From 1980 until 1992, a brutal civil war was fought in the small Central American country of El Salvador. Tarnished Brass looks at America’s involvement in the conflict; the United States provided funding, arms, and training support to the Salvadoran military. It also examines current issues affecting both countries—twenty-six years later, gang violence has replaced and even surpassed the brutality of both the Salvadoran military and the guerrilla factions during their prolonged conflict.
The war and its aftermath are told through the perspectives of a US Army officer, a guerrilla leader, and a refugee turned gang member. By giving voice to all three, it looks not only at history but at the current crises. Today, El Salvador has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world, and the influence of MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) has spread beyond its borders to many cities in the United States.
Tarnished Brass is a timely examination of a conflict fought over thirty years ago that continues to resonate today. Though a work of fiction, the author draws upon his experiences in-country to write a story that will definitely resonate with readers looking to understand past US foreign policy as well as current events.
Max L. Knight is a graduate of Texas A&M University (Class of ’73) and a career Army officer and counterintelligence specialist. He has published two previous books: Silver Taps, a memoir of his relationship with his father and a tribute to his alma mater, and Palo Duro, a novel of westward expansion and the Plains Indian Wars.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Tarnished Brass by Max L. Knight is a quick novella about the war in El Salvador during the 1980s and early 1990s; however, the bloodshed and brutality continue, even with the Chapultepec Peace Accords in 1992. Through his extensive research and personal experience in this country during such a volatile time, Max Knight has crafted a unique story that reads more like an informative documentary than a work of fiction. Real-life events and people form a solid foundation for Tarnished Brass, causing readers to either reflect back on their own memories of this time in history or search the internet for more information, including about the scandalous Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan Administration. In Tarnished Brass, fictional retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Moynihan remembers his time as a US Army Major during the civil war in El Salvador. Everything is different now, yet nothing has changed. Gang violence is still prevalent, and the poor and displaced are still struggling to find a voice and the means and will to survive. While Tarnished Brass has several fictional characters, the primary focus is more about the cause and effects of the twelve-year war in El Salvador and its continuing aftermath. Even though these events are delegated to the past, this story is timely in the current political and societal landscape in both Central America and the United States. In only about 100 pages, Max Knight does one amazing job outlining the advent of MS-13 and other gangs during the 1980s and the frightening rise in violence, murder, and civil unrest in El Salvador. For a work of fiction, Tarnished Brass is light on dialogue, but the storytelling is compact, illuminating, and provocative. Thank you, Max Knight, for shedding some valuable light on a past event that should not be forgotten, ignored, or glossed over. This short work of fiction offers valuable insights on the human condition, the heavy price of greed and power, the disparity and inequality in a beautiful country ravaged by constant war, and the gangs and violence that continue to transition and flourish to this day.
This novella packs a punch when it comes to covering the war in El Salvador. While the story is fiction it is based on real events in the 80s into the early 90s. From the guerrilla warfare, the corrupt governments, and even some human interest when it comes to refugees, this book shines a light on an event most of us probably weren't even aware of - assuming you are old enough to remember that time period! I was enthralled with this story as events unfolded and gave us a picture of what this country looked like in the 80s. I felt like the author did an outstanding job of sharing facts of this war along with military terminology so that I felt like I might have been there as an observer. But at the same time, some of these stories were heartbreaking when it came to those escaping to the USA for a chance at a better life, yet not finding one. Or the young boy that turned to gangs to fill a void that he felt needed to be filled. Or the priests in the Catholic Church that lose their life because they dare to stand up to the factions. Patrick, who is in the US military, gets too close to the situation and luckily escapes before his luck runs out. War is brutal and I cannot imagine living in a country that is torn apart by mercenaries or guerrillas on a daily basis. When reading a book like this it makes me appreciate what I have and where I live even more. Thank you to Max for sharing his knowledge and experiences with us in this book. We give this 5 paws up.
Tarnished Brass is a novella that comes in at around a hundred pages of story, but author Max L. Knight fits in an incredible amount of information. The book not only informs readers about events of the past, it also reminds readers of the far-reaching effects of war, even decades later, even across oceans. While I was happily navigating high school and college through the eighties, like most kids in that stage of life, I was oblivious to what was happening in El Salvador (and most of the world outside my bubble). I lived a safe and privileged life while El Salvador lost the decade as a war-torn country plagued by fighting factions – one of them aided by funding, training, and weapons courtesy of the United States. Many of the chapters in Tarnished Brass are filled primarily with historical information that gives readers facts about the political and military climate and the war’s ever-worsening impact on the Salvadorans. The only pause in El Salvador’s war was when an earthquake interrupted it and displaced hundreds of thousands of people who were already suffering. Knight does a good job of keeping the plight of the poor as a constant thread running through all the chapters. The poor never win in war -- or in times of peace. The strength of the book is in Knight’s world-building: the poverty, the destruction, the darkness of El Salvador. Tarnished Brass is well-written and cleanly edited, and its contents are engaging. The structure of the Tarnished Brass is unique, vacillating between storytelling and fact-telling. There are chapters that give readers insight into the lives of the three main characters, but none of the characters are ever fully fleshed-out or given much depth. (The exception was a chapter dedicated to the psychological profile of a side-character, Diana, which was profoundly sad and fascinating.) There are other chapters in which the purpose is solely to inform, and only a few sentences, either at the beginning or the end, tie in one of the story’s characters to the scene. The story of Tarnished Brass is the war; the characters within are somewhat peripheral but do serve to soften the edges of what could easily convert to a nonfiction piece. I was most appreciative that the author not only included a glossary of military terminology, but he tells readers first thing that it’s at the back of the book. (I never think to look first.) While it is most helpful for those of us not in-the-know, the book is still full of military acronyms and jargon that are defined once and used often – and I found myself flipping back to figure out what was what and who was who. Those who are students of history and politics and military ops won’t have any issues and will probably enjoy that the book has a more factual, less fictional slant. As a more informed, but still ridiculously under-informed adult, reading Tarnished Brass helped me tie current headlines to the past. It was particularly interesting to learn the origins of MS-13, the now international criminal gang that started as a group to protect Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles. Following character Antonio’s grim but realistic story was eye-opening and the most powerful of the stories in Tarnished Brass. It was in Antonio’s story that I saw glimpses of Knight’s storytelling and characterization prowess that he showed in Palo Duro. Tarnished Brass educates readers of not only an important piece of world history, but also the impact of the United States’s foreign policy, then