Savage Headhunters by J. Manfred Weichsel may be his most horrible book yet. Given that previous books have involved cross-breeding humans and chimpanzees, angels lusting after human women, and the sexual perversity of Hollywood, this is quite an accomplishment.
The target of Weichsel's satire in Savage Headhunters is war. In particular, the war referred to by many Americans as the "last good war". The Second World War looms large in the myths that Americans use to justify their place in the world order, and thus is a ripe target for Weichsel's brand of Menippean satire.
The genesis of this book is the photographs I have copied from a Facebook post by Weichsel showing American soldiers in the Pacific collecting the skulls of their fallen Japanese enemies. Some of these photographs appeared in Life magazine during the war, which can be easily confirmed by a reverse image search.
Weichsel has worked these photos into his narrative, which might seem too outré to believe if the photos weren't readily available. This impression is exacerbated by the deliberate inclusion of things that are too outré to believe, such as Emperor Hirohito visiting a brothel of comfort women on Guadalcanal during the landing of US Marines, or Harry Truman pushing a wheelchair-bound FDR down a flight of steps to become president.
However, even these things are there for a reason: to shock us out of our complacency. War is horrible, and the Second World War was not an exception to this. An image I've used repeatedly when discussing WW2 on this blog is an image of Japanese civilians burned to death in a bombing raid. All sides in the Second World War deliberately targeted civilians as a matter of policy. They only varied in the degree of callousness applied.
At best, the only thing the Americans are criticized for is the use of atomic bombs on Japan, as if the same thing hadn't already been done piecemeal thousands of times before. Readers who are not Americans may not need this reminder, but then again, given the continuing dominance of American popular culture in the rest of the world, maybe they do.
This book is not for the faint of heart. It is vile and revolting, but not nearly as vile and revolting as the world that we live in. But if Weichsel can remind you that is true, then his purpose will have been served.
I received a review copy from the author.