As satirical war anti-heroes go, Joseph Heller’s Captain John Yossarian (Catch-22) is as rebellious and crafty as they come. Feigning illness, dodging missions, and defying authority, Yossarian serves as the misfit alternative to the gung-ho G.I. Joe. Like Yossarian, I’m deathly afraid of war and reluctant to understand most battle strategy. Catch-22 forced me to empathize with soldiers who fight with mixed feelings about why they’re putting their lives on the line. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and waged Operation Iraqi Freedom on the insurgency, I couldn’t help but wonder and worry about the soldiers who may not have been 100% behind the President’s mission. Almost ten years down the road, Ben Fountain’s Iraq War satire Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk juxtaposes the inner conflicts of our newest combat veterans with the warrior-worshipping spectacle of a professional football game.
On the surface, Specialist Billy Lynn is about as far as you can get from Yossarian. At only 19, he’s already a noble, decorated Texas war hero, awarded the Silver Star for bravery after he and his Bravo Squad were caught on film by Fox News in a victorious firefight against the Iraqi insurgents. At the end of a Bush Administration-sponsored media-hyped “Victory Tour,” Billy and the suddenly-famous Bravos find themselves hungover in a white Hummer limo on the way to a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys game, where their service is honored at a halftime performance with pop group Destiny’s Child. First-time novelist Fountain uses Billy’s confused, overwhelmed perspective to relate the Bravos’ zany day at the game, pausing for Billy’s flashbacks and musings on American excess. Although the episodic day-in-the-life style plot is wildly entertaining, it’s Fountain’s deeply flawed and haunted cast of Bravos that succeeds in holding a judgmental mirror up to America in 2004, just in time for our military’s gradual withdrawal from the region.