Former Democratic Senator Jim Webb is running for president in 2016. Wait. Scratch that. He’s currently exploring a run for president in 2016. Despite that distinction the inevitable Democratic frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has Webb in her cross-hairs. Having had seven years to stew over her defeat in 2008 at the hands of Barack Obama, Clinton’s not taking any challenge lightly.
U.S. News & World Report found that at least one Clinton operative recently pitched unflattering stories about Webb to media outlets, emphasizing out-of-context passages in Webb’s various war themed books. New York Daily News, which endorsed Clinton for president over Obama in 2008, apparently took the bait, publishing the “wildest 5 passages” from Webb, complete with a huge disclaimer warning readers of “GRAPHIC CONTENT.” Similar attacks were made against Webb in 2006, when he waged a successful campaign for Senate against incumbent Republican George Allen.
The Saturnalian recognizes this (along with the anemic reports of PAC fund mismanagement) as an unfair attempt to railroad Webb. In other to dispel any mischaracterization suggested by the Daily News’ presentation, the excerpts from Webb’s books are included below along with explanations providing necessary context.
From page 333 of Lost Soldiers (2001):
A shirtless man walked toward them along a mud pathway. His muscles were young and hard, but his face was devastated with wrinkles. His eyes were so red that they appeared to be burned by fire. A naked boy ran happily toward him from a little plot of dirt. The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside down, and put the boy’s penis in his mouth.
Pedophilia commonly occurs in Southeast Asia where people have cultural values significantly different than in the West. Webb tries to demonstrate this point to his readers in Lost Soldiers, which chronicles a man who tracks the bodies of dead U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and learns about an American soldier who deserted and joined the Viet Cong. Webb told CNN in 2006: “I actually saw this happen in a slum of Bangkok and when I was there as a journalist. A man placing his lips on his son’s private parts. . . . And the duty of a writer is to illuminate the surroundings.”
From page 35 of Something to Die For (1991):
Fogarty . . . watched a naked young stripper do the splits over a banana. She stood back up, her face smiling proudly and her round breasts glistening from a spotlight in the dim bar, and left the banana on the bar, cut in four equal sections by the muscles of her vagina.
Fogarty is the protagonist of the novel on his way to lead a military campaign in the Horn of Africa. As he travels, he recalls his days as a soldier in the Philippines. Those days included impure activities. In this scene, he relives those days with a stripper in a “sleazy bar.” The ellipse covers the part where Webb writes that Fogerty was “filled with uncertain fear and the memories,” as the scene plays out. Soldiers often visit strip clubs and solicit prostitutes to escape the reality of their situation. Webb takes the reader there.
From page 396 of A Country Such as This:
(He) could see Jawbone and Ashley Asthmatic napping together in the grass. They faced inward, their arms entwined. It looked like they were masturbating each other. It didn’t surprise him . . . It was common to see men holding hands, embracing, playing with each other. Some of them had wanted him. He could tell in those evanescent moments between his bao cao bow, the obligatory deference when a guard entered his cell, and the first word or blow that followed it . . . Quick, grinding voices, turgid with repressed passion. An exploratory reaching of the hand near his groin.
This novel covers the time from the end of the Second World War to the end of the Vietnam War. This particular scene takes place in a North Vietnamese prison. From his prison cell, a POW character named Red Lesczynski views two North Vietnamese soldiers engaged in homosexual acts. This serves as foil to North Vietnamese propaganda: “The North was pure, they reminded him. Promiscuity was not tolerated. But it was common to see [North Vietnamese] men holding hands, embracing, playing with each other.”
From page 164 of A Sense of Honor:
Nurse Goodbody, dark and voluptuous (Lenahan had forgotten her actual name, it was something long and Italian), was a bedtime friend to many of the doctors in Bethesda. She had hinted to Lenahan that she simply could not contain herself. Doctors tending to patients, she explained, aroused her. Morphine Mary (again Lenahan could not remember her exact name) was a thin, nervous drill sergeant type, a disciplinarian who did not allow her patients even to complain. Lenahan was convinced that Morphine Mary did not even sleep with her husband. She wasn’t bad looking, he mused again, staring at her thin frame. If she’d just get laid every now and then she’d mellow out and stop being such a damn witch.
“Nurse Goodbody” was a character portrayed by Gunilla Hutton on the variety TV show Hee Haw. It is not a name that Webb simply pulled out of thin air. The scene above takes place in a hospital where the Lenahan character had stayed after being wounded in the war. He returned to visit a friend and visited with the two nurses. Lenahan is a flawed character who is divorced and views women as objects. This scene reflects that character.
From page 211 of Fields of Fire:
He saw the invitation with every bouncing breast and curved hip . . . He was thirteen . . . She was fifteen . . . In a few moments she drew him to her and he murmured in his quiet voice, ‘I am still small.’ ‘You are large enough,’ she answered. And he found he was.
The first ellipse above omits the passage: “He understood the invitation. He simply did not know how to accept it.” At this point in the novel, Webb describes the early experiences of a young Mexican immigrant who eventually went on to fight in Vietnam. This particular scene depicts his loss of innocence. It symbolizes the loss of innocence of those who went to Vietnam knowing they had to fight, but not necessarily understanding what that would entail.