Dont Cry for Me Sergeant Major
by Robert McGowan and Jeremy Hands
Futura Publications 1983
No one would say that war is funny. There is nothing funny about the way that nations and people collide, like tectonic plates, in conflagrations that are solved though destruction and paid for in misery and human lives. However, there are few comedians more ready to poke fun at the situations they find themselves in, than service-men and women. While it has been observed that an Army marches upon their stomachs, Messers McGowan and Hands observed that a fighting force marches “…on its sense of humor” (pg 317). This is a funny book, hilarious in its description of British soldiers and marines in and on their way to war, and all the situations that arise from military planning when it collides with the reality of combat. This is not to say that this book makes light of combat, or of its consequences, to be sure it does not. The authors speak highly of the mettle of these fighting men involved in this relatively small war called The Falklands War, where, in 1982, the Argentian army invaded the tiny British colony of the Falklands Islands, located easterly of the southernmost reach of the tip of South America, and is, for all intents and purposes close enough to that white continent to be considered part of Antarctica. According to the book, the Falklands are a miserable, windswept and cold place, marked by barren wilderness and small settlements. The Falklands are considered a British Overseas Territory (according to the CIA factbook), but are also claimed by Argentina, and that is what caused the invasion.
The book deals with the British point of view, as the authors were both present for the entirety of the action as members of the press there to document the liberation. What they ended up with is a long treatise on the attitude of your common fighting man, the bitter sarcasm, black humor, and knack for situational comedy involving feces, weapons or motor vehicles; sometimes all three. The subjects were not outstanding members of society by any stretch of the imagination, nor were they polite or overly concerned about notions of political correct-ness. The Soldiers and Marines vary between degrees of racism and sexism and display a disdain for authority, and are completely un-apologetic for it; and it is impossible to issue judgement without being there with them, and after reading the book, you can’t help but to forgive them. Shouldered with terrible obstacles and shackled with a organization that appears insane, these brave men walk into dangerous situations relying entirely on the bonds of friendship and the trust that they have in their friends. The true story this book presents is how these men could persevere in great adversity, and accomplish goals, through the strength of comradeship and humor. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in a the culture of modern defense forces, or for anyone who has served who wants to remember what it was like, or anyone who wants a good laugh.
Note: this review was originally published on Sep 16, 2011 on my now defunct book review site Readerway.