Title: Sweet Reason
Author: Robert Littell
Littell, Robert (1974). Sweet Reason. Boston, Houghton Mifflin
Date Updated: February 16, 2016
This is NOT a spy novel. It is a novel about war, and about leadership in war and about supply, messed up operations, and how many ways there are to get it wrong. I include it in this blog of spy fiction because it relates so well to so many issues in intelligence and because it’s written by Robert Littell. It reminds me of The Caine Mutiny in some ways (particularly the leadership of the captain of the Ebersole) and in some ways Mr. Roberts (again, a really messed-up ship.) I finished reading it February 15, 2016
Let it prevail. . . . This is a very different kind of book from the also superior The Defection of A. J. Lewinter taking place aboard the Ebersole, a destroyer uninspected for years—“an ancient mariner living on borrowed time”—during the Vietnam war. The story, a mishmash (did you say MASH?) of random episodes aboard her (from the unfortunate visitation of a Congressman who wants to record something more memorable on film besides standing in the chow line—say firing at any old coastline target) mostly deals with the attempt to isolate the anonymous author of some leaflets signed Sweet Reason which question the validity of the war and usually provoke some disturbing episodes, i.e. errors, like raising the flag upside down. But then there’s the personnel: from Captain Jones in his spit-shined non-regulation Adler elevators who collects barbed wire and whose whole life (wife—children) has gone by default: or the Shrink, an unconventional fellow called Wallowitch who asks unconventional questions of the Chaplain—“Does God have sperm?”; or particularly and especially the Poet, the most innocent or wisest of all, who keeps photos of My Lai over his bunk and is told to hang up some “clean tit pictures.” Littell has an attractive rogue comic talent to disguise the fact that what he is writing about so sharply and seriously is war and, in particular, the most gratuitous one of all.