Consider, first of all, that Pfc Whitaker awakes in his Fort Meade, Maryland, barracks in the early morning, sweating. He stares through unshifting, dust-speckled air and sees beams of rough-hewn wood. Looking at their splintering surfaces and thinking of the long, barren days ahead, the hours of his final weekend of freedom in which he has nothing to do, he feels sad. He feels like a man who’s been ordered to leave the earth, his destination the moon. He must live in Vietnam for a year.
In the latrine he flushes a bug down the toilet and his mood is reflected in the insect’s futile flailing. The flood and...