Duane Michals concludes his oddball war memoir The Lieutenant Who Loved His Platoon with this letter from one of his grunts. (Copy-edited.)

May 15, 1957


Way back there you were faced with the choice for the first time (as were most of us) of going along with the gag or not. Unfortunately for you, you deliberately chose not to play the game and, therefore, became painfully aware of your own uniqueness – for after all, how can one feel other than pangs of guilt, he who has set another standard for himself apart from the sacred ideal of the holy elite of several score million philistines (for his very solitariness in the face of such a multitude of true believers ought to convince him of his error). The rest of us made our compromises early and we have since cooperated passively – and we hate ourselves for it. But you hate yourself for not having the capacity for easy ambivalence.

Is it worth it? Well, ponder this: On the way back in August ’55 half your old platoon including Schwartz and myself were on the ship together for the first time after being scattered but after the hellos the initial question among all was news of our lieutenant and the expression of the common hope that he got out all right without getting any more sticks with both ends dirty. Considering that the only thought among us then was getting off the boat, I think it’s surprising anybody bothered to remember about our jolly tour in that good old place, picturesquely situated in the hills. Is it too much to say that today twenty-odd people are somehow better off, if only with the memory, that in the midst of that humane horror someone made them still feel as if they were persons? There was nothing we would not have done for you then – and probably yet today.

You must excuse this let’s-try-to-flush-the-rabbit-by-beating-around-the-bush style I affect. For a number of reasons too tiresome to go into, but principally because all original composition is a highly torturous process for me, especially anything highly personal, this is the only type of thing I am capable of right now. What I should have baldly stated last time was that I came home apparently feeling the best way to readjust was to get busy at something “stimulating”; what I unconsciously really wanted to do was fine a hold to hide in. The contradiction took quite some time to become obvious but in the meantime the confusion and emotional turmoil of pursuing unrealized cross-purposes did nothing but compound a highly neurotic condition with an essentially antisocial, withdrawn, almost boorish attitude on my part for the time being. Well, anyway, it was touch and go for a while, and not the least among the unresolved little problems of moral cowardice was this fact of constantly taking, without making even a token effort of giving in return – of which the presence of your letter was a constant reminder. What good intentions there were never came out in a successful positive effort because they were negated by other disabilities. The passage of time has healed much, but maybe most should be credited to “maturity.”

This thing has again taken too long to write and finish so it probably won’t reach you before you take off. Anyway have fun.


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None. I quit.

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