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What It is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
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's review
Dec 17, 2011

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Read in December, 2011

By far the best part of Karl Marlantes' massive Vietnam War novel Matterhorn of a few years ago was the way he evoked the everyday, obviously often horrific details of what fighting and living and dying in the jungle was really like. So when What It's Like to Go to War came out, and Amazon gave it a "best of whatever-month" award, I thought, excellent, more of the same, but now as a memoir. The result: sort of. In this much slimmer, MUCH more pseudo-philosophical essay-ish book, Marlantes does indeed again offer vivid, alarmingly "exciting" play-by-play descriptions of several specific battles he fought during the war (no real surprise I guess, but they're the same battles he depicted in Matterhorn), and he has some interesting things to say about the emotional and spiritual costs of war, and how we need to do better as a society of taking care of these people whom we send off to battle (it's one thing to get veterans to not repress their terrors and shame, or express it in (self-) destructive ways; it's another altogether to help them live with these feelings when they emerge). But much of the last third of the book slips into mushy Robert Bly-y territory, and some of his opinions about men and warriors are just sort of offensive.

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