First hardcover edition
|Genre||Autobiographical, War novel|
|Publisher||Harper and Row (HB) & Bantam (PB)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||192 pp (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||0-553-17152-6 (paperback edition)|
|Followed by||The Phantom Blooper|
The Short-Timers is a 1979 semi-autobiographical novel by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Gustav Hasford, about his experience in the Vietnam War. It was later adapted into the film Full Metal Jacket (1987) by Hasford, Michael Herr, and Stanley Kubrick. Hasford's novel The Phantom Blooper (1990) was a sequel to The Short-Timers.
The book is divided into three sections, written in completely different styles of prose, and follows James T. "Joker" Davis through his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps and deployment to Vietnam.
"The Spirit of the Bayonet"
"The Spirit of the Bayonet" chronicles Joker's days in recruit training, where a drill instructor (Gunnery Sergeant Gerheim) breaks the men's spirits and then rebuilds them as brutal killers. Here, Joker befriends two recruits 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 unbalances his mind. In a final act of madness, he kills Gerheim and then himself in front of the whole platoon.
"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, Joker unwillingly accepts a promotion from Corporal to Sergeant, and the two travel to Huế to cover the enemy's wartime atrocities and reunite with Cowboy. During a battle, Joker is "wounded" (actually only knocked out by an RPG concussion blast), and the book enters a psychedelic dream sequence. After his quick recovery, Joker learns 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.
"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 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.
"Short" vs. "lifer" vs. "POG"
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 their length of time 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, "POGs" (an alternative spelling for the slang term "pogue"), are Marines who fill non-combat roles (i.e., cooks, clerks, mechanics); they are a favorite target of the front-line troops' derision, and vice versa.
The movie faithfully reproduces the first section of the novel, "The Spirit of the Bayonet", with only minor differences in 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 second part of the movie combines certain dialog and plot elements of "Body Count" and "Grunts". For example, the combat in the film takes place in Hue, and the platoon does take on a sniper, although the onscreen sequence more closely resembles the sniper battle in "Grunts".
Several important sequences are omitted from the movie adaptation, including: 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 the nickname Rafter Man (actually named Lance Corporal Compton). In the book, Rafter Man is later run over and killed by the same tank that ran over the girl and water buffalo, and Joker is demoted to a "grunt" (Basic Rifleman) for wearing his peace symbol button.
Additionally, the film adaptation changes some characters' names and omits certain other characters, i.e.: several "lifers" (Capt. January, Mayor Lynch, and 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 appear in the movie, 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 Website maintained by Hasford's cousin, The Short-Timers, The Phantom Blooper, and Hasford's third and last completed book, a noir detective novel titled A Gypsy Good Time (1992), are currently out of print. The texts of the two war novels and an excerpt of A Gypsy Good Time were publicly available at the website for at least a decade, but the site has since been redesigned, and Hasford's cousin, who manages the site, has stated he "likely won't be reposting the novel" there.
- Hasford, Gustav (1979). The Short-Timers (1st (hard cover) ed.). Harper & Rowe. ISBN 978-0060117825.
- Hasford, Gustav (January 1, 1990). The Phantom Blooper (1st (hard cover) ed.). Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0553057188.
- Hasford, Gustav (March 1992). A Gypsy Good Time (First (paperback) ed.). Washington Square Press. ISBN 978-0671729172.
- "Web page dedicated to A Gypsy Good Time". Gustav Hasford's official website.
- "Original version". Gustav Hasford home page, with the full text of The Short-Timers and The Phantom Blooper novels included.
- Jason Aaron (January 2013). "About This Site". GustavHasford.com. Retrieved September 7, 2014.