It was a thing that I noticed over the course of my own military service that generally American youth changed more radically between the age of 18 and 25 than at any other time of their life save that span between infant and kindergartner. Or at least, that portion of it that chooses to join the military does. Such people enlist and trundle off to boot camp and their first duty assignment – they are kids; impetuous, ruled by impulse and mad urges to indulge in all kinds of attractive bad things … but somehow over the course of that rocky journey, the largest portion grow into mature, focused and relatively well-adjusted adults. Serious obligations and sometimes life-threatening experiences – such as serving at the very pointy end of the spear that is America’s military – have that effect.
Which is a round-about way of saying that Samuel Finlay’s Breakfast With the Dirt Cult is an account of that progression, told through the experience of one Tom Walton – a young guy from Oklahoma who has had a hitch in Bosnia under his belt and now is headed with his unit to Afghanistan. Tom has the advantage of being a conscientious and thoughtful sort, as well as being rather well-read – not all that rare among enlisted military members, I will add. The plot is relatively simple; while on-leave from Fort Drum, he meets and falls heavily for Amy – who is working as a stripper, but is also uncommonly well-read. His affection for Amy is an anchor holding him more or less steady through Afghanistan, assuming responsibility for comparatively inexperienced troops, being wounded in a fire-fight there and through painful convalescence, but there is no conventional happy ending, only stubborn ambivalence, as Tom essentially grows into maturity. This is a very readable, sharply-observed, and literate account of life in the current Army, if at times it does verge into polemics.
Be advised, as an exposition of contemporary life in a front-line unit this is also brutally frank about the warts of military service; the boredom as well as the excitement, the dust, bad-language, excessive drinking and all. At the grunt or ‘Joe-level’ the prevailing sense of humor is very, very dark, politically incorrect, usually lavatorial, and frequently obscene. This may come as a shock to non-veterans – but it shouldn’t. It always has been that way.
Breakfast With the Dirt Cult is available on Amazon in Kindle edition. (Disclosure – I received a review copy from the author.)
5 thoughts on “Book Review – Breakfast With the Dirt Cult”
I see the kids who are applying for the military and they are already a step above what I know as the youth who are not interested in the military, or any serious purpose.
After that last hitch I came back with a more positive view of our youth in general. Not just the amazing kids in the service.
Now there is strength, honor, and ability.
Which we’ll need.
While concurring with the observations of both Mike and Mom, I offer a modification.
I think one may debate how much of that observed change, that maturing into a more nuanced grasp of responsibility and reality, happens apart from military experience.
Specifically, I suggest that growth normally happens with (a debatable percentage of)folks as they take on life’s challenges via aging into them. Thus while I delight in Sgt Mom’s juxtapostion of 18-25 yrs with kindergartner-6 yrs, I observe similar comments without appeal to military service were made by, eg, Sam Clemens about how much his dad learned between Sam’s being 16 and 25. One may note a parallel comment in the observation (don’t know source) that if one is young and not a liberal, one has no heart, while if one is old and not a conservative, one has no brain.
“if one is young and not a liberal, one has no heart, while if one is old and not a conservative, one has no brain”
Often attributed to Churchill, but I believe Clemenceau said it first. Anyhow, it needs to be updated: too many of our moderns liberals (or “progressives,” as they call themselves) lack hearts just as much as they lack brains. Consigning generation after generation of kids to the un-tender mercies of the public school “blob” is not a sign of the milk of human kindness.
And now 26-year-olds can stay hitched to Mommy and Daddy’s health care, some employers actually feel they have to pander to same Mommy and Daddy to get “good”, or even “decent” young employees, and there is universal agreement that people are not even maturing until their thirties these days, particularly young men.
I had an epiphany of sorts recently. I saw something that I immediately decided should be seen by every young BOY (between 14 and 35) in America. Every one of them. What I saw was….. ‘Citizen Kane’.
Orson Welles was 24 years old when he wrote/directed/starred in, probably did the music/key grip/catering for, ‘Citizen Kane’. Go watch it again.
First off, the guy looks younger than DiCaprio in Titanic. His face is the very definition of cherubic. (Imagine that face today, 24 years old, just for a moment, and now put a personality behind it. He’d be a master X-box player, I suppose. His parents in the living room above would be quite proud of that, I’m sure.)
So watch this 24-year-old baby-faced man-child again. And note how whenever he walks on the screen, into any room, a MAN, by-God, has entered, and everyone knows it. A MAN who knows how to dress, how to walk, how to talk, how to command his space, how to order or make a martini, how to act around a woman… or another man…. or a child…. A 24-year-old MAN. He knows it, and so does everyone else in the room (theater). No words to any such effect are even remotely necessary. And of course 24-year-old Welles played a man of 24, of 30, of 45, of 60, in that film. More’s the point.
Can that be taught? Once again? Maybe not, I don’t know. But it’s certainly worth trying. Because I really think if that ineffable element of manhood is lost, the rest of it all will follow in short order.
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