Jeopardy! category: WAR NOVELS (9-10-2015)
$800 clue: “The Short-Timers” by Gustav Hasford follows a member of this military branch, from basic training to war in Vietnam
The gist: One of my favourite books (link to PDF of the text; it’s out of print), tat was turned into one of my favourite movies. “The Short-Timers,” as well as Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket, adapted from the novel, tells the story of Privates Cowboy, Joker, Pyle, and others, as they serve in the United States Marines during the Vietnam War. Partly based on Hasford’s own experience with the Marines, it begins where the soldiers themselves began, at basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. There, they undergo a brutal, dehumanizing training process, intended by Gunnery Sgt. Hartman to reduce the recruits to nothing and build them back up in the image of a perfect Marine – in the words of the narrator, Joker, “killers… indestructible men, men without fear.” During training, Hartman revokes each recruit’s given name, assigning them a demeaning nickname – “Joker” for a John Wayne impression he does, “Cowboy” because he’s from Texas, “Pyle” because his incompetence reminds Hartman of the character Gomer Pyle from The Andy Griffith Show. After graduation, those who pass are shipped off to Vietnam as “short-timers,” soldiers who will “rotate back” to the United States when their service is over, as opposed to the “lifers” who are career military personnel, and who frequently pass the time by discussing how many days they have left in Vietnam. Joker, now a war correspondent with Stars and Stripes, is assigned to cover Cowboy’s combat squad, dubbed the Lusthogs. They experience horrors including friendly fire, the Tet Offensive, and the death of their friends in front of their eyes.
Full Metal Jacket, the better-known film adaptation of the novel, was released in 1987. It was divided into two parts, the first taking place on Parris Island, and the second in Vietnam. While generally received favourably, many reviewers prefer the first part of the film to the second, seeing the latter as disjointed and less thematic than the first, which also produced the famous portrayal of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman by R. Lee Ermey, who had served as a drill instructor during the mid-1960s.
The clue: It’s not a terribly well-known novel, and most people probably know it for the film it spawned, which isn’t named in the clue. Nonetheless, the Marines are strongly associated with the Vietnam War; it was the Marines who constituted the first on-the-ground American troops in the country, and undertook much of the ground combat throughout the war. So this clue is really asking “which branch of the U.S. military does the Vietnam War bring to mind?”
In Jeopardy!: Not surprisingly, the Marines are in over 180 clues in the J!Archive, too many to discuss here. “The Short-Timers” is in just four, two of which are about its film adaptation, and the remaining one (that isn’t this clue) is about the Tet Offensive. And, surprisingly, only two clues mention both the Marines and Vietnam together. Not terribly helpful, unfortunately.