Monday, June 13, 2011

What It's Like to Go to War

Karl Marlantes’s 2010 Vietnam War novel, Matterhorn, was some thirty years in the making, years during which Marlantes continued to fine tune his story while waiting for the marketplace to be ready for him. Following the success of this acclaimed debut novel, Marlantes, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, now uses his real life combat experience as the basis to explore how insufficiently America’s young men and women are prepared for modern warfare.

In What It's Like to Go to War, Marlantes addresses the history of warfare, a history as old as man himself, and the methods used by various cultures to prepare young men to risk giving their lives for the perceived good of their country or tribe. The author believes that, compared to warriors of the past, today’s soldier not only has far superior weapons, he is, in fact, better prepared “technically and tactically” than ever before. His concern is that these young soldiers are not being prepared to cope with the moral and psychological stresses associated with modern warfare. Marlantes does not, however, believe that the kind of individual soul searching necessary to prepare them properly for war can be accomplished via today’s cookie-cutter training programs. This must be accomplished, he offers, by the individual, alone or with the help of a peer or mentor who has already successfully crossed that bridge.

What It's Like to Go to War is Karl Marlantes’s attempt to help America’s young fighters maintain their sanity – both during, and after, their combat experiences. To his way of thinking, if these young men and women go into war with the proper mindset, they will not only do no more harm than their mission requires of them, they will be able to make a healthy adjustment to life when they return home. In order to accomplish this, the terror and horrors of war they experience have to be placed into their proper context so that the overall experience means something.

One of the most striking characteristics of modern warfare addressed by Marlantes is the way that modern technology has blended the worlds of combat and home. Today’s soldier has the luxury of calling home within minutes of the end of a firefight in which he thought he would die. In addition to communicating by telephone, he can exchange photos and messages via email, and if he is so inclined, can tweet on Twitter and check-in with friends and family on their Facebook pages. His two worlds become so blurred that it is near impossible for him to leave behind the stress of combat when he is thrust back into the arms of his family at breakneck speed.

What It's Like to Go to War should be read required reading for every young man and woman before they place their lives on the line for the first time - if not even before they formally become part of the military. It should be read by our policy makers, those who decide where, and how many of, our soldiers will be put in harm’s way each time a new hotspot flares. It should be read by those drill sergeants and officers that train our troops for combat. And, just as importantly, it should be read by the families of those who serve so courageously. This is an important – and practical – book.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. This sounds very interesting. I hadn't thought of this blending of the life at war and back home through technology but it does make a lot of sense indeed. I thought it would be easier to be able to stay in contact but that's maybe not true at all.

  2. Caroline, Marlantes points our that, in the past, soldiers had some decompression, downtime before they returned home. They were eased into civilian and domestic life...nowadays, it is impossible for soldiers to separate the two distinct parts of their lives. They are forever changed by warfare and unable to let it go because it becomes such a part of their everyday existence, completed blended in with their family life in a very destructive way.