Operation Chaos is an exercise in narrative disorder, its story jumping around and taking as many twists and conspiratorial turns as the equally chaotic characters populating its pages.
Operation Chaos is an exercise in narrative disorder, its story jumping around and taking as many twists and conspiratorial turns as the equally chaotic characters populating its pages. Concerning American G.I.s who deserted during the Vietnam War, it’s a twisted tale that reads almost farcical in the levels of paranoia, personal political posturing and general Sixties-ness of it all. From tales of mass brainwashing to Manchurian candidate-esque soldiers to mass global conspiracies headed by, of all people, the Queen of England, Operation Chaos is as humorously fascinating as it is deeply disturbing. The lengths to which some individuals will go to propagate their off-the-radar theories and personal ideologies is, especially in this current social and political climate, a reminder of just how fucked up some people’s warped senses of reality have become.
Following the myriad frayed threads of this seemingly impossible story of desertion, spy games and general paranoia of the fringe variety, author Matthew Sweet finds himself ultimately enmeshed in his own story. Given the questionable status of his subjects’ varying levels of sanity, it’s little surprise they would go from complete and total skepticism to full-fledged trust to conspiracy-theory-mad distrust and back again, often within the course of a single conversation. Identifying the dozens of players in a helpful opening preface, Sweet sets the tone for much of what is to follow in his amusingly curt descriptions of the story’s primary players. One is described as “One of many drug users among the deserters,” while another, “Ballet coach. Sharp dresser,” and still another, “Dope-smoking former artilleryman from New York State. Guitar player. Porn performer.”
This somewhat subversive tone helps underscore much of the ideological absurdity that follows, ranging from the aforementioned theory that the Queen of England controls the entire world to the more disturbing—although ultimately proven to be false—accusations of platoon leaders disemboweling Vietnamese children and tossing their hollowed-out corpses back to the now childless parents. To be sure, the Vietnam War was full of unspeakable atrocities committed by both sides, but fortunately the majority of Sweet’s narrative eschews the jungles of Southeast Asia in favor of the Scandinavian safe harbor that was late-‘60s Sweden and a seemingly irreparably divided America.
The first country to openly welcome American deserters, Sweden played a prominent role in the lives of those recounted in Operation Chaos. From the arrival of the first four prominent deserters who quickly become something of a Fab Four of political and ideological dissidents and cause célèbre of the intellectual elite in Sweden, to the formation of the American Deserters Committee, Sweden played host to the primary movers and shakers within the world of American desertion. Already seen as a country of questionable morals following multiple pieces documenting Sweden’s loose ideas surrounding sexuality and films such as I Am Curious (Yellow), it proved an ideal home base for the former American soldiers espousing a very particular brand of subsequently anti-American rhetoric.
It’s ultimately a fascinating story seemingly long forgotten by all but those who found themselves caught in the middle, the courses of their lives forever altered. Operation Chaos offers a new look at the era and the war that forgoes the usual combat and political narratives in favor of something truly strange and bizarre, rife with countless rabbit holes, plot twists and questionable characters and motives. Fortunately, Sweet was willing to throw himself into the middle of the chaos and come back with a confusing, confounding and utterly compelling narrative that spans decades, continents and levels of mental stability.