The novel was produced and published in New York, United States.
Herr tells the harrowing tales of war from the perspective of the marines. He exposes the disjoint between the marine’s image of war and the real situation on the ground. Marines are young men nurtured on a false nostalgic concept of war. Having fed on Hollywood movies that glamorize war, the marine arrive on the battlefield already wiped out. They soon learn that war does not produce any heroes. He explores the themes of death and mayhem, extreme fatigue and the trauma resulting from the war.
Herr’s rendition of the war in Vietnam underscores a number of historical issues that were prevailing at the time. One such issue was the question of race. During this time, America was still struggling with race relationships, with African Americans suffering from the brunt of racism. However, on the battleground, soldiers operate on loyalties rather than based on skin color. In the novel, Herr observes the relationship between white and black soldiers and notes that there is no sign of racial tensions between them. He listens to Day Tripper, who is black, jokingly excusing the character of his white friend: “That’s Mayhew. He’s a crazy fucker, ain’t you, Mayhew?” (Herr, 116). This is a clear indication that the blacks on the war-front are shielded from the harsh racial realities at home.
Herr seems to be suggesting that the Vietnam War provides a fertile ground for individual to forge bonds that go beyond race. In fact, the military setting hardly provided room for racial prejudices, instead it bases everything on competence. If one was competent, then it did not matter which skin color they were. On this point, Herr finds support from another author, “Only thing you can do is to be so goddamn good that it don matter” (Webb, 378). Some characters even go to the extent of making fun of race: “No casualties?” “No, sir. Because I’m black, the shells