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What It Is Like To Go To War Paperback – September 11, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: With unflinching honesty, bestselling author Karl Marlantes captures What It Is Like to Go to War in his compassionate, powerful narrative on Vietnam. By recounting experiences that, outside the arena of war, are horrifying or embarrassing for the soldiers who lived them, Marlantes exposes veterans' self-destructive code of silence as the price for re-entering our society. American pop culture celebrates the warrior spirit, winning the battle, but the reality for soldiers is that “reconciling the moral conduct we are taught…with the brutal acts we do in war has been a problem for warriors of good conscience for centuries.” Marlantes tempers the brutal truths of fear, power games, and courage with a thoughtful prescription for our soldiers’ well-being; caring for our soldiers and their families differently will benefit society as a whole. In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes sets a new standard for understanding the experience of war. --Seira Wilson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Marlantes brings candor and wrenching self-analysis to bear on his combat experiences in Vietnam, in a memoir-based meditation whose intentions are three-fold: to help soldiers-to-be understand what they’re in for; to help veterans come to terms with what they’ve seen and done; and to help policymakers know what they’re asking of the men they send into combat.”The New Yorker
What It Is Like to Go to War is a well-crafted and forcefully argued work that contains fresh and important insights into what it’s like to be in a war and what it does to the human psyche.”The Washington Post
Marlantes is the best American writer right now on war . . . With What It Is Like to Go to War a second Marlantes book resides on the top shelf of American literature.”Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead
What It Is Like to Go to War ought to be mandatory reading by potential infantry recruits and by residents of any nation that sends its kidsMarlantes’s wordinto combat.”San Francisco Chronicle
In this thoughtful, literate work of self-exorcism, Marlantes tells tales of incredible bravery as well as brutality.”People Magazine
A precisely crafted and bracingly honest book."The Atlantic
Marlantes knows what he writes. . . Raw, unsettling honesty pervades the work.”Time.com
Marlantes has written a sparklingly provocative nonfiction book. . . He is an exceptional writer and his depictions here are vivid.”BookPage
A gripping, first-person plea to consider the impact on the human spirit of being a soldier.”Huffington Post
Karl Marlantes, author of the excellent What It Is Like To Go To War, cautions his audience to understand the cost to the human psyche in sending others to kill in our names or for policies decided by politicians determined to use (and abuse) the power entrusted to their office.”Daily Planet
Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War is a deeply personal account of dealing with his harrowing time as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam. . . . Marlantes’ fiction might be just too wrenching for some readers to believe.”Logos
This absolutely unique and lucid personal account and analysis will be read with profit by scholars, general readers, and most particularly, by veterans of close combat. . . . The author is qualified by experience, education, temperament, and skill as a writer to make penetrating observations. Many are graphic, bold, and shocking. Some are erudite; some are ethereal; all are worthy of careful consideration. . . . His method is to reflect on a point important to him, to illustrate it with an anecdote or a combat experience, and to mull it over in sparkling prose that has the reader hanging on every word. . . . Mastery of our language and the creative use of poetic devices and images make his pronouncements memorable. . . . Marlantes has joined a short list of authors whose experience, sensitivity, and skill enable them to share wisdom with those among us who would understand.”Parameters
What it is Like to Go to War is already considered by many a modern classic. . . . The former Marine has three main goals in this unflinchingly honest look at what it means to be a soldier in a war: to let potential soldiers understand what to expect, to help veterans better cope with what they’ve experienced, and to help policy makers truly comprehend what it means when they send combat troops into a war zone.”Bradenton Herald
To say that this book is brilliant is an understatementMarlantes is the absolute master of taking the psyche of the combat veteran and translating it into words that the civilian or non-veteran can understand. I have read many, many books on war and this is the first time that I've ever read exactly what the combat veteran thinks and feelsnothing I have ever read before has hit home in my heart like this book.”Gunnery Sergeant Terence D’Alesandro, 3rd Batallion, 5th Marines, U.S. Marine Corps
Wrenchingly honest. . . . Digging as deeply into his own life as he does into the larger sociological and moral issues, Marlantes presents a riveting, powerfully written account of how, after being taught to kill, he learned to deal with the aftermath.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A valiant effort to explain and make peace with war’s awesome consequences for human beings.”Kirkus Reviews
What It Is Like to Go to War offers profound insight on how we must prepare our youth who become our warriors for their hard and uncompromising journey through war’s hell and back home again.”Vietnam Magazine
With war such a part of contemporary American life, this book is deeply important, as timely and urgent as contemporary on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq.”The Minneapolis Star Tribune
A sound debunking of anything smacking of the glory of warfarebut written with compassion, honest and wit for men and now women who fight and for all of those who care about them.”St. Louis Dispatch
A slim spiritual guide. . . Marlantes’s book is a sincere plea for better soldiers and veterans.”Seattle Weekly
What It Is Like to Go to War is a courageous, noble and intelligent grapple with myth, history, and spirituality that beautifully elevates the cultural conversation on the role of the military in today’s world. It is an emotional, honest, and affecting primer for all Americans on war and the national psyche, and we ignore this book at our own peril.”Ed Conklin, Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara
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Marlantes is a unique combination of highly intellectual scholar and highly decorated combat officer who endured some of the more violent combat of the Vietnam war out in the field with his Marines. He gave up the soft life of a Rhodes Scholar during the sex, drugs and rock and roll days of the 60's to join his fellow Marines in Vietnam.
Some have commented that the book wanders, it does and that's one of its strengths. Reading it almost feels like a series conversation late into the evening. The others have gone, most of the wine has been consumed, lights are dimmed and one of the most intellectually stimulating guys you have ever met is talking about the last 40 years. There is an authentic intensity, angst, sadness, passion and outrage that flows across the table. You need more wine.
It should be required reading for every member of Congress, White House senior staff and the press. The increasing numbers of officers who have not served In combat or on the cutting edge of the sword would probably benefit from a couple of evenings spent reading Marlantes' book.
Too many of the tragic stories from our current wars include those further up the chain of command who fail to comprehend the violence and speed with which events occur in combat. Last week's Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House failed to mention that the heroics did not save the lives of four Marines who never received desperately needed air support in the intitial hours as a result of risk adverse seniors who had been tasked to provide that assistance.
Marlantes captures the impossible moral choices of war. Far too often there's simply no good choice, only the indecipherable choice of the lesser of evils. The warrior is left alone with these burdens long after the homecoming parade. But for the Viet vets there were no homecoming parades only demonstrations, spit and a nation hurtling through one of the most convulsive decades in its existence... war, sex, drugs, rock and roll, burning napalm and burning bras, the killing of JFK, RFK and MLK. Few soldiers were asked to give more and none were thanked less than out Vietnam vets.
Beyond the combat and intellectual discussions thereof, there are simply heart stopping moments as he wanders through his post Vietnam life in a new search for meaning.
Some of the best material is in his discussion of the moral hazards of lying. From the simple inflation of probable enemy losses to much greater lies. The public does not realize how much the military depends on integrity and how disabling the culture of lying becomes to the functioning of the organization.
It reminded me of Adm. Stockdale's book, co-authored with his wife, In Love and In War. The North Vietnamese torture of Stockdale was unrelenting; if they knew what they wanted they could get it out of him with enough time. But they did not know that the entire Gulf of Tonkin Incident was a fraud and that Stockdale was overhead that night to witness the events. During the debriefing he explained to the intel officer that there were no N Vietnamese boats out there attacking the Americans. Somewhere between Stockdale's debrief and the President's address to Congress the story had been fabricated.
It's a great read for the families and friends of warriors who have been in combat or perhaps dealt with very risky operations such at flying jets from carriers on a daily basis. One of the book's greatest gifts is in its ability to help veterans and family and friends communicate. I would also highly recommend it for those who counsel veterans and their family members.
It's a book that I wish was available when I was a young man with a father who had returned from years in the Pacific with the Marines during WWII.
addendum October 2011
The other evening we were talking about the changing face of war as more information is transmitted halfway around the world and decisions regarding employment of weapons made by people far from the action. Since the birth of the nation, those who experienced combat and remained in the military provided an invaluable influence on those in senior leadership who have never been there. Perhaps some of the senior folks who have not been in combat will read this book along with Grossman's On Killing. Were I the Emperor I would also send them to one of the military hospitals in Afghanistan where the seriously wounded are received from the field so that they might get a better feel for the true cost of war.
There's a great risk that those at the top of the military (without combat experience) or those in the Whitehouse addicted to power (including staffers) will become even more involved with what should be tactical decisions. It's especially dangerous when those who grew up on video games and see playing with Seals and Predators as an ego boosting extension. It turns us backwards to the disastrous decision making process of the Johnson /McNamara era. It's clear that seeing the photos of the Prez and friends watching the bin Laden raid on live feed has caused a lot of concern.
Driving by the Mission Santa Ines well after midnight on another evening I could almost hear Marlantes' voice echoing from what is one of the most moving pages of the book.
This is the most thoughtful expository about warriorhood (what it is and what it should be) that I have ever read; written by a guy who's been there and is incredibly reflective.
I have cared for/and care for so many with PTSD. This will now become required reading for them.
I strongly recommend...