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Primer for Non-Vets
on February 9, 2014
Review of What It Is Like to Go to War
by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2011)
N.B.: Citations from Kindle e-reader
Military chaplaincy is part of the traditional mission work of our church. Thousands of veterans are returning to our neighborhoods, churches, and campuses. Do we understand them? Can we understand them?
I have never been a soldier. I have never been in combat. I have never been in a situation of “kill or be killed.” I have never had to kill anyone. I am not a member of “the Club,” which has “always been a club with its own secrets and its own societally imposed rules of silence.” (location 2769-73)
I can never understand the combat veteran because I’ve never been there. Anyone involved in mission and ministry knows the truth that only people of the culture can understand the culture:
• Only alcoholics can understand alcoholics.
• Only Native Americans can understand Native Americans.
• Only victims of abuse can understand other victims.
I can sympathize with the vet, but I cannot empathize, and s/he knows it. Yet, we have to be in ministry with this very needy portion of our society. This book can help us realize why we can’t understand.
Marlantes is a decorated Vietnam War veteran. He has been there. He’s a member of the Club. Very honestly and courageously he tries to help us understand why we can’t understand, why vets typically just don’t talk with us about it. “Not talking about it… is the veterans’ protection against our great fear of being misunderstood.” (location 2865-70)
The chapter topics help us realize the dimensions of this sub-culture:
• Numbness and Violence
• The Enemy Within
• The Club.
With a great deal of introspection and real-life experiences, Marlantes brings us into the powerful world he entered as a young man and still lives out of:
The combat veteran is still not out in the open where the whole of culture can benefit from the sorrow and price and society’s attitude toward war and fighting can mature psychologically and spiritually. (location 2925-30)
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with vets, particularly those who have been in frontline combat. It is a great book for group discussion. Probably vets will not want to be there at first, for fear of judgment and pressure to share what s/he wants to keep secret. However, I guarantee that readers/discussers of this book will look at vets differently – and sympathetically, whether mainstreaming in their churches and classrooms or opting out along alleys and street corners.