War Is...: Soldiers, Survivors and Storytellers Talk about War

War Is...: Soldiers, Survivors and Storytellers Talk about War

by Patty Campbell

In a provocative anthology, two editors with opposing viewpoints present an unflinching collection of works refl ecting on the nature of war.

Marc Aronson thinks war is inevitable. Patty Campbell thinks war is cruel, deceptive, and wrong. But both agree on one thing: that teens need to hear the truthful voices of those who have experienced war

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In a provocative anthology, two editors with opposing viewpoints present an unflinching collection of works refl ecting on the nature of war.

Marc Aronson thinks war is inevitable. Patty Campbell thinks war is cruel, deceptive, and wrong. But both agree on one thing: that teens need to hear the truthful voices of those who have experienced war firsthand. The result is this dynamic selection of essays, memoirs, letters, and fiction from nearly than twenty contributors, both contemporary and historical — ranging from Christian Bauman's wrenching "Letter to a Young Enlistee" to Chris Hedges's unfl inching look at combat to Fumiko Miura's Nagasaki memoir, "A Survivor's Tale." Whether the speaker is Mark Twain, World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, or a soldier writing a miliblog, these divergent pieces look war straight in the face — and provide an invaluable resource for teenagers today.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Monserrat Urena
This book compiles twenty pieces of fiction and nonfiction. Each piece addresses particular ideas and realties of wartime and military experiences. This book is admirable in its attempt to open up the forum of discussion to any and all thoughts and experiences in and outside of the war zone. It does not seek to push any one particular agenda. There is an Associated Press article telling of how the story of a young marine's death affects his peers. There is an interview with an army chaplain who has been in the service for seventeen years. There is an article by Helen Benedict, with interviews with female soldiers. There is a piece from Fumiko Miura. She is a survivor of the nuclear bomb that fell on Nagasaki in 1945. There is also a song from Bob Dylan. The openness and range of pieces offered in this collection allows for discussions to be mounted in a classroom or home setting. This book will make an impact and holds lasting thoughts for the reader's mind. It is a must read in or outside the classroom. Reviewer: Monserrat Urena
VOYA - Lucy Schall
Twenty selections divided into four sections speak eloquently to war's destruction and inevitability. Campbell's choices reflect her "passionate revulsion" for war. Aronson demonstrates his commitment to listening to those who served in battle, covered war, or grew up in military families. The first section, Deciding About War, includes Bob Dylan's song "Masters of War" and Mark Twain's less familiar pacifist story, The War Prayer. Other pieces address the influence of war heroes, dishonest recruitment, the reality of first combat, and religious conviction. Next, Experiencing War spans World War I to Iraq and considers positive perceptions, transforming encounters, ridiculous emotional expectations, horrifying results, and the special challenges of the modern female soldier. The Aftermath of War includes two fictional pieces. Rita Williams-Garcia's one-act play presents a female soldier suffering post-traumatic stress. Margo Lanagan's haunting short story, Heads, describes a post-apocalyptic world. Further Reading suggests equally thought-provoking and high-quality selections in anthologies, fiction, and nonfiction that address ancient to modern conflicts. Teens from divergent social classes and varied academic backgrounds will be drawn to this gripping read that embraces wide experiences and often conflicting perceptions. For librarians, it is a centerpiece for war displays or presentations. For social studies and English teachers, it is the unifying element of any war unit. In cross-generational book groups, it provides an endless source of discussion. Reviewer: Lucy Schall
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Aronson and Campbell have collected an outstanding array of essays, interviews, blog posts, articles, song lyrics, short stories, and letters from people directly involved in war. The book is broken into sections called "Deciding About War," "Experiencing War," and "The Aftermath of War." A former soldier writes an open letter to young enlistees, hoping they will scrutinize their reasons for joining up. The U.S. military recruitment contract is minutely examined by a high school social studies teacher. World War II reporter Ernie Pyle's articles on D-Day are reprinted. An essay about women soldiers who served in Iraq is excerpted from Helen Benedict's forthcoming book, The Lonely Soldier . And a memoir by poet Fumiko Miura, survivor of the atomic bomb at Nagasaki, is included. The volume closes with a short play and a short story about the aftereffects of war. The editors make it plain that they are antiwar, but they have made an effort to convey a variety of experiences. Overall, however, war is shown to be brutal, life-changing (not for the better), and ongoing. Aronson notes that humans have gone to war for all of recorded history and show no signs of stopping now. Many books about war for young people make it seem glamorous, exciting, and noble. This powerful collection shows its inglorious, perhaps more realistic side.-Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT

Kirkus Reviews
Two editors give this anthology of writing about war a split personality. In her introduction, Campbell describes her "passionate revulsion toward war"; in his, Aronson argues for the inevitability of war and the need to understand it. The pieces cover both angles but vary in power. Highlights include the fine reportage of Ernie Pyle and Chris Hedges, the anguished Nagasaki memoir of Fumiko Miura and strong short stories by Mark Twain, Rita Williams-Garcia and Margo Lanagan. Less powerful and literary in comparison are a "miliblog," interviews and letters. Since many of the pieces are about the war in Iraq, oddly absent is a piece analyzing how the United States got involved in the first place. A Further Reading section, offering a long list of classic and young-adult literature about war categorized by particular wars, ancient to modern, is especially valuable. An essential resource for readers, librarians and teachers, with important writings they might not come across otherwise. (Anthology. 14 & up)

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Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

WAR IS . . .?
an introduction by Patty Campbell

WAR IS . . .
CRAZY. Looked at without its veil of noble causes and glory, war is insanity, as Mark Twain so deftly observes in "The War Prayer," a story that was deemed so controversial that it was not published until thirteen years after his death. For the people of one country to try to kill as many of the people of another country as possible makes no sense at all, in terms of our common humanity. Yet . . .

WAR IS . . .
HISTORY. The story of civilization has always been told in terms of a progression of wars. We have always waged war against one another, and the leaders of those wars are the people who are praised or deplored in our memories. The artists, the composers, the architects, the actors and dancers, the women and children, daily life and religion — these matters we leave to the archaeologists and the anthropologists to record. But it is the kings and warriors who are remembered in the history books.

WAR IS . . .
DECEPTION. Even in conventional warfare, the first thing that must happen before a nation can be led to war is to demonize the enemy, to portray those others as less than human. Stories begin to be shared about their dreadful deeds, and derogatory terms replace their true names. Soldiers cannot be allowed to remember that the people they will be sent to kill feel pain and fear and love their spouses and children, just as they do. And even the U.S. government’s enlistment contract is shockingly deceptive, as Bill Bigelow warns in "The Recruitment Minefield," his revelation of recruitment activities with high-school students. Nor can civilians be allowed to know the real causes of war. Slogans like "to preserve freedom," and "to protect the world for democracy" sometimes mask the actual economic and political incentives.

WAR IS . . .
UNBEARABLE. The ugly details of how people die in war and the brutality of battle is often more than the psyche can endure. People see things in war that the human soul is not equipped to bear. In every war, many soldiers return wounded not in their bodies but in their minds. After the Civil War, this condition was referred to as "soldier’s heart." Now we describe it as "post-traumatic stress disorder." Battle veterans almost invariably carry emotional and psychological scars.

WAR IS . . .
DELUSION. The bait that entices young people to become soldiers is glory, as we see in the reflections of students at the grave of a young marine in the article that opens this collection. The reward of medals and honor and a sense of patriotic duty and loyalty to comrades cover the ugly reality that a soldier’s primary job is to kill and destroy. While it is old men who plan the wars, the dying and killing has always been done by the young, as Bob Dylan rages against in his song "Masters of War."

WAR IS . . .
MALE. Although there have been exceptions — Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, the Celtic warrior queen Boadicea — the leaders of war have nearly always been men. For most of history, it has been women who weep for their dead sons and husbands, women who are the victims of rape and enslavement, while men fight and die on the battlefield. Editor Marc Aronson has brought the unhappy experiences of women in the military to this anthology with Helen Benedict’s "Women at War," an essay on what it’s like to be a female soldier in Iraq, while my own father’s World War I letters from Paris, "Letters from ‘Over There,’ " show the typical horsing around of young men having fun, even in the presence of war.

WAR IS . . .
LINKED WITH RELIGION. The sad fact is that throughout history religion has provided motivation and support for many wars. But on the other hand, some churches, like the Society of American Friends, or Quakers, find a rationale in their faith for acting out peace. And some young men, as Chaplain Lyn Brown describes in his interview with me, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," move to become conscientious objectors when confronted with the realities of battle.

WAR IS . . .
WORSE FOR CIVILIANS. The devastation of war is always harder on civilians than it is on soldiers, and civilian casualties vastly outnumber those suffered by the military. For instance, while the U.S. lost 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam, it is estimated that more than three million Vietnamese civilians died from war-related causes. And at this present writing, U.S. deaths in Iraq number exceed 4,000, while Iraqi civilian deaths exceed 78,000 (although a recent study by Johns Hopkins University published in the respected medical journal The Lancet estimates the number at 655,000). War also often destroys a society’s most basic means of survival, its ability to provide food and shelter, water and electricity, as well as the delicate psychological and moral structures that hold a civilization together with the authority of law and the expectation of safety and mutual dependency, as we see in Margo Lanagan’s stunning story "Heads" and Fumiko Miura’s memoir of the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

WAR IS . . .
IMPOSSIBLE TO WIN Modern warfare takes the form of terrorism, and this is a type of war we don’t know how to fight. The insurgent army wears no uniforms and are indistinguishable from the general population — until they shoot. There are no battlefields, no occupied territory, no visible enemy, and no possibility of victory. Yet we continue to fight this new kind of war as if all these features from the past were still in place, a failed strategy that makes it inevitable that there will be no endpoint for hostilities.


WAR IS... by Marc Aronson and Patti Campbell. Copyright © 2008 Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Somerville, MA.

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Meet the Author

Contributors: Christian Bauman, Bill Bigelow, Chris Hedges, Chaplain Lyn Brown, Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Fred Duane Cowan, Ernie Pyle, C. W. Bowman, Jr., Mickey Andrews, Helen Benedict, Lee Kelley, David Bellavia, Joel Turnipseed, Fumiko Miura, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Margo Lanagan.

Marc Aronson is the author of many award-winning nonfiction books for young people, including RACE: A HISTORY BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Patty Campbell is a young adult librarian, critic, editor, author, and educator. She is the author of many books of and about teen literature, including ROBERT CORIMER: DARING TO DISTURB THE UNIVERSE. She lives in Fallbrook, California.

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