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War. What is it good for?

War. What is it good for?

I am a staunch pacifist. My views on war were honed early on by the above book, Einstein on Peace. While not a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination Einstein was a passionate and active speaker on behalf of pacifism his whole life. I stumbled upon that collection of his writings on peace by accident in my high school library and it gave voice to my already humanistic leanings. But, like Einstein, I believe in study. To truly understand  how and why war is so awful I look to books to flesh out my ideas on the experience of war. A few of those that I believe give interesting accounts of what soldiers, as well as civilians, go through in times of turmoil, and the existence that follows, are below.

WWI

WWI

A masterpiece is correct. I've read this novel over and over but it never fails to have a strong effect on me. This book, written by a German ex-soldier, relays the experience of being a young recruit thrust into a conflict you know very little about. Remarque gets you into the minds of these young men during both intense battle and anxious camp life plus insight into what a furlough home feels like. I'll keep mum on this book so I won't ruin the first time for any new readers but be prepared to be gutted.

WWI

WWI

This book may masquerade as a supernatural thriller but do not be fooled. It is part ghost story, but also part comment on the after effects of war on both soldier and family. This is a sharp critique on the dire condition in which we leave our citizens, traumatized by war, as a culture. We expect soldiers to adapt back into civilian life and I can't imagine what that is like. War is a disaster to the lands that must harbor it but it is equally a disaster to the minds of those involved with it. The focus is on England but all countries are guilty of abandoning their soldiers, along with their families, to a life without support (moral or financial) at one time. It was especially ignored post-WWI but even now, in the US, it's still an issue. 

WWII

WWII

A book that will have you smiling one moment and brokenhearted in the next. There is nobody quite like Vonnegut when it comes to those kinds of dualities. I feel the same way after I finish this book to when I finish All Quiet on the Western Front-- which is to say, wretched and defeated but not without hope. Vonnegut is continuing the story of the youth involved with war that Remarque began. He further investigates who sends men into war and why from an American perspective. It seems to be the same kinds of men for the same kinds of reasons across all cultures. 

WWII

WWII

The tragedy of war is hidden among these stories but look hard enough and you'll find men struggling with PTSD and children struggling with losing their families. Salinger was a soldier who saw action much like Vonnegut but I don't think he ever got to a point where he could write about it as openly as Kurt did. So, you must read deeply to connect the context clues for the references to war. But I believe to impress upon the reader that a soldier is still a human being with complex inner lives is important. That is what Salinger does by not overtly talking about battle but rather focusing on the other experiences that soldiers have while on duty. I began to read Salinger differently once I had a better understanding of what WWII was like for GIs. I recognized the family members of mine that had served in this war within the characters that Salinger wrote in these stories, and really all of his writings.

Korean War

Korean War

An insightful meditation on how war has an impact on the entire population of a country. This book is told through the eyes of three different South Koreans during this terrible invasion by the North Korean army. My only exposure to this particular time period was pop culture so to say I was not well-versed is an understatement. I'm not sure I had any idea what this war was about before I read this book but I can say now that I have seen a sliver of the chaos that it created for multiple generations of Koreans, both in the North and the South. Lee is an incredibly engaging storyteller; he will have you curious about every character instantly. There are moments in this book that will remain with me for a lifetime, for various reasons, some not so pleasant. It was a difficult but ultimately powerful reading experience that I suggest you make time for at least once in your life.

Vietnam War

Vietnam War

This book is an extreme view of what war does to the psyche of the soldiers. Especially in the instance of easy access to drugs. Again, I found this book by accident when I was in high school. It was on a discount table in my local Barnes & Noble; the cover attracted me. It's a bizarre, drug-fueled account of serving in Vietnam and returning home to be given nothing. It's a harsh, deserved attack on the veterans affairs offices across the US. How do we continue to ask people to fight for their country and then give them no care when they return? Sadly, I don't see improvement since this book was published over 15 years ago. Veterans returning from conflicts now are still not being taken care of like they were promised. 

It can sometimes be difficult but it's important to read about the things that scare you, the things that anger you. What books do you think one should read to be well-versed on the complexities of war? Do any novels capture the feeling or the strains of fighting a war that you think are particularly interesting?

Strange Structures are the Best Structures

Strange Structures are the Best Structures