Wise warrior

What It Is Like to
Go to War
by Karl Marlantes
He’s tough, and he’s also smart as hell.
Karl Marlantes was a Marine who served in Vietnam—a
combat veteran who earned the Navy Cross and lots of other commendations. Also
graduated from Yale and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. No schlump, this guy.
So he’s tough, he’s smart, and he’s also unblinkingly honest
and—that rarest of things—wise. He’s been figuring things about for the past 40
years about his own experience, and the experience of other warriors. And the
result is this remarkable book, which I want to thrust into people’s hands
everywhere I go. I especially want to hand out copies the next time I’m on
Capitol Hill. Those people need to read Marlantes’ words and take them to
heart. Hell, we all do.
It’s only 256 pages in length, but it’s packed with ideas, and
they’re thoughtful and hard-won truths. This book demands to be read with care,
not because the writing is difficult (it’s not), but because the content is so
damn important. Also, it’s sobering, and often it’s just plain sad-making to
read this book. But people—all kinds of people, and lots of people—really, really, really should read it. It’s the
stuff we need to know before we send people to war. It’s the stuff we need to
know when they return.
Listen to this:
“There is a correct way to welcome your warriors back…  Cheering is inappropriate and immature.
Combat veterans, more than anyone else, know how much pain and evil have been
wrought. To cheer them for what they’ve just done would be like cheering the
surgeon when he amputates a leg to save someone’s life. It’s childish, and it’s
demeaning to those who have fallen on both sides. A quiet grateful handshake is
what you give the surgeon, while you mourn the lost leg. There should be
parades, but they should be solemn processionals, rifles upside down, symbol of
the sword sheathed once again. They should be conducted with all the dignity of
a military funeral, mourning for those lost on both sides, giving thanks for
those returned.” (p. 195)
So, yes, he is sad, but he’s also frank about the ecstasy he
experienced during battle. And then the horrible aftermath of killing.
He tells it true.
It’s an extraordinary book.
And perhaps the best doggone book I’ve read all year. Definitely
the most important.
(Considered writing Karl Marlantes a thank you letter. Probably
should do that. [Note: I don’t write fan mail to authors, so this is a weird inclination on my part.])
For a preview of the book, here’s a half-hour interview
with the author that aired on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” 
And here’s an interview that aired on C-SPAN:

But good as these interviews are, the book’s The Thing.

Highly recommended.

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