War, Huh?: A Short List of Literature

by K.M. Zahrt

View or review President Obama’s speech regarding possible military action in Syria, which took place last night. The following is a short list of Literature to consider reading regarding the human experience of war.

  1. Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf
  2. A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway
  3. Johnny Got His Gun (1939) by Dalton Trumbo
  4. Once There Was a War (1958) by John Steinbeck
  5. Catch-22 (1961) by Joseph Heller
  6. The Thin Red Line by (1962) James Jones
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969) by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. Born on the Fourth of July (1976) by Ron Kovic
  9. A People’s History of the United States (1980) by Howard Zinn
  10. The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O’Brien
  11. The Regeneration Trilogy (1991-95) by Pat Barker
  12. In the Lake of the Woods (1994) by Tim O’Brien

Here is the trouble I have with supporting military action in general as a wanna-be good, common, U.S. citizen: the common U.S. citizen knows almost nothing. There are so many variables at stake (at high stakes–paid in human lives), and we don’t even begin to know or understand most of them. President Obama wouldn’t be able to articulate many of them in a way we’d understand or believe, even if he tried. President Obama, like many U.S. presidents before him, is forced to make decisions, knowing as many of those variables as possible. Similarly, decisions to take military actions are often decided by politicians who have already been elected, regardless of any support or dissent from you or me. That’s all we know.

But here’s the bottom line: even a good war or good military action is, at best, a compromise. Good military action must answer the question: was the cost in human lives worth the outcome? History should (maybe, if we’re lucky) uncover whether or not any upcoming decision is good or bad. We would have to wait and see. Although (especially recent) history would tell us, most military actions, however necessary, result in some kind of debacle that makes it difficult to answer that question favorably.

So good luck and God bless, President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Congress. You’re in a tight spot. I hope your diplomacy works out.

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5 thoughts on “War, Huh?: A Short List of Literature

  1. I think the only book I read in high school was “Company K” for extra credit. Remember Dr. Blake? He encouraged me to read it. And I was glad I did.

    Here is a little teaser from Wiki:

    The novel comprises 131 vignettes about World War I Marines in Company K. The novel is told from the viewpoint of 131 different Marines, stretching from the beginning of training to the end of the war. These sketches create contrasting and horrific accounts of the daily life endured by the common Marine. Many of the accounts stem from actual events witnessed and experienced by the author.

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