A new novel by Ben Fountain entitled "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" was recently reviewed as "the Catch-22 for Iraq." It's not that. It is, perhaps, inspired by Joseph Heller's earlier novel, but it's not as humorous; it's not set in the combat zone; and more important, I doubt that its point of view will come to define, for today's Iraq vets, what they experienced, in the way that Heller's novel did for the WWII generation.
Still, it's an interesting book. If like me you loath books dealing with Hollywood, starlets, and moguls (or in this case, football moguls and cheerleaders), you'll need to get beyond that. But the place where Fountain really strikes home is in depicting the separation between the troops who fight the wars these days and the folks on the "home front" who go about their business largely oblivious to the sacrifices and trials of the grunts. In a very real sense, the war in Iraq becomes surreal to the home crowd, for whom it's only something they see on TV, or in a packaged, faked-up hero/warrior image that's spoon-fed to the public.
The handful of troops chosen as the focus for this honor in the novel realize that it's not a realistic depiction, yet can't do much about changing it. The main character, Billy Lynn, "has noticed that [American] audiences don't seem to mind" the fakeness, which just
"rolls right off them, maybe because the nonstop sales job of American life has instilled in them exceptionally high thresholds for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies, in other words for advertising in all its forms."
Shades of our political system, where candidates dare not speak truth, for people tend to kill the messenger who brings truth. In the context of war, though, the "sales job" points up the differences between Heller's time and Fountains, and get us to thinking about whether it was such a wise thing to abandon conscription.