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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2005
Andy Carroll's last book - War Letters - showed what war is like by reprinting letters of American combatants who had ac-tually fought those wars. (I should confess that one of my letters about Vietnam was reprinted in that book.)

Andy's new book - Behind The Lines - shows what war is like with reprints of letters from both combatants and non-combatants - civilian women and children. This book also in-cludes letters written by non-Americans as well as Americans.

Andy limited the letters to those from the wars in which America was involved. Thsee wars range from the Revolutionary War (there's a great letter from a Hessian soldier [Hessians were German soldiers "leased" to Great Britain to fight as mer-cenaries] giving his impressions of America and the poor fighting ability of the rebels), the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam (there's a good letter from a soldier asking his parents to forgive him for having killed a man in combat), Kosovo and Gulf Wars I and II.

While many letters deal with combat, other letters show the many faces of war. At times, war can be terrifying, funny, ab-surd, touching and hilarious. (You know you've been fighting too long when the same incident strikes you as both terrifying and hilarious.)

One letter was a love letter written by a California woman to a Swiss national. In fact, the letter was complete fabrication. The Swiss national actually was a German spy traveling in Great Britain during WWII. The letter was created to make his cover seem more believable.

One letter was from a brother who had enlisted in the Union army in the U.S. Civil War. He wrote to berate his brother for having enlisted in the Confederate army.

One letter was from a German wife to her husband's company commander. She requested that her husband be given a leave "because of our sexual relationship." She wanted her husband to come home so they can have sex. The commander's sym-pathetic reply is included in the book.

One letter writer came up with a list of "The Army's Ten Commandments," which should bring a smile to anyone who served in the Army. Commandment number four is, "Thou shall not laugh at second lieutenants."

One writer came up with a letter filled with multiple choice op-tions. By checking various options, he could either proclaim his undying love or write about an upcom-ing/imminent/current/recent military offensive.

Several letter writers tried to warn their families that they should prepare for a slight adjustment period when the men come home. One Vietnam writer warned, "If it should start raining, pay no attention to his joyous scream as he strips naked, grabs a bar of soap, and runs outdoors for a shower." (As a Vietnam veteran, I found that letter puzzling. Doesn't everybody shower that way?)

The book is divided into several themes that illustrate the dif-ferent faces of war: friendship; combat; laughing though the tears; civilians caught in the crossfire; and the aftermath of war.

As a Vietnam Infantry pointman and squad leader, I view a book about war differently from most people. Andy's book showed me a side of war I had never considered - its impact on non-combatants - who could neither run away (what any sane person does when people are trying to kill him) nor fight (if you're going to die anyway, why not die fighting?).

The book also showed me what I already knew from my own experience: that war changes forever those touched by it.

One Vietnam veteran was haunted by the fact that several of his comrades had died rescuing him after he was seriously wounded. So decades after the end of the Vietnam war, he left a letter at the Vietnam Memorial thanking those men for their sacrifice. That letter is included in the book.

Don't buy this book if you are looking for stories about triumphant soldiers marching in victory parades in front of cheering, grateful crowds. That's not the side of war that Andy wanted to show. Instead, the book shows the side of war that doesn't make the 5:00 TV news.

You will need to read this book in small doses because the emotional impact of the letters can be overwhelming. In Los Angeles I attended a reading of selected letters from the book. One of the speakers read a letter he had written as a Jewish teenager while riding in a sealed railway car on his way to a German concentration camp. The letter told his sister how much he loved her. He pushed the finished letter through a hole in the side of the railway car and hoped that a kind peasant would find and mail it to his sister. One did.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2005
This compilation is marvelously well-edited and includes an incredible variety of letters from soldiers and civilians from numerous wars. The author has put together a very nuanced, clear-eyed, resonant and moving collection and has written helpful, insightful descriptions throughout the book. This book would make a great gift.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
BEHIND THE LINES is a powerful collection of fragments of thoughts that were initiated over the past two hundred plus years of war scars. Andrew Carroll continues his commitment to bring the reality of war to the forefront of our attention and I know no better manner for anti-war statements than the words found in this illuminating and horrifying book.

Carroll approaches war as a panacea - an evil that has been with us around the globe for centuries and just continues unabated. Many poets and writers are struggling to make the public cognizant of the horrors of war, but Carroll scans American involvement in wars from the Revolutionary War to the present and in doing so he demonstrates the madness that we must learn to stop.

Letters, documents, memos, soldiers' notes as well as civilians' responses fill these pages, some eloquent, some simply pitiful, and some stoic as well as some encouraging. The messages are not skewed in a way that makes Carroll seem like he is ranting. Rather he lets the words of the living and the dead speak truths far larger than fiction.

This is a beautifully conceived volume that for the sake of the survival of civilization belongs on the reading desks of everyone. Tough reading, this, but enormously informative and important. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, August 05
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2005
This is a great book!! I really enjoyed reading it, and found myself unable to put it down. The book gives readers a better understanding of what soldiers and their families go through. After reading this book, I believe I have a better appreciation for our Veterans and our troops serving our country. Definately a recommended book in my opinion.
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on April 6, 2013
This is a review of the abridged CD audiobook.

This book contains letters from soldiers covering a wide range of topics from friendship, love, the strangeness of foreign lands, love, family, comradeship, family, devotion, duty, combat and a number of rather ascetic topics such as observations of animals being used in combat (i.e., soviet use of dogs mounted with explosives against Germans). The letters cover these subjects from a wide time frame, from roughly the US revolutionary war through the end of the twentieth century. The bulk of the letters (about three quarters) are from US troops (front line and ancillary such as nurses) and families of US troops. The balance are from foreign forces (i.e., Hessian, German, Japanese, British, etc.). One of the remarkable things that stands out among these letters is the universality of many of the experiences across both national bounds and time. Quite a few of the letters are quite emotionally moving and enlightening. However, this is not the case with respect to all. Towards the end of the book there is some material that seems to be "filler" in that has the feeling of having been added to complete a full book. Nevertheless, the book does a decent job at giving the reader the feelings of many of those at the front (over time as well as across countries) as well as their families and loved ones. In addition, the audiobook is well read. The readings capture, appropriately, the emotions of the letter. The readings are also never monotone, hence perfect for long trips.
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on October 13, 2007
I purchased this book recently and could not put it down.Who better to tell a story than the ones who lived it?The letters are not only from the soldiers who fought on either side of a conflict,but from the very people who lived through them.The accounts are graphic in many cases and I now have a better understanding of the horrible reality of it all.The historical quips help with the insight as to what was going on at the time of the letter.Its a great read by an outstanding author who has done so much for our troops.
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on August 25, 2012
The CD version of this book is one of the most moving books I have encountered. Listening to soldiers' or family members' letters read by individuals with similar accents made them so much more moving and believable. When I share the CDs, I attach a pack of tissues for the tears the listener will shed as they listen to these moving letters. If our Congress and President could hear these letters, I think (if they have a conscience) they could not engage us in these frivolous wars.
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The only problem I had with this book was its' length. I found myself wanting to reach the end and start something else. BUT, on the plus side, the 'true' letters, without the aid of being 'cleaned up' by correct spelling or punctuation really, really added a lot. You may find a letter now and then that really doesn't hold your interest. Do not stop there, or you will miss out on some very wonderful, interesting text.
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on March 29, 2008
As a war veteran myself, I have never found a more absorbing, accurate and sincere attempt to capture the true emotions of combatants, their loved ones, and all others involved in the major conflichts of the ninteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A must read for anyone interested in getting an unbiased glimpse into the thoughts of those who were affected by war.
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on August 23, 2011
I enjoyed reading parts of this book. It gives an honest portrayal of personal emotions of people who are engaged in some aspect of a war whether they are in combat, on the home front,etc. It covers a wide range of wars from the American Revolution through the current war on terror. I will use this in my teaching at the high school level both in world and U.S. history. The only objection I have is I wish the letters were all grouped together for one specific war i.e. the Civil War, W.W. II, etc. The author arranges the letters according to topic instead. The book would be useful for history teachers and anyone who enjoys history.
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