My Detachment: A Memoir - Tracy Kidder "What are they going to do Lt.? Send you to Vietnam?" This little question defines the relationship among draftees and lifers. Kidder was assigned to an intelligence unit in Vietnam that handled radio traffic. Their job was to monitor and triangulate North Vietnamese radio traffic. The lifers seemed to be interested only in side-burn length (often measured with a ruler) and "hooch" neatness. Kidder's attitude soon became one of just collecting a few chips to cash in later and one of live and let live. Only the lifers cared about haircuts and camp discipline. The draftees did as little as possible in the way of military etiquette.

Sometimes a little extortion helped. His unit once picked up the colonel commanding troops from an orbiting helicopter and in his excitement, the colonel was naming names and units in the clear. Kidder's group made a transcript of the recording. His gadfly, Poncho, wanted to send it up the line to get the colonel reprimanded, but Kidder realized the value of showing what they had to the colonel and letting him know that they would do nothing about it. Just collecting a few chips.

Kidder's relationship with Poncho was based on a constant struggle for power. Poncho using threats ("I could always just drop a bamboo viper in your bunk") and bribery (Kidder wants to have an easy relationship with his men). Incidents elsewhere offragging officers would be casually dropped into the conversation.

Several of the reviews elsewhere have castigated Kidder for being a coward and not putting forth full effort required of a soldier. My feeling was quite the opposite. This book is a vivid (pun in the title intended, I'm sure) and very honest memoir of a year in the life of a non-lifer, someone who just wanted to get it over with and survive without killing anyone else or getting killed. You get the feeling he is going through great mental anguish himself, having no idea how to lead troops (he says at one point how little training in leading men he received and how the army would have been better served had they sent new officers to teach in an inner-city school for a year to learn how to lead and control the unruly.) What's a young Lt. to do when one of his men, a troublemaker, announces there had been a meeting about him behind him back the night before and they decided they didn't like the way he was doing things and by the way they would shoot him if he didn't straighten out? He and Poncho, the troublemaker, finally make an uneasy alliance.

How does a twenty-year old deal with the knowledge that his men were being sent out on details to dig up Vietnamese graves so they could determine who would get credit for the kill: the artillery or the Air Force. How do you put that in your letters home? He writes fictional accounts in his mail of events that never occurred. So the mail becomes a mendacious catharsis often reflecting what he wished had happened, not what had really transpired.

The Kidder portrayed is not the hero we wish to see and he flogs himself repeatedly, if not ostentatiously, for his sell-out. Does he respect Poncho more than himself? Perhaps. A very useful addition to the literature of Vietnam from a perspective other than the front-line grunt. Reportage of the inconsequential.