Franz's Reviews > What It is Like to Go to War

What It is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
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Jul 23, 12

Read in July, 2012

I'm not sure how to describe this book. It is must reading for anyone who considers sending warriors into battle. In America, that would be all of us.

To say that it is a meditation on war and warriors does not do it justice. It's evident that for Marlantes, writing about his experiences as a young Marine lieutenant in Vietnam was a spiritual and psychological exercise. But more than that, he warns us how ill-prepared our warriors are spiritually, psychologically, and morally for the horrors of war. More tragically, how ill-prepared our warriors are along those same dimensions when they must re-enter society without purging and cleansing the evil they have witnessed and have committed. This is not simply a failing of the military, which is more conscious of this now than during the Vietnam era. It a collective failure including us all, and there are processes and rituals that help warriors make those transitions with minimum spiritual and psychic harm.

Marlantes expresses nothing but disgust for jingoistic cant. He recognizes that sometimes war is necessary, and that we must have warriors willing to enter brutal battles with clear eyes and compassionate hearts. He still misses the ecstasy and transcendence of battle, the feeling of being fully alive. He worries that too few, even among warriors, understand the exhilaration and living nightmare of close contact fighting. He wonders about the mental and spiritual health of the drone pilots who kill people from thousands of miles away. How will they cope?

Marlantes writes about heroism, loyalty, killing, guilt, coming home. He writes well, evocatively, and more than once moved me to tears. Though many of our leaders would like us to think otherwise, the warrior knows that war is not about policy; it is about killing as means of protecting those the warrior loves.
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