Friday, April 1, 2011

Arlington Reads 2011: "War Is"

To start off our "Arlington Reads" series, Katie begins with a non fiction collection:

War Is …: Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk About War

My grandfather fought at Iwo Jima in World War II. I always intended to ask him what war was, but I never got around to it.

Some people don’t or won’t talk about their experience as soldiers. As a result, the rest of us are often are left only with the version that Hollywood or the media want us to see--neatly packaged for optimum viewing pleasure. That is what makes War Is...: Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk About War such an important book. Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell have selected firsthand accounts and letters and interviews that bring to life the stark realities of war. The end result neither glamorizes nor belittles the work of the men and women (often teenagers) who serve our country and couldn’t be more timely. 

A few of the selections in this book really stood out to me. Having never considered the armed forces as a possible future for myself, I found that the “Letter to a Young Enlistee” by Christian Bauman really brought this decision making process into perspective. “In the Front Lines” by Ernie Pyle is a collection of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist’s articles from the heart of the action in World War II and served as a powerful reminder of the many sacrifices made by my grandfather’s generation. C. W. Bowman Jr.’s “Memories of Vietnam” were written decades after he returned from fighting. Offering the wisdom that comes with hindsight, his tales of being under siege and running tunnels brought the conflict in Vietnam more to life for me in a few pages than many of the movies I’ve seen on the war.

For a look at the more recent conflict in Iraq, I highly recommend “Women at War: What It Is Like to Be a Female Soldier in Iraq,” a series of profiles of women soldiers who are a growing part of the military; “Wordsmiths at War,” a trio of insightful blog entries by a soldier; and  “Killing Flies” a one-act play by Rita Williams-Garcia about the challenges of returning home after war.

This book may be the closest I ever get to having that conversation with my grandpa. And reading firsthand accounts is most likely is the closest I will ever get to experiencing battle. War is not an easy conversation to have and it’s an even harder thing to define, but War Is... is the sort of book that could get us all talking.*

*For any of you who have a relative who has served in the armed forces and is open to talking about it, I encourage you to use them as a resource, and if they are interested to invite them to participate in the Veterans History Project (VHP). The VHP is a way to start the conversation and preserve these stories for generations to come.

For more information on Arlington Reads 2011, click here.

female soldier image from the Library of Congress

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