I have just now finished reading The Aardvark Is Ready For War, by James W. Blinn.
The book is about an anti-submarine warfare specialist in the United States Navy and the forty days before the First Gulf War is over. He travels from his home town (indeterminate location) to Hawaii, then Sri Lanka, then to the Gulf.
Intro to Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): Basically, he’s goes up in a plane (S3s, I think) and drops sonar buoys into the water. These triangulate the position of enemy submarines. Then I’m not sure if they drop the torpedos in or if they signal to another submarine where the enemy one is. What Blinn does is he is the “acoustic specialist” who can interpret the data from the sonar buoys. He can tell what kind of sub, how fast it’s going, etc. When he describes it the first time it is interesting, but eventually it’s very show-boat-ish.
While reading I have been consistently saying, when asked, that it is a terrible book and would definitely not recommend it to anyone. I mostly still agree with this.
The book is incredibly obscene, is not written very well, doesn’t seem to have much of purpose besides being the wrapping of a few non-sensical rants about “the Machine” and voyeurism, all with the egotistical trappings of ASW shop talk. Add to this a boatload of curses on every page, discussions about pornography every time he’s on the ship, and hookers of indeterminate sexuality at every port call–and you have “The Aardvark Is Ready For War.”
(Note on the title: The gas masks the narrators wears make him look like an aardvark and he wears it all the time… not just when he has to.)
With these problems, however, come a few gems hidden amongst the filth and meaningless dribble. And near the end the story almost has an important message about learning to face your fears… but doesn’t actually end up doing it.
Before the author ships off, he talks to someone who lives in the same apartment complex as him:
Says I should take care of myself over there. Even though she says it nicely I can tell she’s trying for an opening. Wants to dazzle me with her impressive war thoughts that fly so good down at the leather bar. I don’t want to hear it. I just say, You bet, and walk upstairs pretending to sort my junk mail. [pg. 5]
There’s a constant theme where the author simply sees his work as a job that has no real attachment to reality. This is hammered down when you realize that every situation he’s in during the entire book is a simulation of an event. At one point this makes him feel worthless because he wants to be a hero (so people will watch him like he watches others) but eventually he gets over it.
On said simulations:
The target is a Los Angeles Class fast attack sub playing a Soviet Echo II guided missile boat. A stretch. Like a Nissan NSX simulating a pathetic rusted-out Datsun B210. With missiles. The Echo II is a Krushchev-era, first-generation nuke. Max speed twenty knots. Noisy as a freight train. A total piece of shit. Thing has to surface to salvo if you can believe that. Soviets honed their reactor shielding technology after crews came back glowing. Still lose about one a year to reactor fires. Or rust. I could track a real Echo II five miles off, ten miles in good water. Not that I’ve ever SEEN a real-world Echo II. Not that I’m ever LIKELY to see one. [pg. 37]
I think this sort of attitude has to do with why he thinks so little of the other sailors:
Napoleon’s still screwing with the projector. He’s not really rewinding, though, like I thought. He rewinds some, stops it, then pulls out a bunch of film and holds it to the light. Then he wraps it back on and rewinds some more. I figure, dumbshit airman, some dirt-scratcher from Gimcrack, Iowa, probably never seen film up close and wonder where the little people come from. It sounds dumb to think like that, like people that stupid exist anywhere outside movies but they DO, and the navy’s got them. Hell the navy’s MADE for them. [pg. 59]
This is funny, he’s getting on the ship and describing how they are checking bags:
They got tables set up on the sponson and MAAs searching everything. Even got a dope dog. Don’t want any nasty unnatural stimulants getting on board. No guns or knives. Nothing threatening. God forbid. Meanwhile they’re craning on pallets of thousand-pounders and Sidewinders and torps and Sparrows and twenty mike-mike ack-ack belts and Harpoons and cluster bombs and Phoenixes and Tomahawks and who knows what all. [pg. 19]
The author also talks a bit about what the American think about war, whether they feel responsible for the deaths and that sort of thing. Here is an interesting comment:
A big billboard facing the channel says, We Support Our Heroes! What’s THAT supposed to mean? Last week we were all just scummy squids but now we’re heroes? [pg. 58]
He sees this at Pearl Harbor and then begins to think about D-Day and how those guys were REAL heroes.
But us? Program a Tomahawk from two hundred miles away and let her loose. Drop a torp from a thousand feet up on a sub a thousand feet under. Where’s the heroics? THOSE guys fought eye-to-eye. They SAW who they were shooting at. Close up and personal. I don’t want to sound like some gung-ho kill-crazy jarhead (ed–Marine) or something, but there’s a difference. There’s got to be a difference. [pg. 59]
This ties into a later comment about war and football. The party line is that people like football because it’s like war…
Said it was twentieth-century war technology that made football so popular, since there aren’t many opportunities for real combat anymore. Used to you could count on a war for every generation so everybody got a chance to work out their aggression cookies at least once a lifetime. Attain hero status. The wars are still here but stand-off ranges have gone from the distance between the rife stock and the bayonet to hundreds of miles. The psychic charge just isn’t the same. So in its place there’s football, a kind of warfare masturbation — the uniforms, the anthems, the regional fervor, teams like armies, the forward pass like primitive airpower insurgence, cheerleaders on the sidelines like some caramelized myth of the good woman on the homefront. [pg. 86-87]
And a wee bit later is a return to what the American public think of the military:
And she naturally gives me that Oh-the-military look. No details required. People always do that. Especially, it seems like, people who are supposed to be smart in every other way and who should know better than to slap labels on people. Yet when it comes to us “heroes” they’re perfectly willing to think we’re all a bunch of morons and baby-killers and each of personally participated in the My-Lai massacre that probably happened when I was about three years old and that just because we all dress the same we must all BE the same underneath, there’s no possibility for individuality or personality or, god forbid, original thoughts or anything else they’d give credit for as a matter of course to the lowliest most ignorant dust-squatting aborigine.
Either you’re a hero or a war-mongering dickhead, there’s hardly any in-between. Hardly any chance to be just a standard-issue HUMAN doing some BEING. [pg. 96]
The whole simulation, “nothing is real” thing is another common theme of the book. One take on it I actually found to be a good illustration:
They’re not even NEW words, not HIS words at all. Just words he’s repeating from some other source, only not even a source but a relay — radio or TV or the papers, pulled in by an antenna, bounced off a satellite in geo-synchronous orbit, maybe two, maybe more, from where? From never-never land. Just a chief saying what a newscaster read from what reporter copied from a CRT wired to a modem that’s hooked up with a news service where an inputter copied from a memo from another reporter who got the words from a phone call with ANOTHER reporter who got it from some military press briefer who read it from the message put out by some unit commander — who MAYBE saw it (whatever IT really was) happen. [pg. 80]
This is my citizen journalism is cool. “I was there, you were not, let me tell you about it.” Not, “I was paid to be there and report what they want me to, where they is either my employer or the actor, who may or may not be different.”
There are a great number of rambling lists and things about serial killers, because the narrator is obsessed with television and public figures, and they are mostly obnoxious. But one is funny:
“A nursery school teacher who mutilated rabbits? A priest who kept toys under his cassock? Was your father a strict disciplinarian? Maybe too lax? An absent father? Around too much? A Baby-sitter with hydoencephalitis? Did you collect animal cadavers as a child? Torture insects? Draw cartoon characters with genitalia? Ever see a pentagram? Hang a Christmas tree upside down? Dip a crucifix in urine? Dad have a black cloak in the closet?”
“Naw, we were Catholics but not that kind.” [pg. 210]
As you may notice they jewels are mostly in a 50 page block from about page 50 to 100. The book is pretty short, so the mild entertainment does not suffer from too much overhead, but if you just wanted to pick it up then I would recommend those 50 pages. You won’t have a problem just jumping in because no story last the whole book anyways.
I’m very lukewarm about the book. I really like those quotes, but they are honestly the only quality parts.