War Is...: Soldiers, Survivors and Storytellers Talk about War by Marc Aronson
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.
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 (now contributing to the NEW YORK TIMES "Home Fires" blog), David Bellavia, Joel Turnipseed, Fumiko Miura, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Margo Lanagan.
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.
What I Believe About War War Is ...?$dan introduction by Patty Campbell 3 People Like War$dan introduction by Marc Aronson 7 Deciding About War Dead Marine Becomes Lesson for Students$dan Associated Press article 13 Letter to a Young Enlistee Christian Bauman 15 The Recruitment Minefield Bill Bigelow 20 The Moment of Combat: an excerpt from What Every Person Should Know About War Chris Hedges$dan introduction by the author 27 Thou Shalt Not Kill$dan interview with army chaplain Lyn Brown 39 The War Prayer Mark Twain 46 Masters of War$da songby Bob Dylan 50 Experiencing War Letters from "Over There," 1919: excerpts from the World War I letters of Fred Duane Cowan 55 In the Front Lines$dcolumns by Ernie Pyle 63 The God-Damned Infantry A Pure Miracle The Horrible Waste of War A Long Thin Line of Personal Anguish Memories of Vietnam C. W. Bowman, Jr. 76 The Battle of the Horseshoe Vietnam Tunnels Letters from Vietnam Mickey Andrews 92 Women at War: What It Is Like to Be a Female Soldier in Iraq Helen Benedict 101 Wordsmith at War$da miliblog by Lee Kelley 118 In Order to SeeBeauty in Life, I Had to See Hell$dan interview with Staff Sergeant David Bellavia 136 Tough Joel Turnipseed 141 A Survivor's Tale$da Nagasaki memoir by Fumiko Miura 148 The Aftermath of War Killing Flies$da one-act play by Rita Williams-Garcia 155 Heads$da story by Margo Lanagan 172 Further Reading 196 Copyright Acknowledgments 200
War Is...: Soldiers, Survivors and Storytellers Talk about War 5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
I realized that I actually read this book on Peace Day. It left me anything but peaceful. I'm angry about a number of things shared in the stories included in this book.
First of all, I'll mention the introductions written by the book's editors, Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell. They are worth reading even if you don't read the rest of the book. Their ideas about war differ, but those ideas led both to create this collection of war stories - and a powerful collection it is.
The book includes accounts from soldiers, reporters, and civilian survivors. There are stories from past wars and current wars, and all the horrific wars in between. Some stories tell gruesome tales; others find some shred of hope. Whatever the storyteller chooses to share, it reveals the truth and will touch the emotions of all who read it.
My anger flared most when I read of the current war, and how we don't seem to have learned anything from the past. As an educator, I was shocked to learn that the military and the signing of young volunteers is actually a part of the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Bill. The law states that the military must have the same access to secondary students as post-secondary educational institutions or prospective employers. "The law also requires high schools to provide the military access to students' names, addresses, and telephone numbers -- unless a parent or student contacts the school to deny permission to release this information."
Included in this article is the suggestion that all high school seniors should be given access and help in reading the military recruitment contract. Basically, the military makes hollow, meaningless promises within that contract. Our young people sign up thinking they are agreeing to 4-to-8 years of service with a variety of monetary benefits, and the whole thing has been proven to be completely meaningless.
Other things that raised my hackles were the accounts of how unappreciated our veterans feel, the harassment suffered by women in the military, and the horrific expectations we place on innocent young people only just out of high school. The emotional and physical scars are something no human should have to endure.
Aronson and Campbell have compiled this collection to speak to a YA audience, but this is a book everyone should read. It needs to be in every public library, high school library, college library, and perhaps in every waiting room and lobby around the country. Just picking up this book and randomly choosing and reading a selection will have an impact on any American.
More than 1 year ago
This book often left me with chills. The nature of the events, letters, and documents within prevented me from being able to read very much at one time. In today’s media, war is romanticized in movies and video games; this book provides a starkly realistic view of what real world war is like from the soldiers, reporters, and others who lived it.
While reading this book, I felt a number of different emotions. Reading of the success of ground attacks and the camaraderie of the army left me with a real sense of patriotism. However, I was left filled with anger after reading of the extent military recruiters often go to when trying to sign up young men out of high school; this particularly hit home with me as a senior this year. It told of how many recruits often misunderstand the contract that they sign when enlisting, and how their service can be almost indefinitely extended by the military.
It was also told many very compelling stories. I read a letter from a soldier stationed in Europe during WWII, to his wife on the East coast. He told of the things he had seen, the way he was living, and how much he hoped he would soon be coming home. This letter, among others, offered a very different perspective on the war than what I have seen in movies. It wasn’t all action and fighting, in fact it seemed that it was mostly walking from place to place. I found myself genuinely caring what had become of this man, who had written this letter nearly 80 years before I was born.
I would recommend this book to any other American, because of the perspective it provides that I have not found anywhere else. It’s important for everyone to understand what our troops go through, and support them for all they do for our country.
More than 1 year ago
If I said for you to say the first thought that pops in your head when I say war, you would only think of half the events that are talked about in this book. "WAR IS" edited by Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell is a short two hundred paged thriller about soldiers, survivors, and story tellers talking about war. This book kept urging me to read more and more the deeper I got into the book. From the details used, you always know exactly what the speaker is feeling no questions necessary. While reading the stories and war tales of survivors I felt as if I was reading nothing but emotions. You feel the pain inside the person when they describe how every bit of a beach is filled with nothing but destruction. It is as if you're right there next to him staring at the men that are going to be sleeping on that beach forever. And you feel the excitement as a soldier rights to his parents about how the party they were at had people ranging from dancing in the street to just being drunk and throw thing out of joy. "WAR IS" makes you ponder about what soldiers feel and how they react to certain situations, read this book and you will be surprised at the answers that come forth.
More than 1 year ago
This book is incrediable. It has articles from people who have been in the war and how they feel about it. It made me tear up sometimes, but it is a good read.
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