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Welcome to life in the military,
This review is from: War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars (Hardcover)
Let me start this review by confessing that I am biased. One of my letters from Vietnam is included in the book. I therefore view the book differently from the average reader.
I also got an advance copy of the book a week before the official release date, and have been able to read it.
Andrew Carroll produced this book by reading through almost 50,000 letters and selected roughly 200 that best show what everyday life in the military - and in war - are like from the viewpoint of the average soldier, sailor, marine, and airman.
Andy was able to get these letters by persuading Dear Abby to publish an appeal in her column on Veteran's Day in 1998. The column urged readers to contribute these letters so that the sacrifices of the writers would not be forgotten. The result was a flood of 50,000 letters - some faded, some muddy, some blood-stained, and one pierced by a bullet. One letter was written on Hitler's personal stationary by an American sergeant who worked in Hitler's personal quarters in Germany just after WW II. What could be a better symbol of justice?
The letter writers' views are very different than the views you will get by reading the memoirs of a general or an admiral. When I was in the Army, there was a wonderful comment that explained life in the Infantry:
"The general gets the glory, The family gets the body, and We get another mission."
Your view of the military - and of war - changes depending on your position in this food chain.
Overcoming an enemy machine gun is an interesting technical problem when you are circling a firefight in a helicopter at 1,000 feet. You take a very different view of the problem when you are so close to the machine gun that your body pulses from the shock wave of the muzzle blast.
These letters were written by soldiers while they were in the military. They are describing events that happened that day, the pervious day, or the previous week. Their memories are very fresh. Their views also are very different from the views that someone might have when writing his memoirs thirty years later. In thirty years the everyday pains, problems, and terrors could very well be forgotten or become humorous.
The book groups these letters by war or police action. There are sections for letters from the Civil War, WW I (the war to end wars), WW II, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Somolia/Bosnia/Kosovo.
Some things never change. The Civil War letter writers grumble about poor food, tiresome marches, mindless sergeants and incompetent officers. The Vietnam letter writers (myself included) grumbled about the same things.
One anguished letter was from an officer in Vietnam who was torn by his need to hide his opposition to the war for fear of demoralizing his men. At the end of the letter is a brief comment explaining that the officer stepped on a mine and died shortly after writing this letter.
Welcome to life in the military. Welcome to war.
You should read this book if you want to see what life was like and is like in the military and in war.