An intelligent and athletic young man from an upper-middle-class family and an affluent suburban town in New Jersey abruptly leaves home. At the age of nineteen, he winds up alone in Las Vegas for the winter. In order to bootstrap himself off the floor of the economy, he enlists in the U.S. Army infantry for the enlistment bonus, the promise of college funds, and an adventure. Where does an extremist come from?
Over the next four years, the young man serves in uniform on three continents. Initially, the new soldier struggles for a year to measure up. Eventually, he becomes a good endurance athlete, a credible young man, and an effective soldier. The Spartan environment and the draconian discipline of the infantry unit impacts the youth. Alarmed by the debauchery around him, he responds by throwing himself into a rigorous self-improvement program. As a coping mechanism, he develops an intellectual philosophy uniquely suited to the infantry.
After the familiarity of the army, getting out and pursuing his goal of attending college is a gut check he passes. The solo adventurer travels the Pacific Rim and Western Europe. Then he goes off to a state university in a small rural town.
College is not the utopia the high-minded idealist expected. The new veteran is met with considerable hostility in the classroom and animosity on the campus. After four years in the infantry, the man has become very martial, machine-like, and ideological. Issues of identity are manifold. Unforseen readjustment problems manifest. In the isolation of the infantry battalion he has lost contact with the civilian world, and he cannot fathom the values, thinking, and the lifestyles of the students around him. The new civilian possesses few social skills and less knoledge of domestic life. He is a sort of idiot savant living in a world of book, ideas, and concept.
Eventually, his mind bends, and his health breaks. Over the next years, the man endures a spiritual struggle to come to terms with his past, accept his present, and plan for an unexpected sort of future. This story explains the following questions:
What forms the mid of an extremist?
How is an extremist defused?