The first paperback edition. From left to right: Alice, Joker, Animal Mother, Stutten or Doc Jay and Cowboy
|Genre||Autobiographical, War novel|
|Publisher||Harper and Row (HB) & Bantam (PB)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||192 pp (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-553-17152-6 (paperback edition)|
|Followed by||The Phantom Blooper|
The Short-Timers is a 1979 semi-autobiographical novel by American U.S. Marine Corps veteran Gustav Hasford, about his experience in the Vietnam War. It was later adapted into the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket by Hasford, Michael Herr, and Stanley Kubrick. Hasford's 1990 novel The Phantom Blooper was a sequel to The Short-Timers.
The book is divided into three sections, written in completely different styles of prose.
"The Spirit of the Bayonet"
"The Spirit of the Bayonet" chronicles Pvt. James T. "Joker" Davis' days in the Marine Corps boot camp, where a drill instructor (Gunnery Sergeant Gerheim) breaks the men's spirits and then rebuilds them as brutal killers. Here, Joker befriends two privates nicknamed "Cowboy" and "Gomer Pyle". The latter, whose real name is Leonard Pratt, earns the wrath of both Gerheim and the rest of the platoon through his ineptitude and weak character. Though he eventually shows great improvement and wins honors at graduation, the constant abuse has unbalanced his mind. In a final act of madness, he kills Gerheim and then himself in front of the whole platoon.
This section is written in a very simple, savage style.
"Body Count" shows some of Joker's life as a war correspondent for the Marines in 1968. While in Da Nang, he runs across Cowboy, now assistant squad leader in the Lusthog Squad. As the Tet Offensive begins, Joker is dispatched to Phu Bai with his photographer, Rafter Man. Here, he unwillingly accepts a promotion from Corporal to Sergeant, and the two travel to Huế to cover the enemy's wartime atrocities and meet up with Cowboy again. During a battle, Joker is "wounded" (actually only knocked out by an RPG concussion blast) and the book goes into a psychedelic dream sequence. After his quick recovery, Joker learns that the platoon commander was killed by a friendly grenade, while the squad leader went insane and attacked an NVA position with a BB gun only to be shot down. Later, Joker and Rafter Man battle a sniper who killed another Lusthog Marine and an entire second squad; the battle ends with Rafter Man's first confirmed kill and Cowboy's being wounded slightly. As Joker and Rafter Man head back to their base, Rafter Man panics and dashes into the path of an oncoming tank, which fatally crushes him. Joker is reassigned to Cowboy's squad as a rifleman, as punishment for wearing an unauthorized peace button on his uniform.
The writing style in "Body Count" is more complex than that in "The Spirit of the Bayonet".
"Grunts" takes place on a mission through the jungle with Cowboy's squad, outside of Khe Sanh. They encounter another sniper here, who wounds three of the men multiple times. After the company commander goes crazy and begins babbling nonsense over the radio, Cowboy decides to pull the squad back and retreat, rather than sacrifice everyone trying to save the wounded men. Animal Mother, the squad's M60 machine gunner, threatens Cowboy's life and refuses to retreat. Promoting Joker to squad leader, Cowboy runs in with his pistol and kills each victim with a shot to the head. However, he himself is repeatedly wounded in the process; before he can kill himself, the sniper shoots the gun out of his hand. Realizing his duty to Cowboy and the squad, Joker kills Cowboy and leads the rest of the men away.
This section is written in a more complex style than the previous two, with more time spent on Joker's inner thoughts.
"Short" vs. "lifer" vs. "poge"
Joker and his fellow Marines refer to military personnel in various ways. A "short" service-member or "short-timer" is one who is approaching the end of his tour of duty in Vietnam, usually 13 months for Marines and 12 months for other armed services. "Lifers" are distinguished not necessarily by the length of time they have served, but rather by their attitude toward the lower ranks. (Joker describes the distinction as follows: "A lifer is anybody who abuses authority he doesn't deserve to have. There are plenty of civilian lifers.") Finally, "poges" (an alternative spelling for the slang term pogue, or "Person Other than Grunt") are Marines who fill non-combat roles (i.e., cooks, clerks, mechanics); they are a favorite target of the front-line troops' derision.
The first section of the novel, "The Spirit of the Bayonet", is faithfully reproduced in the movie. There are only minor differences of events and names. The most profound difference is that, in the book, when Pvt. Pyle kills Gunny (Gunnery Sergeant) Gerheim (renamed Hartman in the film), Gerheim tells Pyle "I'm proud [of you]" before being killed, finally assured that he transformed Pyle into a killer.
The movie then combines certain elements of "Body Count" and "Grunts" for the second part of the movie. In the film the combat is in Hue, and they do take on a sniper, although the actual sequence more closely resembles the sniper battle in "Grunts". Dialog in the second part of the movie is also a mixture of elements from "Body Count" and "Grunts".
Several important sequences are omitted from the movie adaptation: a previous meeting between Joker and his squad at the movies, the slaughtering of rats at the camp by Joker and his friends as Rafter Man watches, Rafter Man's lapse into cannibalism, a description of a tank running over a girl and a water buffalo, and a flashback revealing the origins of Rafter Man's (actual name Lance Corporal Compton) nickname. Rafter Man is later run over and killed by the same tank that ran over the girl and water buffalo. Then Joker is demoted to a "grunt" (Basic Rifleman) for wearing his peace symbol button.
Additionally, some names are changed and certain characters in the book do not appear in the movie, and vice-versa: several "lifers" (Capt. January, Mayor Lynch, General Motors) have been left out or have been merged into one character; Private Leonard Pratt in the book is renamed Leonard Lawrence in the movie; Gunny Gerheim in the book becomes Gunny Hartman in the movie; and the character of Alice in the book seems to have been renamed and altered slightly to portray Eightball in the movie. In additional divergences from the book, in the film T.H.E. Rock does not die, and Crazy Earl is killed by a booby trap. The book characters Daytona Dave, Chili Vendor and Mr. Payback are also characters in the movie, appearing just prior to and during the Tet Offensive, but in the book Daytona Dave is described as a California surfer-type, while in the movie he is played by an African American.
Out of print
According to the Official Gustav Hasford Web site maintained by Hasford's cousin, The Short-Timers and The Phantom Blooper are currently out of print. The texts of both novels were previously available at the Web site[when?], but the site has since been redesigned and Hasford's cousin "likely won't be reposting the novel" there.