‘Matterhorn’ Author Karl Marlantes: Stop Treating Vets With PTSD Like Victims
The people who fight wars ultimately don’t determine how their wars are remembered. The author Karl Marlantes understands this better than most. Fifty years ago, he was a Marine Corps infantry lieutenant in Vietnam. He came home with a Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts. In 1977, he completed a 1,200-page manuscript for a war novel called Matterhorn. The main character was based on him. More than three decades would pass before Marlantes found someone to publish it.
Matterhorn opens on a hilltop firebase near the DMZ and the Laotian border, where a pair of Navy corpsmen are preparing to slice into a Marines’ penis to extract a leech burrowed inside his urethra. This is one of the more mundane moments in the book. It blasts off like a 155mm Howitzer from there.
Marlantes’ Vietnam was not the ceaseless horror depicted in films like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket or the fever dream permeating books by Tim O’Brien and Michael Herr. Matterhorn is brutally straightforward. There is a hill and an army of “gooks” that need killing for the hill to be taken. Sometimes the Marines also kill each other.
“I wanted to write a realistic novel that was based on real stuff,” Marlantes — a Yale graduate who dropped out of his Rhodes scholarship to join the Corps — told Task & Purpose in a recent phone interview. “But publishers wouldn’t touch it. At first, it was: ‘We lost the war, and Americans don’t like losing wars.’ Then in the ’80s it became: ‘Hollywood has exhausted the subject.’ I even got a couple of letters from publishers in the ’90s asking if I’d switch the setting to the Gulf War.”
Marlantes was 65 when Matterhorn finally went to press in 2009. The novel debuted on the New York …read more
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