What It Is Like to Go to War

What It Is Like to Go to War

by Karl Marlantes


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#3 on Amazon.com’s 10 Best Books of 2011
The New Yorker Favorite Books from 2011
Hudson Booksellers Best Books of 2011
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A Shelf Awareness Reviewer’s Top Pick of 2011

One of the most important and highly-praised books of 2011, Karl Marlantes’s What It Is Like to Go to War is set to become just as much of a classic as his epic novel Matterhorn.

In What It Is Like to Go to War , Marlantes takes a deeply personal and candid look at the experience and ordeal of combat, critically examining how we might better prepare our young soldiers for war. War is as old as humankind, but in the past, warriors were prepared for battle by ritual, religion, and literature—which also helped bring them home. In a compelling narrative, 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—mainly men but increasingly women—are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of their journey.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802145925
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 09/11/2012
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 106,666
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

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. He is the author of Matterhorn , which won numerous prizes, including the William E. Colby Award given by the Pritzker Military Library, the Center for Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the 2011 Indies' Choice Award for Adult Debut Book of the Year, and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation's James Webb Award for Distinguished Fiction. He lives in rural Washington.

Read an Excerpt



Warriors deal with death. They take life away from others. This is normally the role of God. Asking young warriors to take on that role without adequate psychological and spiritual preparation can lead to damaging consequences. It can also lead to killing and the infliction of pain in excess of what is required to accomplish the mission. If warriors are returned home having had better psychological and spiritual preparation, they will integrate into civilian life faster and they and their families will suffer less. But the more blurred the boundary is between the world where they are acting in the role of God and the world where they are acting in an ordinary societal role, the more problematical the reintegration becomes.

The sun had struggled all day behind monsoon clouds before finally being extinguished by the turning earth and the dark wet ridges of the Annamese Cordillera. It was February 1969, in Quang Tri province, Vietnam. Zoomer lay above my hole in monsoon-night blackness on the slick clay of Mutter's Ridge, the dark jungle-covered ridge paralleling Vietnam's demilitarized zone where the Third Marine Division and the North Vietnamese Army had struggled together for two years. A bullet had gone through Zoomer's chest, tearing a large hole out of his back. We kept him on his side, curled against the cold drizzle, so the one good lung wouldn't fill up with blood. We were surrounded and there was no hope of evacuation, even in daylight. The choppers couldn't find us in the fog-shrouded mountains.

I heard Zoomer all night, panting as if he were running the 400, one lung doing for two and a body in shock. In and out. In, the fog, the sighing sound of monsoon wind through the jungle. Out, the hot painful breath. Zoomer had to go all night. If he slept, he'd die. So no morphine. Pain was the key to life.

To help him stay awake, and to calm my own fear, I'd crawl over to him to whisper stories.

I grew up in Oregon, where as a teenager I worked with my grandfather Axel on his fishing boat at the mouth of the Columbia River. One night in June 1959 a dull thunk startled us into alertness as a heavy body slammed into the four-football-fields-long gill net. The body's weight made the cork line, which floated on the surface and from which the net hung like a curtain, sink beneath the cold salt water. We approached the large gap in the cork line quietly, me steering the thirty-foot fishing boat in the dark, Grandpa Axel in the bow with the rifle, worried that it was a sea lion. A sea lion could destroy the net, which next to the boat itself was Grandpa's most valuable investment. My spine prickled when I saw the plated body of a seven-foot green sturgeon slowly undulating, eerie and ghostlike, beneath the dark water.

It took everything both of us had to haul the sturgeon into the boat, several hundred pounds at nine cents a pound and not much tearing of the net. Grandpa Axel was pleased. He and I heaved the sturgeon into the built-in fish box that temporarily held the salmon until we could put back in to Scandinavian Station. That was where we unloaded and weighed our catch, bobbing on the swell beneath the crane that hoisted the fish boxes up to the waiting ice, Grandpa impatient to get back to fishing, me happy to be idle.

That night when we hauled in the sturgeon, we still had plenty of room in the fish box, so we continued fishing. The sturgeon lay there, alive, its wet scales reflecting starlight. It seemed an ancient thing from before the dinosaurs, breathing there, too primitive and rugged to die quickly like the more complex and finely tuned salmon. I kept going over to watch it.

In — Spiritus. Out — Sanctus. Those were the words that came to me as I watched its gills pumping the alien air. In comes the spirit, out goes something holy, life perhaps, but I realized then that the "in" and the "out" are somehow the same thing and everything is touched by the holy when in the presence of death.

I watched Zoomer pumping air, hanging on to life with that same primitive doggedness of the sturgeon for all that night and most of the next day before the fog lifted enough to get in a medevac bird. Others died, like the salmon, but Zoomer kept pumping, enduring the shelling with the rest of us, waiting for the fog to clear, waiting for the helicopter that would take him home. It came. As the fog closed in again, just minutes after the helicopter got Zoomer out alive, I realized that the mystery of life and death had once again played out before me and that once again I was in a sacred space and, other than in my role as a walking weapons guidance system for the United States of America, totally unprepared to be there. The Marine Corps taught me how to kill but it didn't teach me how to deal with killing.

I first became conscious of this wartime sacred space, this temple of Mars, several months before Zoomer won that race with death. It was Christmastime 1968. I was the commander of a Marine rifle platoon. A rifle platoon at full strength consisted of forty-three Marines, but that winter we struggled against malaria, jungle rot, dysentery, and the North Vietnamese Army to keep our strength above thirty. Although I could radio in my position down to six grid points, I no longer knew where the hell I was spiritually. That more innocent, and certainly more spiritually connected, fourteen-year-old on his grandfather's fishing boat hadn't yet had his instinctive links to the spiritual world sawed away by eight years of high school and college and, finally, severed by military training.

Our company of three platoons had just secured the top of a mountain for a new artillery firebase, high in the cordillera where Laos met the old demilitarized zone that divided North Vietnam from South Vietnam. We were far from help and, after attrition from disease and firefights, my platoon was down to twenty-five. After nearly a month of continual moving through the jungle, eating only canned food, without the ability to wash properly or change clothes, some of the Marines were so covered with ringworm and jungle rot that they worked naked to lessen the discomfort. Rain and swirling fog delayed the hoped-for move of the artillery battery. Then, after only two of the normal complement of six 105mm howitzers had arrived, and a limited amount of ammunition, the rest of the regiment got into a fierce fight in the lowlands about 30 kilometers to our east and needed every-Marine, weapon, and helicopter they could get. The regimental commander took a calculated risk and ordered my single undermanned platoon and some volunteers to stay behind to guard the howitzers and their crews and sent the rest of the company to reinforce the lowlands operation.

I was left in charge of the firebase. I alone would make all the decisions and count my mistakes with lives and pain. With the regiment stretched and the weather bad, there would be virtually no chance of reinforcements or resupply if the NVA attacked, for we were well inside the enemy's traditional operating area and well outside our own. If I blew it, or our luck was bad, we'd probably be overrun before help could reach us. I was afraid I would die. I held the lives of others in my hands. I had entered the temple of Mars, where not only were humans sacrificed, including me, but I was also the priest. This priest, however, had only been to a seminary called the Basic School where he learned the ritual moves but none of the meaning.

We patrolled hard and ceaselessly in terrain so steep and difficult we often had to use ropes to get up and down the cliffs. On the radio we pretended to be a company so the enemy wouldn't know how vulnerable we were to attack. At night no one slept longer than an hour at a time. We placed our nighttime listening posts far from the lines, well down the southern approach on a hill so steep I could stand facing it and touch dirt by putting my hand straight out in front of me. The north side was a 1,600foot cliff. Given the difficulty of getting back to the lines at night, we all knew our listening posts would probably be sacrificed to warn the rest of us.

One night, small teams of NVA soldiers tried infiltrating past our listening posts to probe our main defenses for weak points and determine the layout of our lines. One of those teams blundered right into a listening post and the three Marines called in fire from the two 60mm mortars that had been left to us by the company commander. On the second volley one round fell short, wounding all three kids in the listening post. Nine Marines and a Navy corpsman volunteered to go get them, six to carry the wounded and four to fight. I waited by the radio, sick with dread, as the rescue team stumbled through the dark jungle dragging the wounded back up the muddy slopes. One of the wounded Marines kept screaming obscenities until someone gagged him with a sock. When they were safely inside the lines I saw bits of his brain spattered on the inside of his jungle hat. If we were lucky enough to get them all out alive, I knew at least one kid would never function normally again.

We did get the wounded out alive because of the heroism of a helicopter crew from Marine Air Group 29 who flew through the mountains in total darkness as we guided them in over the radio by the sound of their engines and blades. They burst into sight only feet from us, barely avoiding crashing, our enlisted forward air controller, whom we called FAC-man, screaming over the radio that they were right on top of us. We had outlined the landing zone on top of the mountain by putting lighted heat tabs in our helmets. The zone was so small the CH-47 could get only its rear wheels on the ground, with the front of the bird hovering over the edge of the cliff.

The bird left us in the dark and we immediately sent out new listening posts. The next morning the ceaseless patrolling continued, as did the fog, both from the monsoon and from the endless ache for sleep. I, however, was dealing with a lot more than lack of sleep. I had come upon, for the first time and, sadly, not even close to the last time, the terrible feeling of responsibility and guilt for the death and wounds of my men. The mortars, like everything else on the hill, were under my command. When I examined the mortars the next morning, I discovered one of them had a slightly loose tripod leg that I should have discovered in my routine weapons inspections beforehand. It had probably shifted after the recoil of the first round, causing the next round to fall short. In combat, inattention to details can kill people.

No other birds got in after that brave medical evacuation because the monsoon had shut down all flying in the mountains. Two days before Christmas the fog lifted just enough to allow a single chopper to work its way up to us, a dangerous journey, squeezing beneath the cloud ceiling just a few feet above the jungle-covered ridges. Along with food, water, mail, and ammunition came the battalion chaplain.

He had brought with him several bottles of Southern Comfort and some new dirty jokes. I accepted the Southern Comfort, thanked him, laughed at the jokes, and had a drink with him. Merry Christmas.

Inside I was seething. I thought I'd gone a little nuts. How could I be angry with a guy who had just put his life at risk to cheer me up? And didn't the Southern Comfort feel good on that rain-raked mountaintop? Years later I understood. I was engaged in killing and maybe being killed. I felt responsible for the lives and deaths of my companions. I was struggling with a situation approaching the sacred in its terror and contact with the infinite, and he was trying to numb me to it. I needed help with the existential terror of my own death and responsibility for the death of others, enemies and friends, not Southern Comfort. I needed a spiritual guide.

Many will argue that there is nothing remotely spiritual in combat. Consider this. Mystical or religious experiences have four common components: constant awareness of one's own inevitable death, total focus on the present moment, the valuing of other people's lives above one's own, and being part of a larger religious community such as the Sangha, ummah, or church. All four of these exist in combat. The big difference is that the mystic sees heaven and the warrior sees hell. Whether combat is the dark side of the same vision, or only something equivalent in intensity, I simply don't know. I do know that at age fifteen I had a mystical experience that scared the hell out of me and both it and combat put me into a different relationship with ordinary life and eternity.

Most of us, including me, would prefer to think of a sacred space as some light-filled wondrous place where we can feel good and find a way to shore up our psyches against death. We don't want to think that something as ugly and brutal as combat could be involved in any way with the spiritual. However, would any practicing Christian say that Calvary Hill was not a sacred space? Witness the demons of Tibetan Buddhism, ritual torture practiced by certain Native American tribes, the darker side of voodoo, or the cruel martyrdom of saints of all religions. Ritual torture or martyrdom can be either meaningless and terrible suffering or a profound religious experience, depending upon what the sufferer brings to the situation. The horror remains the same.

Combat is precisely such a situation.

Our young warriors are raised in possibly the only culture on the planet that thinks death is an option. Given this, it is no surprise that not only they but many of their ostensible religious guides, like the chaplain with the booze, enter the temple of Mars unprepared. Not only is such comfort too often delusional; it tends to numb one to spiritual reality and growth. Far worse, it has serious psychological and behavioral consequences.

To avoid, or at least mitigate, these consequences, warriors have to be able to bring meaning to this chaotic experience, i.e., an understanding of their situation at a deeper level than proficiency in killing. It can help get them through combat with their sanity relatively intact. It can help keep them from doing more harm than they need to do. It is also a critical component in their ability to adjust when they return home. This "adjustment" is akin to asking Saint John of the Cross to be happy flipping burgers at McDonald's after he's left the monastery. When one includes drug and alcohol overdoses, single-person car crashes, fights in bars, and a whole host of other self-destructive behaviors in addition to so-called normal suicides, the number of veterans who have killed themselves at home after the war was over is disturbingly large — and largely ignored.

You can't force consciousness or spiritual maturity. Teenage warriors like to fight, drink, screw, and rock and roll. You can, however, put people in situations where consciousness and spiritual maturity can grow rapidly, if those people know what to look for. It's called initiation.

Joseph Henderson, who died in 2007 at the age of 104, was one of the pioneers of Jungian analysis and a world authority on initiations. He once explained to me that there are two broad categories of initiation experiences. The first kind prepares the individual to fulfill an adult role in his or her society. Traditionally it was where the boys learned to accept the danger and responsibility involved in hunting and the girls learned to accept the danger and responsibility involved in childbirth. The second kind goes beyond societal roles and is of a spiritual nature. It is about accepting one's mortality. It is about facing death. To fully mature as individuals we need to undergo both kinds. In our culture individuals now must do initiatory rites on their own. Some do and some don't. A lot of people in our culture simply never grow up.

There is no longer one simple initiation rite of the kinds with which we are most familiar, those of the hunter-gatherer cultures such as the hunger and terrifying dreams of the Native American vision quest or the pain inflicted on young Aboriginal boys and the terrifying sounds of the bullroarers, secret ritual instruments forbidden, upon pain of death, for the noninitiated even to hear. In our culture we mostly undergo a series of partial initiations and we undergo them unconsciously and without guidance.

Boot camp was an initiation of the first kind, societal. I arrived at Quantico, Virginia, on a bus from the Port Authority in New York, to be met by screaming drill instructors in the middle of a muggy June night. There I was run through a succession of supply huts collecting gear, sweating in my civilian clothes, got my hair cut off, and finally fell exhausted into bed. In what seemed like five minutes I was shocked awake by sudden glaring lights splitting the humid darkness, a crashing metal garbage can being kicked down the squad bay by a rampaging madman, people being dumped — thin mattresses and all — onto the clammy concrete floor, and bewildering shouting and cursing as we desperately tried to pee, shave, shit, and get dressed in far too little time.


Excerpted from "What It Is Like to Go to War"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Karl Marlantes.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 Temple of Mars 1

2 Killing 6

3 Guilt 48

4 Numbness and Violence 61

5 The Enemy Within 80

6 Lying 114

7 Loyalty 134

8 Heroism 155

9 Home 176

10 The Club 208

11 Relating to Mars 220

Afterword 255

Acknowledgments 257

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What It Is Like to Go to War 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I originally purchased this for my husband, a Vietnam veteran who has suffered from PTSD and other after effects of the war for 40 years. My husband found this book very accurate in portraying what it was like to serve in Vietnam. Some parts brought back memories for him of horrible times, and others brought back great memories of fellow soldiers. He highly recommends this to anyone who served in Vietman.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone who served in Vietnam should read, Semper Fi
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book and find out what it does to the soul and psyche of "temporary" life takers.Drills down to the root without novacaine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am amazed at the courage it took to write this book. Those who have experienced the depth of this man's military experience, either by serving the country in a war or by serving people in other extraordinary ways, will relate to the meaning of this book and be impacted by its message. It requires deep and thoughtful reading.
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two years ago, I picked up [Matterhorn], the highly acclaimed novel about Vietnam. It was outstanding and ended up being my favorite read of the year. The author had spent 30 years writing it. It was based on his experiences as a young Marine lieutenant.Now, we have his non-fiction account and this one might be even more harrowing than the fictional one. It is also a book about war, our warrior instinct, the vast mental strain combat places on soldiers and the difficult task of re-entry into ¿normal¿ society. Marlantes attempts to cover all these issues, in a clear, sometimes philosophical manner. He also offers many solutions for making these transitions a little easier. He is a very fine writer, with a deep intellect. If you have not read the novel, do so now and then wait a few months, (you¿ll need to) and then start this remarkable and profound follow-up.
creighley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
for the true picture of the warrior fighting in a war, this is a must read! Told by a Viet Name vet who saw the good, bad, and the ugly there, he has somehow managed with MUCH introspection, to make sense of it all. A time-sensitive read for those whose loved ones are or were in the military. It is a MUST read for any combat veteran and the family!
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As one of tens of thousands of readers who read and marveled at Karl Marlantes' best-selling novel of the Vietnam war, MATTERHORN, and wondered either privately or publicly how he managed to write such a viscerally real, honest and gut-wrenching fictional account of that war, here is our answer. Or at least Marlantes' attempt to answer that question. Because this "follow-up" book, WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR, reads like a cross between a psychological and sociological inquiry into the hell that is war and a personal examination of conscience. Marlantes lays bare his soul in this volume, or perhaps as close as one can come to doing this.The chapter headings in the book say it all: Killing, Guilt, Numbness and Violence, Lying, Loyalty, Heroism, and Home. Marlantes investigates thoroughly every aspect of what it was like for him and thousands of other young men who were torn from home and family, trained to kill and then thrust precipitously across an ocean and into an unforgiving jungle world filled with other young men who were trying to kill them.Although Marlantes also attempts to put the Vietnam combat experience into a larger historical context going all the way back to the Greeks and Mars the god of war, it is when he tells of his own personal agonies and fleeting madness in the heat of battle that he is most effective and touches the reader most deeply. And it is in the chapter on heroism that this comes through in the most profound way, when he tells of the specific events that earned him some of the highest medals, awards he's not sure he really earned, considering so many other he knew of who did and sacrificed so much and were never decorated at all.One of his exploits which earned him a medal involved trying to rescue one of his men who had been wounded, crawling and firing up a hill under a machine gun barrage, then dragging and rolling with the man back down a hill where the man died, "a neat hole in the top of [his] skull." Decades later, Marlantes remembers that hole, and still wrestles with guilt and crippling doubt."He had been lying head down toward me. The bullet went into the top of his head. I could have put it there myself when I was trying to keep the machine gun fire down as I crawled toward him. I'll never know."And later, in the chapter called "Home," Marlantes summarizes what so many returning veterans no doubt felt in those years, with no little bitterness and anger - "To me, and to my parents, I'd been gone an eternity; to everyone else, a flash. This is no one's fault. Life is busy and full."I can remember how I felt coming home from the army after nearly three years away and people I knew acting surprised that I'd even been gone. But I was a Cold War veteran who never saw combat, so it's hard for me to imagine how such a reaction would have felt to someone who had undergone horrendous living conditions in a faraway jungle, risked life and limb and been wounded multiple times. In fact Marlantes didn't just get casual indifference from people; he got rejection and outright hostility. Indeed he even recalls having his uniform spit on by a woman on a train. Such were the sixties.There have been countless personal narratives detailing the Vietnam war experience. Two of the best that immediately come to mind are Philip Caputo's A RUMOR OF WAR and Robert Mason's CHICKENHAWK. But Karl Marlantes has spent most of his life trying to figure out exactly what happened to him in Vietnam, going over it and over it and over it again. Finally he gave birth to a most moving and enormously successful novel, MATTERHORN. In this new book, WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR, he finally explains his own personal experiences and the absolute hell that war has always been and how it can destroy lives. It's a pity that politicians don't make time to read books like these. Perhaps they would not be so quick to rush into wars. I hope, finally, that Marlantes has managed to expiate some of his own personal demons and doubts by w
agnesmack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I was notified that I'd be receiving this book through the Goodreads First Reads program, I really wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. A book about combat? Well now, that certainly doesn't sound appealing. Luckily, Mr. Marlantes quickly put my concerns to rest.My main fear was that this book would glorify war and combat but, though it does discuss some very ugly truths, I didn't feel that it was glorifying anything. Yes, the author saw plenty of combat in Vietnam, yes he killed people and yes he details that in this book. However, he makes it clear in the Preface that his goal is to educate people about the realities of war in an effort to better protect our military personnel:"All conscientious citizens and especially those with the power to make policy will be better prepared to make decisions about committing young people to combat if they know what they are about to ask of them."This book does discuss what happens in wars but it goes far beyond a simple play by play of what it's like to pull a trigger. The author speaks at length about the psychological damage that's done and how ill prepared our troops are for this."The Marine Corps taught me how to kill but it didn't teach me how to deal with killing.""We cannot expect normal eighteen-year-olds to kill someone and contain it in a healthy way. They must be helped to sort out what will be healthy grief about taking a life because it is part of the sorrow of war. The drugs, alcohol, and suicides are ways of avoiding guilt and fear of grief. Grief itself is a healthy response."Mr. Marlantes is very honest about all sides of the coin. He talks about the adrenaline rush of being in combat, about the mixed emotions you feel when you've succeeded at your objective...when that objective is killing another human being. He also openly admits that if he were to be in that same situation again today, he'd handle it differently."I'd hope that I'd remember to respect my enemy's pain and agony."I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Mr. Marlantes is quite the skilled writer. He wrote for a broad audience and explained the military terms without talking down to his audience. This was a powerful and important book that I would not hesitate to recommend.
JackieBlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've met Karl Marlantes a couple of times now, and each time I've been deeply impressed with his intense intelligence, his ability to tell a story, and his bravery to talk so very honestly about war, what he did in it, what he got out of it, and what he wishes were different, then and now. This book is very much like having a long conversation (albeit with footnotes) with the man himself. He opens up about everything which requires a depth of bravery that far surpasses that of a traditional warrior, though he would argue that the truly traditional warrior was a man of thought and philosophy, and we've stripped that part of war away over the millennia. He's introspective and probing, looking for meaning and lessons. He's also adamant about training and supporting the WHOLE warrior, not just on weapons and strategy but on spirituality, philosophy, morality and psychological coping techniques--before they go, while they are in the field, and certainly after they come home. He makes many great points about what is wrong today, and what lessons we should have already learned from all the battles from Vietnam on. This is a very intense read, but an invaluable one. I urge everyone to read this book.
fingerpost on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"What It is Like to Go to War" is an incomplete title for this amazing book. Marlantes does so much more than merely show those who are fortunate enough not to have the experience what it is like, though that is certainly part of the book. The author embodies combinations of personality traits that we don't normally associate together. He is deeply proud of his service as a Marine in Vietnam. He is also shamed by some of the things he did in that service. He strongly believes that in a perfect world there would be no war and no need for warriors. He is also smart enough to know that we do not now and never will have that perfect world, and we will always need warriors.Karl Marlantes is a combat veteran from the Vietnam War. He says in his preface that he has spent the last 40 years writing this book in one sense or another. The book is not a story. There is no linear tale of his experiences. The chapters are titled things like Atrocities, Loyalty, Lying, Honor... Each of the chapters has several elements. There is a war tale or two from the author's experience that illustrates his point. These tales are brutally honest, and sometimes hard to read. There is a psychological discussion of the subject. There is intelligent expression of theory as to how this particular element can be improved in future combat scenarios and for the benefit of those involved in war. And for each chapter, he also points out that this element is not unique to war. In all of our lives we deal with all of these features. The problem is that war amplifies them to the nth degree.I have never been in the military. No one in my family has for at least two generations. I chose to read the book to see if it could show me what it is like to go to war. I got far more out of it than I hoped or expected. I would recommend this book to anyone. I think the "war monger" and the "peace hippie" would both come away from an open reading, wiser, more empathetic and compassionate to their philosophical opposites, and one small step towards making this a better world for everyone.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author of the novel Matterhorn has turned his talents to writing a nonfiction book about his experiences in Vietnam, how present-day warriors are not trained to emotionally and spiritually deal with the jobs they physically must do, what we've done wrong, what we need to do better. He looks at the history of war and warriors in ancient cultures and mythology, and how the wars we fight are changing every day. He has advice for warriors, those who are serving now, those who are trying to deal with having served, and those seemingly fearless and impressionable young who want to serve. He looks at the psyches of those who kill, what emotions they are feeling. And like the training, that which makes the warriors strong and loyal can also work against them. I haven't underlined so many passages in a book since I was a student, trying to memorize facts.I don't remember reading a book that touched me as deeply and as personally as this one did. Some of his writing is about theories, ideas, interesting to read and ponder. Some is very highly personal, violent, open. While I found the theories and ideas fascinating, the personal really hit home. I found myself, most unexpectedly, crying.Part of this is because I married young, after (and largely because) my husband was drafted, and he was sent to Vietnam when I, along with many of the soldiers and their spouses, was not old enough to be allowed to vote. I felt powerless and very angry. And the war...the war, not the young soldiers...was one we both opposed. He was, of course, a different person when he returned. This book brought back all those long-hidden emotions.But that is too much about me. I include it to explain in part why this book had such a profound effect on me. I can't imagine it not having an effect on anyone living through that period. But I think it is very important reading for anyone who has served or is serving, for anyone considering it, anyone who is responsible in any way for training warriors. And it is also for those who oppose most or all wars. It's a must-read for anyone who has ever given a second thought to war.The version I read was an e-book uncorrected proof, and I thank Grove/Atlantic and NetGalley for giving me a copy. The publication date is scheduled for September, 2011. In case you haven't already figured it out, I highly recommend this book.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Karl Marlantes¿s 2010 Vietnam War novel, Matterhorn, was some thirty years in the making, years during which Marlantes continued to fine tune his story while waiting for the marketplace to be ready for him. Following the success of this acclaimed debut novel, Marlantes, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, now uses his real life combat experience as the basis to explore how insufficiently America¿s young men and women are prepared for modern warfare. In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes addresses the history of warfare, a history as old as man himself, and the methods used by various cultures to prepare young men to risk giving their lives for the perceived good of their country or tribe. The author believes that, compared to warriors of the past, today¿s soldier not only has far superior weapons, he is, in fact, better prepared ¿technically and tactically¿ than ever before. His concern is that these young soldiers are not being prepared to cope with the moral and psychological stresses associated with modern warfare. Marlantes does not, however, believe that the kind of individual soul searching necessary to prepare them properly for war can be accomplished via today¿s cookie-cutter training programs. This must be accomplished, he offers, by the individual, alone or with the help of a peer or mentor who has already successfully crossed that bridge.What It Is Like to Go to War is Karl Marlantes¿s attempt to help America¿s young fighters maintain their sanity ¿ both during, and after, their combat experiences. To his way of thinking, if these young men and women go into war with the proper mindset, they will not only do no more harm than their mission requires of them, they will be able to make a healthy adjustment to life when they return home. In order to accomplish this, the terror and horrors of war they experience have to be placed into their proper context so that the overall experience means something.One of the most striking characteristics of modern warfare addressed by Marlantes is the way that modern technology has blended the worlds of combat and home. Today¿s soldier has the luxury of calling home within minutes of the end of a firefight in which he thought he would die. In addition to communicating by telephone, he can exchange photos and messages via email, and if he is so inclined, can tweet on Twitter and check-in with friends and family on their Facebook pages. His two worlds become so blurred that it is near impossible for him to leave behind the stress of combat when he is thrust back into the arms of his family at breakneck speed.What It Is Like to Go to War should be read required reading for every young man and woman before they place their lives on the line for the first time - if not even before they formally become part of the military. It should be read by our policy makers, those who decide where, and how many of, our soldiers will be put in harm¿s way each time a new hotspot flares. It should be read by those drill sergeants and officers that train our troops for combat. And, just as importantly, it should be read by the families of those who serve so courageously. This is an important ¿ and practical ¿ book.Rated at: 4.0
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steve92037 More than 1 year ago
Fantastic to read, also a great audio book.
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