The book behind 'Full Metal Jacket' was praised -
but the author's still struggling
by John H. Richardson

    Most of the great lines and scenes in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket come straight from Gustav Hasford's startling Vietnam novel, The Short-Timers.
    The book has the line about how great it is to meet "interesting, stimulating people of an ancient culture . . . and kill them."
    It's got, "Be the first kid on your block to get a confirmed kill."
    It's got, "They've taken away our freedom and given it to the (Vietnamese), but the (Vietnamese) don't want it. They'd rather be alive than free."
    It's got, "We are jolly green giants, walking the earth with guns. The people we wasted here today are the finest individuals we will ever know. When we rotate back to the world, we're going to miss having someone around who's worth shooting."
    Published in 1979 when Hasford was working as a security guard at a Malibu antique store, The Short-Timers was called the best novel about Vietnam by Newsweek magazine. Now 39, Hasford still seems to be scraping by, trying to get a publishing deal for two new books, including a Short-Timers sequel in which his problematic hero, Joker, joins the Viet Cong.
    Like Joker, Hasford was a Marine working as a Stars and Stripes correspondent in Vietnam. At a recent interview, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and dirty sneakers, Hasford spoke with an invigorating combination of brilliance and coarse bluster. Asked if he is married, for instance, he asks, "No - you got a sister?"
    When he compares himself to Joker - who kills an unarmed Vietnamese farmer for no reason - he says he's worse. "I'm a lot meaner than Joker is."
    But Hasford is frighteningly eloquent when asked to talk about how much soldiers enjoy war - one of the sharp truths of The Short-Timers.
    "It's thrilling to watch napalm and to blow things up and have guns," he said. "Did you ever go out and shoot guns? Well, shooting machine guns is more fun. Blowing things up is fun. It's fun to be with a bunch of guys and you're all armed to the teeth. It's like being a Viking.
    "And there's no law," he said. "It's like you're out there in the jungle and, 'This is it - we are the law.'  Your teachers aren't coming up and hitting you on the hand with a ruler - if they do, you just waste them.
    "War is really the only time, I suppose, that you're actually a free person," he said. "And there's also a democracy, an equality about being in the war - everybody's the same. In the field, it's like a bunch of heavily armed monks in this weird brotherhood."

All content © 1987 LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS.

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