Sincerely, Ronald Reagan compiled by Helene von Damm (1976, Green Hill Publishers)
This book is a compilation of letters to and from then-Governor Ronald Reagan, arranged by his executive secretary, Helen von Damm. She spends a fair portion of the 161 pages providing the context for the letters, which trims the Reagan content considerably. Reagan’s letters are further diminished by the inclusion of many of the letters to him (again, for context).
That criticism aside, the book is a breath of fresh air. Free of the venom which accompanied Reagan when he took the national stage of the Presidency, we are given a glimpse into the man’s activities and viewpoints by getting his responses to respectful missives of disagreement from Democrats, letters of praise from Republicans, and sometimes unprompted letters generated by the Governor.
In a particularly poignant letter to Charles Schultz, he explains how a casual line in one of the Peanuts strips nagged at him and prompted weeks of musing and study on the philosophical implications of abortion.
Despite the attempts to rewrite history to make Reagan into a figure who led by a gut instinct of right and wrong, this book serves to illustrate that Reagan was in fact a man of deep thought whose policy positions were often constructed years in advance of any opportunity to put such policy into effect. He could – and did – treat both community members of great influence and common citizens with equal courtesy. His eloquence was due not merely to his experience as an actor but to conviction of belief and a solid grounding in the philosophies and principles which had led him to those beliefs.
It’s a breath of fresh air in the polluted atmosphere we’ve endured for more than a decade, and worth the read if only for the smiles and hope it will bring.
In the Field of Fire ed. Jeanne Van Buren Dann & Jack Dann (1987, Tor)
This collection of Vietnam war-inspired science fiction & fantasy stories was produced with a sympathetic eye toward veterans, by people who bought fully into the traditional depictions of Vietnam. The result is an uneven mixture of war protest stories by those who never fought and painfully framed stories by those who did.
There is no treatment here of Vietnam as a good war undermined by bad actors on the home front; what there is, however, is an attempt by many of the contributors to write stories portraying the soldiers as good people trapped in a bad situation. That is reflective of the introduction, which touches on the rampant reports of soldiers acting out violently upon their return home and at the same time provides accurate statistics of the astronomically high suicide rates of veterans compared to those of similar age who didn’t fight.
Independent of the uniform viewpoint of the editors and some of the writers, there is love and empathy here. That, combined with the skill of the writers – the collection features Charles L. Grant, Harlan Ellison, Brian Aldiss, Ben Bova and similar masters – results in an eminently enjoyable and “readable” book.
But it ends with DX.
DX is an eight page poem by Joe Haldeman, Vietnam veteran and sf grandmaster, that encapsulates the immediate and lingering pain of the combat soldier better than the rest of the anthology stories combined. I find it a sad masterpiece, and one worth re-reading every Memorial Day.