William Boyd’s On The Yankee Station is a series of short stories, the longest of which gives the set its title. This particular story is a magnificent piece of short fiction, much more than a short story, which faces, in less than 25 pages, several big problems and, at the same time, draws its characters in considerable and complex detail.
Located on an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War, it describes the antagonistic relationship between two crew members. Pfitz is a pilot, aware and grateful for his real and perceived state, a state that he does not hesitate to affirm in his favor. But this tendency is sometimes over exerted. It’s as if you need to feel the elevation of your status to reinforce your own self-image. In short, he is a bully. This characteristic begins to dominate their thoughts and actions when events conspire to question their own competence, their right to that nutritional status.
Lydecker is a member of the Pfitz ground team. Suffice it to say that Lydecker is not on the intellectual end of the fighting machine. Nor does it come from a privilege. In fact, quite the opposite. Lydecker, if he hadn’t joined the army, probably would have become a complete bum, a step above a slump at best. Even in the military, he can only aim for the most menial duties, but at least he’s thorough and tries to keep his nose clean. But for Lydecker, the events conspire to raise suspicions about his competition, a suspicion constantly fueled by a torrent of abuse and accusation flowing from Pfitz, the pilot whom it remains his responsibility to serve.
Pfitz likes his job. That’s clear. He takes a particular liking to napalm and revels in the idea of piling tons of things from his plane over rural Vietnam. He is interested in technical improvements to his weapon of choice, improvements that ensure the fireball sticks firmly to anything it encounters, thus guaranteeing that it will burn directly. If it were closer to the action, one feels that Pfitz would delight in the smell, the mixture of burnt organics skipping the suggestion of roast pork emanating from rusty human flesh. He prides himself on a job well done.
Lydecker is demoted, effectively humiliated when he has the opportunity to take a leave of absence. During his week in Saigon, he mercilessly pursues two forms of recreation, one with a bottle and the other between the offered sheets. But there is a girl who is different, she stays away from the affairs of others, minding her own affairs. She is treated with seemingly universal and complete contempt and she alone among the bar pendants is never on the menu, her meat is not for sale. He bullied himself in the workplace, one might expect Lydecker to sympathize with his plight. But he treats her with as much, if not more, disdain than the rest and, finally, it is more out of spite than sympathy or desire that he insists on a session with her, he forces himself to underline his right to assert assumed control. . What Lydecker subsequently experiences with that girl changes his worldview only slightly, but enough to influence events elsewhere, his newfound consciousness constructs a plan that he could employ again on board.
In a short story, William Boyd illustrates the class systems embedded in America’s supposed classless society. He confronts the so-called clinical nature of modern warfare by identifying the blunderbuss of terror that mutilates everything in its indiscriminate line of fire. . It characterizes sadism, revenge, conscience and retribution. It draws outlines of exploitation, both economic and social, and illustrates how communities, even entire societies, can be seen as built on a crude and ruthless claim of domination for domination’s sake. And all of this happens in less than 25 pages.
Other stories on the set are also very high-level. Going through them all would reproduce the book, no less, because they are concise, often surprising, sometimes hilarious pieces that together form a supreme achievement.