Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans!
Happy Birthday, Ron Kovic!
Kovic’s memoir has been on my mind to read since I saw Oliver Stone’s 1989 movie adaptation of his story staring Tom Cruise.
Earlier this year I picked up a 1977 mass market edition by Pocket Books for a buck. In 2005 a new edition was published by Akashic Books with a new introduction by Kovic.
Born on the 4th of July is Kovic’s story of growing up in a stable middle class Catholic family and a tightknit neighborhood where the little boys band together to play baseball and war games. He wanted to join the Marines since he was a little boy and saw John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima (great movie). He graduates high school, heads off to boot camp, during his second tour of duty in Vietnam gets shot and paralyzed from the chest down, experiences horrific conditions at the VA hospital, eventually comes home, gives college a try, becomes an anti-war activist.
In the 2005 introduction to the new edition Kovic writes,
I wrote Born on the Fourth of July in the fall of 1974 in one month, three weeks and two days. It was like an explosion, a dam bursting, everything flowed beautifully, just kept pouring out, almost effortlessly, passionately, desperately. I worked with an intensity and fury as if it was my last will and testament, and in many ways I felt it was. [source]
The content is outstanding and raw which makes this book a solid read, and one I highly recommend, but the execution, both in writing style and organization, is lacking and will annoy some readers. It has the feel of an early draft and not a finished piece of writing.
There is no closure in this book and Kovic come across as an angry victim. In one scene he writes about his power coming back, but it is a power to make other people angry, which doesn’t seem helpful in the long run. One of the things that bothers me about this book is that Kovic never claims responsibility for any of his actions or decisions. It is the memoir of an angry young man, one who has good reason for that anger, but the lack of closure leaves the reader spinning.
This book was written out of Kovic’s anger and pain–of feeling duped by the dream of being a war hero and the pain of living life as a paralyzed young man. His story reflects the country’s pain and growing confusion of fighting a war that no one ended up wanting. With this in mind, the book is a brilliant time capsule of the period.
Here’s the trailer from Stone’s movie:
Kovic has continued to work as an anti-war and peace activist. The Wikipedia page on Kovic mentions that he is now writing a sequel to Born on the 4th of July. His other books include Around the World in Eight Days (1984) and A Dangerous Country (1987).
Born on the 4th of July
Pocket Books, 1977
Source: own it
Rating: 5/5 stars for content, 2/5 stars for execution
Recommend to those interested in the Vietnam War, military memoir, activism, American life of the 1950s-1970s