Written shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, Dog Soldiers is Robert Stone’s scathing critique of a 1970’s counterculture that shifted away from the “peace, love, and happiness” of the 1960’s into a degraded generation of heroin addicts. The book’s epigraph and title refer to those who suffer under hardship but ultimately possess the will to survive. They are taken from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899 serial, 1902 book), a late nineteenth century novel criticizing Belgian imperialism in Africa. Stone lauds both Conrad and Ernest Hemingway as two of his major literary influences, and he references both authors—indirectly through the novel’s themes and style and directly within the narrative itself. Winner of the National Book Award in 1975, Dog Soldiers retains its position as a highly regarded commentary exposing the Vietnam War’s detrimental effects on American idealism.
John Converse goes to Vietnam not for patriotic or idealistic reasons but because he is depressed by his literary failure and disillusioned with life in general. In the eighteen months he is there, he witnesses the death and destruction of war yet deems it a necessary punishment for humanity’s hubris. Converse makes the decision to enter the world of drug smuggling partly to impress Charmian and partly to impress himself. He has no agency—no drive to devote his time to positive action—and as a result, the danger involved in drug smuggling appeals to his amoral and fatalistic sensibilities. Converse recruits both his wife and an old merchant marine buddy to aid in his scheme, which quickly falls apart and spirals into an expedition that has dire consequences. The drug...
(The entire section is 699 words.)