarious thrills that certain Lefties get from other people’s suffering. I am thinking about John McDonnell and the IRA. Generally it involves us killing each other for the financial gain of others and so called Just Wars e.g. Spain in the 1930’s and the Kurdish fight against ISIS are a very rare thing.

Fountain has destroyed any vestiges that Iraq and Bush’s adventures were about anything other than furthering American financial interests.

As a coda. If Britain and Tony Blair were so utterly intrinsic to US policy why are neither mentioned once in this book, and a grand total of twice in Michael Moore’s seminal film on Iraq, “Fahrenheit 911?”. Nuff said.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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