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by John J. Miller on February 11, 2010 · 3 comments

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  • Sumo

Today’s New York Post carries my short article on James Webb, the Democratic senator from Virginia, who has clashed with the White House recently on Afghanistan policy and terrorist trials.

I’ve followed Webb for a while. In 2006, on the pages of NR, I covered his campaign for the Senate. Before he was a politician, however, he was a novelist. More than ten years ago, I reviewed The Emperor’s General, Webb’s story about Gen. MacArthur in Japan after the the Second World War, for NR. As part of my research, I compared Webb’s depiction of certain events with how they actually unfolded. This involved at least one trip to the Library of Congress, which is basically across the street from NR‘s Washington bureau. Webb’s editing of history was minimal and, at least in one emotional scene, a kind of improvement. I don’t recall whether the guy who was NR‘s books editor at the time asked me to review The Emperor’s General or if I volunteered for the duty. But this would have been during the early days of The First Assassin, when I was still plotting and planning my story. I was keenly interested in studying how good historical novelists worked their fictional tales around known facts. I’m sure Webb influenced me at some level, though I can’t really say how.

Tom Wolfe once called Webb “one of the four or five most important young writers in this country.” You’ll find this line in both today’s Post article as well as one of the NR pieces. A small part of me is glad Webb won in 2006. If authors are at their best when they write what they know, then Webb may have the makings of a great political novel in him. We’ll just have to vote him out of office in 2012, so that he has the time to write it.


  • NK

    I was an email penpal of Webb’s 2004-2006. As a historical novelist you may be interested to know that about one tiny detail in Emperor’s General, near the end of the novel in discussing the protaganist’s post-war life as a a wall street investment banker, Webb picks Darien Connecticut as the town where he settles down to live. I’ve lived in darien since 1990, and asked Webb why he picked the town. No real reason he said, he passed it once driving up to Maine and he had the sense a lot of wall streeters lived there, which is true. Just an indication that with thousands on micro details in historical novels, not all are carefully researched. Webb though has an extraordinary eye for detail and observation, going back to the D.C. ghetto supermarket in Sense of Honor. I also asked him why virtually every novel of his has a raunchy sex scene. He had no real answer for that except to say what do you expect from a Marine. About politics and the military, be careful with that. Webb is a charter member of the Party of Jim Webb; he is –probably understandably– a supreme egoist. He definitely went through some kind of midlife crisis starting 10 years ago, it is clearly reflected in Born Fighting and his divorce frustration with his son. That plus Republicans choosing Bush over someone like well–Jim Webb. I admire him, he is a towering American, but no one really understands what Jim Webb thinks about any given issue, maybe not even Jim Webb. Cheers,

  • Jack Jolis

    Well, I’m dead against his views on Iraq, but if anyone’s earned the right to be wrong on Iraq, Webb has.

    People go on about Tim O’Brien and Robert Stone and others of that ilk, but I suspect a lot of that praise comes from folks who never fought in Vietnam. For me, a Vietnam (and Laos) vet, Webb’s “Fields of Fire” is far and away the best (published) novel to come out of Vietnam, Republic of.

    “Get some”.

  • Bob Owens

    I seem to recall Darien, CT being mentioned in the movie version of “Gentlemen’s Agreement” as being a place where anti-semitism was the norm. That was in the late 40’s so I don’t know if it’s true today.

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