What Is It Like To Go To War?


Do any of us really want to know what it is like to go to war? Or would we rather that our warriors fold away their wartime experience in a bottom drawer and bring it out as a line on a bio, as family history, as mere fodder for our entertainment?

I found myself thinking about that after Annemarie Dooling at the Huffington Post asked me if any of our bloggers or readers would like to take part in their online bookclub What It Is Like To Go To War. I already bought the Karl Marlantes book that marries his own wartime experience with the philosophy of war. I read the first chapter and recommended it to everyone I met. Then I couldn’t make myself read the rest of it.

Because I am afraid. I am afraid of this book. I keep telling myself that as military writer, as a sometimes-trainer of those who have been in combat, as an Air Force daughter and Navy wife and soon-to-be Army mom, as an American civilian. I ought to read this book.  I ought to know what war is like so that I can be useful to those in uniform. But every time I approach this book it is like I am walking up to a darkened house on an empty street alone.  I don’t want to go inside.

I don’t really want to know what war is like.  If I am honest about this, I know I want the service members who belong to me to come home from deployment unscathed.  I want to be able to sniff them all over for lingering signs of combat stress or undetected TBI or thoughts of suicide.  If my guys and your guys are OK in this moment, I want them to be OK forever.  I want the experience of war to leave them all unchanged.

That is fear talking.  So I picked up the book again this week.  What Marlantes points out is that it is naive to think that a person will emerge from war unchanged.  Our young warriors will be battered and overwhelmed—that is what happens in war. That is scary for me.

But you should know that what Marlantes does in What It Is Like To Go To War is to lead us by the hand through that dark house.  He turns on lamps.  He shows us how things get so scary and how warriors learn to process and what they have been through and how sacred that process must be.  He shows where the meaning of military experience emerges and what our role in that can be.  Marlantes writes:

“We must come to grips with consciously trying to set straight this imbalance of modern warfare.  What is at stake is not only the psyche of each young fighter but our humanity.”
That’s why we ought to read this book together.  Because although so few serve, the rest of us send them into war and live with them after.  My instinct is right—we ought to know what war is like so that we can be useful to our military members when they come home.  This will just be a whole lot less scary if we go into the knowing together.  Add your military voice to the discussion at the  Huffington Post book club here.


Navy wife Jacey Eckhart is Editor of SpouseBuzz and author of I Married a Spartan??  The Care and Feeding of Your Military Marriage available on iTunes, Amazon, and on www.jaceyeckhart.com.

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