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The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  259 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Selected for the 2019 Commandant's Professional Reading List

J. Glenn Gray entered the army as a private in May 1941, having been drafted on the same day he was informed of his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University. He was discharged as a second lieutenant in October 1945, having been awarded a battlefield commission during fighting in France. Gray saw service i
Paperback, 242 pages
Published October 1st 1998 by Bison Books (first published 1959)
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Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war-ww2
I had never heard of this book before, but it was a great study of men in combat. J. Glenn Gray was drafted on the same day he received his PhD in philosophy from Columbia University in May 1941. He was discharged as a 2nd Lieutenant in October 1945. Fourteen years later, Gray reread his war journals in an attempt to find some meaning in his wartime experiences. He wrote this book, a philosophical meditation on what warfare does to us and why soldiers act as they do. By the end, he notes, "War r ...more
Oct 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Only those who are serious about treating war as an ethical institution
The very best thing I have read on the attractions of war come from this book. Gray fought in WWII, survived, went to graduate school in philosophy, and decided to write a book.

I suspect that Chris Hedges War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning performs a similar function. In the Western canon, this line of thinking comes from Hegel. (See especially, D.P. Verene's chapter, "Hegel's Account of War," in Hegel's Political Philosophy: Problems Perspectives edited by Z. A. Pelczynski.) Hegel argues tha
Nov 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An excellent read if you are in any way interested about the psychology of soldiers in war. Gray had a PhD in philosophy when he was enlisted as a private in WWII and this book is a work of both psychology and philosophy. He discusses WWII and the soldiers in it frankly, openly, and objectively as possible; none of the good war bullshit. For the time he was writing in, the 50s, some of his conclusions are surprising and prescient. As a veteran myself, Gray gave a specific and clear voice to many ...more
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had read this book as a textbook while an undergraduate, but it was wasted on me then. It was just words. Now, as a slightly more mature adult in my 50s, who has served in Bosnia and a couple of times in Afghanistan, it had more resonance. I re-read it over Memorial Day weekend.

I was struck by a couple of things. The first was the depth and complexity of his entries in his war journal. Amazing that he had the time and discipline to keep up with it.

Another was that soldiers are fundamentally un
Steven Meyers
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
The late Mr. Gray (1913-1977) offers a unique perspective on the effects of war for soldiers. The book was published in 1959 and is about his experiences during World War II. He had just received his doctorate in philosophy when he was drafted and saw campaigns in France, North Africa, Italy, and Germany. The author’s book is not a memoir as much as an analysis of the effects war has on soldiers and civilians. Don’t kid yourself, war leaves lasting psychological scars on all soldiers, even on To ...more
Jul 14, 2017 marked it as reference
Shelves: research, memoir
Poignant and revealing about the soldier's experience before, during and after warfare. Very helpful for writing in a soldier's POV, in fact. I'm just reading short selections, but I bought it to keep on hand for moments when I'm struggling to get into my character's head. ...more
Joseph Stieb
Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Gray, a WWII veteran, reflects on the experience and psychology on this thoughtful if somewhat hit or miss book. Clay weaves diary entries and letters into his argument, and he presents really profound and compelling experiences through these sources. This is one of the first major works of combat psychology, although it is really more of a philosophy book because there's not much genuine psychology in here.

There were a number of points in this book I thought were fascinating. One was the differ
Jul 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
I read this ages ago in college, and found it even more moving when I reread it recently. Gray essentially makes the same argument that Simone Weil does in her famous essay "The Iliad or The Poem of Force": Where Weil states that force turns combatants into "things ... stone," Gray says "Man as warrior is only partly a man, yet, fatefully enough this aspect of him is capable of transforming the whole."

In describing the abstract, Weil's style has the power of near poetic epigram, whereas Gray's s
Steve Woods
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is outstanding! It is rare for soldiers to have the capacity to reflect so deeply on their experience in war. Most lack the tools, the insight or the inclination. The resultant impact on identity is so overwhelming that it fells everything leaving no room much for reflection. Gray's Doctorate in Philosophy no doubt provided a framework for him that most others lack and he kept a detailed diary to help the process when eventually, when time had passed he was able to undertake the task. ...more
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A smart man talking about a deep and sorrowful topic in a tender and insightful way. This book could have been written yesterday. He makes an incredibly robust topic of how many handle the rigors and horrors of war easy to imbibe. Gray is able to break down the burdens that weigh on a man and his reactions to them into digestible chunks of personal experience and philosophy is unparalleled. Why do we fight? Because not enough of us won't. ...more
Kara Lucas
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Part essay, part memoir, this spare, elegant book on the psychology of war will stay with me for a long time. Perhaps because the author has his doctorate in philosophy, I found his quest to describe the reasons why we go to war, how the soldier views war, and ultimately how war defines each soldier's quest for humanity hauntingly beautiful, and heartbreaking. My favorite parts of the book were sections of his own personal journal during his time at a soldier in World War II. ...more
Andrew Davis
Aug 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A discourse on war by a participant of the Second War in Europe, who was also a philosopher. An introduction by Hannah Arendt adds the gravity to its contents. Based on his war time diaries the author discusses a number of aspects concerning the war. He discusses the enduring appeals of battle, love as war's ally and foe, the soldier's relations to death, images of enemy, the ache of guilt and future of war.

The author identifies the enduring appeals of battle to war as a spectacle, comradeship t
Dan Downing
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have lost track of who recommended this to me — a debt I owe. Mr. Gray served in WWII, having received, in May 1941, both his "Greetings" letter and his notification he had been granted his Ph.D. Fortunately for us, he not only survived but kept a journal during his Army days. He draws on it to aid the meditations and reflections used here to tie men in war to god, death, nationhood, humanity, and conscience. As so often happens he and I were tethered by interesting if meaningless threads. He ...more
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, wwii

This is a sober treatise on war written by a World War II vet nearly 15 years after his service in Europe. He uses his Philosophy degree, combined with a good bit of psychology, to address mankind's participation in war. The author analyzes this by using several thematic topics, such as how those in war relate to death, and to love; the nature of seeing another human as an enemy; the future of war, and so on.

Despite the sports-team connection, this 1959 work does not glorify the life or actions
Gray earned his doctorate of philosophy from Columbia University the same day that he was drafted into the army to fight in WWII. This is book that he wrote years later after much reflection and relying on his war journals and letters to friends.

Why I started this book: Professional Reading title, and I'm always ready to read more about WWII.

Why I finished it: Deep thought in an author is rare and appreciated...
Sep 17, 2018 marked it as to-keep-reference
There is indeed something larger than the self, able to provide people with a sense of purpose they think worth dying for: the group. (Of course, one groups noble purpose is sometimes another groups pure evil.)

The Happiness Hypothesis Pág.238
Mela Lozano
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Dull reading. I found myself struggling to complete this book. Each chapter carries a redundant argument. The authors argument in each chapter is interesting but very hard to get through. The personal diary entries are the more exciting bits of the book.
Mar 02, 2021 rated it liked it
There are many deep thoughts on man's relationship with war that probably flew over my head. I think it's a bit too wordy, but will probably return again to it someday. ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: waste-of-paper
Wilson Lanue
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, mil, wwii
Gray received his philosophy degree and his induction notice in the same batch of mail, and, instead of fighting with a rifle, served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in the ETO.

As a set of philosophical "reflections," and as a book written by a pacifist, this is not a representative WWII memoir. For example, Gray's claim that "many an American soldier felt shocked and ashamed" (199-200) at the use of atomic weapons against Japan is not supported by accounts from frontline soldiers.

That said,
Jul 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Written during the Cold War from the perspective of a conscript Army in WWII, it probably doesn't reflect well the feelings of our all contemporary volunteer force engaged in continual low intensity conflict. My only criticism is that he glossed over the use of the atomic weapons to end the war as immoral, and failed to address his own involvement in torture of enemy POW's an issue that is of current interest. But a very interesting read of the view of a combat soldier who also had a PhD in phil ...more
Philosophy. I misinterpreted the title. I thought it would contain more individual reflections by men who had experienced battle. It does, but only as occasional reference material. It is mostly the author's own, quite dense and verbose personal reflections, insights and conclusions. Which is fair enough. He is, after all a philosopher. Not my sort of thing and I did not finish it, so it would be inappropriate for me to rate. ...more
David Gross
May 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It had all of the elements of a book I thought I'd really get in to, but it never grabbed me. A little too abstract and ethereal in spite of its subject matter. Still, a thought-provoking read. In a way, it picks up where William James's much more superficial "The Moral Equivalent of War" leaves off. ...more
Aug 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The explanation of what it's like, emotionally, to be in a war. Written by a philosopher. Well worth reading. ...more
May 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Moving, introspective, powerful.
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