Saturday, November 05, 2011

Hard Rain

I just finished reading Karl Marlantes's What It Is Like To Go To War, his memoir of Vietnam, and how he came to put it in perspective. It's a must-read for anybody going into an active war-zone, as well as anybody who will potentially have to deal with life-or-death situations involving deliberate intent. And thanks to Denny Bershaw for sending the book my way.

This was written for warriors by a warrior, and it is a warts-and-all picture that covers the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how sometimes it's impossible to tell one from the other. 

Marlantes was a platoon commander in the Marines, and his tour-of-duty covered serious combat on the ground. He won the Navy Cross, a Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for Valor, two Purple Hearts, and Ten Air Medals. How he dealt with his feeling then and afterward is why you read it: It's a primer on how to be a warrior and why you have to have rituals and ways of blowing off what can become corrosive and self-destructing steam.

I haven't been there, so I don't know, but it mostly feels real to me. Some of the events seem a bit over the top, and knowing he is a novelist makes me wonder if he automatically adjusted his memories toward the dramatic, but even if he did, his points are impossible to dispute. We are tool-using apes who, when killing begins, hate it, fear it, glory in it, and at some level, enjoy it. Within most of us, the potential to do all of those exists.

If the book has one drawback, it's that Marlantes uses footnotes. I can understand this, he returned from the war and went to Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar (after Yale) so there is that academic bent; however, a narrative like this doesn't need this kind of aside, it only stops the flow, which is otherwise well-done. The book should be passed out with uniforms in basic training to every military unit we have.

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