Mon 30 Apr, 2012 10:29 am
What It Is Like to Go to War
by Karl Marlantes
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
From the author of the award-winning, best-selling novel Matterhorn, comes a brilliant nonfiction book about war
In 1968, at the age of twenty-three, Karl Marlantes was dropped into the highland jungle of Vietnam, an inexperienced lieutenant in command of a platoon of forty Marines who would live or die by his decisions. Marlantes survived, but like many of his brothers in arms, he has spent the last forty years dealing with his war experience. In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes takes a deeply personal and candid look at what it is like to experience the ordeal of combat, critically examining how we might better prepare our soldiers for war. Marlantes weaves riveting accounts of his combat experiences with thoughtful analysis, self-examination, and his readings—from Homer to The Mahabharata to Jung. He makes it clear just how poorly prepared our nineteen-year-old warriors are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of the journey.
Just as Matterhorn is already being acclaimed as acclaimed as a classic of war literature, What It Is Like to Go to War is set to become required reading for anyone—soldier or civilian—interested in this visceral and all too essential part of the human experience.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: With unflinching honesty, bestselling author Karl Marlantes captures What It Is Like to Go to War in his compassionate, powerful narrative on Vietnam. Marlantes does not shy away from recounting experiences that, outside the arena of war, are horrifying or embarrassing and addresses a soldier’s self-imposed “code of silence” as an attempt to fit back in to a society that “simply wants us to shut up about all of this.” While American pop culture celebrates the warrior spirit and winning the battle, “reconciling the moral conduct we are taught…with the brutal acts we do in war has been a problem for warriors of good conscience for centuries.” Marlantes tempers the brutal truths of fear, power games, and courage with a thoughtful prescription for our soldiers’ well-being; caring for our soldiers and their families differently will benefit society as a whole. In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes sets a new standard for understanding the experience of war. --Seira Wilson
“Karl Marlantes has written a staggeringly beautiful book on combat—what it feels like, what the consequences are and above all, what society must do to understand it. In my eyes he has become the preeminent literary voice on war of our generation. He is a natural storyteller and a deeply profound thinker who not only illuminates war for civilians, but also offers a kind of spiritual guidance to veterans themselves. As this generation of warriors comes home, they will be enormously helped by what Marlantes has written—I’m sure he will literally save lives.”—Sebastian Junger
“Marlantes brings candor and wrenching self-analysis to bear on his combat experiences in Vietnam, in a memoir-based meditation whose intentions are three-fold: to help soldiers-to-be understand what they’re in for; to help veterans come to terms with what they’ve seen and done; and to help policymakers know what they’re asking of the men they send into combat.”—The New Yorker
“What It Is Like to Go to War is a well-crafted and forcefully argued work that contains fresh and important insights into what it’s like to be in a war and what it does to the human psyche.”—The Washington Post
“Marlantes is the best American writer right now on war . . . With What It Is Like to Go to War a second Marlantes book resides on the top shelf of American literature.”—Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead
“What It Is Like to Go to War ought to be mandatory reading by potential infantry recruits and by residents of any nation that sends its kids—Marlantes’s word—into combat.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“In this thoughtful, literate work of self-exorcism, Marlantes tells tales of incredible bravery as well as brutality.”—People Magazine
“A precisely crafted and bracingly honest book."—The Atlantic
“Marlantes knows what he writes. . . Raw, unsettling honesty pervades the work.”—Time.com
“Marlantes has written a sparklingly provocative nonfiction book. . . He is an exceptional writer and his depictions here are vivid.”—BookPage
“A gripping, first-person plea to consider the impact on the human spirit of being a soldier.”—Huffington Post
“To say that this book is brilliant is an understatement—Marlantes is the absolute master of taking the psyche of the combat veteran and translating it into words that the civilian or non-veteran can understand. I have read many, many books on war and this is the first time that I've ever read exactly what the combat veteran thinks and feels—nothing I have ever read before has hit home in my heart like this book.”—Gunnery Sergeant Terence D’Alesandro, 3rd Batallion, 5th Marines, U.S. Marine Corps
“Wrenchingly honest. . . . Digging as deeply into his own life as he does into the larger sociological and moral issues, Marlantes presents a riveting, powerfully written account of how, after being taught to kill, he learned to deal with the aftermath.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A valiant effort to explain and make peace with war’s awesome consequences for human beings.”—Kirkus Reviews
“What It Is Like to Go to War offers profound insight on how we must prepare our youth who become our warriors for their hard and uncompromising journey through war’s hell and back home again.”—Vietnam Magazine
“With war such a part of contemporary American life, this book is deeply important, as timely and urgent as contemporary on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq.”—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A sound debunking of anything smacking of the glory of warfare—but written with compassion, honest and wit for men and now women who fight and for all of those who care about them.”—St. Louis Dispatch
“A slim spiritual guide. . . Marlantes’s book is a sincere plea for better soldiers and veterans.”—Seattle Weekly
“What It Is Like to Go to War is a courageous, noble and intelligent grapple with myth, history, and spirituality that beautifully elevates the cultural conversation on the role of the military in today’s world. It is an emotional, honest, and affecting primer for all Americans on war and the national psyche, and we ignore this book at our own peril.”—Ed Conklin, Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara
A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. His debut novel, Matterhorn, will be published in April 2010 by Grove/Atlantic.
By Theoden Humphrey
This is a remarkable book. I haven't read a lot of military literature, fiction or non-fiction; I have no personal connection to the military and never served. But I am a high school teacher, and every year I see some number of students -- sometimes more, sometimes less; quite a lot more since the economy sank in 2008 -- leave high school and go off to serve their country. I wanted to get some perspective on what they were in for, and perhaps a better idea of why they did it, why they signed up when the conventional wisdom is always for young men and women to go to college.
I got that perspective. And much more. I got a real glimpse into a soldier's heart and mind, told with clarity and great intelligence and heroic honesty; if for nothing else (and of course there is much), Marlantes should be honored for his willingness to delve so very deep into his own experiences, and to share them with the reading public in stark, perfect detail, hiding nothing. It made the book difficult to read at times, an experience that I can only think would be a thousand times more intense for fellow soldiers, but it made the book that much more necessary to read.
I also got led through an insightful plan for how a modern nation should treat its soldiers, how they should be trained, how the officers should deal with their commands, how the public should treat their warriors before, during, and after combat. This is where the author's intelligence and education shine: calling on mythology, psychology, sociology, history, and of course his own experiences, Marlantes lays out a set of suggestions for the military that made me think this book should be not only required reading for past and future soldiers (which it should be), but also required reading for elected officials who intend to send soldiers into harm's way -- whether they themselves are veterans or not. The basic concept is that we must give our military men and women time and tools to adjust, both before and after combat, both in the short and long term. Soldiers must be prepared for what they will have to face -- all they will have to face, the fear and the excitement, the heroism and the honor and the horror and the lies -- and they must be given the chance to work through what they have dealt with afterwards; Marlantes shows how asking soldiers to return from the field to civilian life in as little as a 24 or 48 hours, as happened to Vietnam veterans like Marlantes, is perhaps the largest root cause of trauma for all involved, especially since neither our government nor our society have policies in place to help soldiers make that difficult transition. It's a shame, and it should be changed.
I wish the book was a little easier to read; it gets a bit academic and complex at times, when the author is working through some difficult concepts -- such as the enemy within, or the idea of heroism, both in abstract and practical terms -- and some of the students I'd like to give this book to would have trouble following it. But I'm going to give it to them anyway, and they're going to be fascinated by it, as I was, even if there are some small bits they struggle with (Hey, I'm an English teacher; I'll help them through the hard parts.). Almost everything in the book is so real and so well-told that anyone can follow and appreciate it.
And this book should be read.
Blooded Warriors hate war--having known and lived among blooded warriors I have found them to the last to violence --Sun Tzi wrote 200o years ago the war is a failure of politics. 150 years ago Sherman, the father of total war, knew this and marched to Georgia to remind the south that 'War is Hell.'
The problem has become that our politicians of today are largely a class of 'chicken-hawks.' They personally avoided war when it fell at their feet, and as a result are perfectly willing to lay it at the feet of others.
Thank you for posting that, BBB. Never heard of the book before your post; can't wait to get my hands on it now.
I was impressed by Karl Marlantes talking about his important book.