War is Still Hell

War is never justified. It is never necessary. But war is inevitable so long as we continue to believe it to be justified and necessary. Here are a few recently published exemplary titles that explore different dimensions of war.

  • Ghosts of WarSmithson, Ryan. Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old G.I. Collins, 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-166468-7 $16.99
  • Ryan Smithson thought about joining the military the moment he saw the World Trade Center collpase on television. Smithson enlisted in the Army Reserve the following year and, a year into the Iraq war, is deployed to an Army engineer unit as a heavy equipment operator. Smithson’s poignant, often harrowing memoir, especially vivid in sensory details, chronicles his experiences in basic training and in Iraq. “Only after we have been completely destroyed can we begin to find ourselves,” Smithson writes of basic training, offering an unflinchingly honest portrait of the physical and psychological brutality of that experience. His account of his tour of duty in Iraq is no less compelling. He lucidly recounts the intensity of battle and the pain of losing comrades. For Smithson, the war is a source of personal enlightenment. “War is hell, but war is also paradise,” he writes. He further observes, “I’m grateful for the worst in humanity, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to understanding the best in humanity.”  Ghosts of War is a remarkable, deeply penetrating memoir that will compel readers to reflect on their own thoughts about duty, patriotism, and sacrifice.
  • Sunrise Over FallujahMyers, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah. Scholastic, 2008. ISBN 978-0-439-91624-0 $17.99
  • Like the real-life Ryan Smithson, fictional Robin Perry feels compelled to do something after September 11, 20o1 and joins the army. While stationed in Kuwait with war looming, he begins writing letters home to his parents and to his Uncle Richie, the main character from Myers’s acclaimed Vietnam War novel, Fallen Angels (Scholastic, 1988). Robin is assigned to a diverse Civil Affairs unit of both men and women, with a mission to serve as a buffer between winning over the Iraqi people and concurrent military operations. As the war unfolds, the military angle of Robin’s job escalates, and he experiences increasing horrors of violence, death, destruction, insecurity, sorrow, and extreme fear. He realizes why his  Uncle Richie never wanted to talk to their family about what happened in Vietnam. Myers brilliantly depicts the opening months of the Iraq War by vividly capturing its pivotal moments in 2003.
  1. Off to WarEllis, Deborah. Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children. Groundwood, 2008. ISBN 978-0-88899-894-1 $15.95
  2. Ellis turns her attention to the children of U.S. and Canadian military personnel and how their lives have been affected by their parents’ deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. They talk openly about their lives, how they deal with a parent’s absence, and their fears for their parents’ safety. They discuss family relationships, including changes in their parents after a tour of duty. Some have experienced the death of a parent or relative. Others talk about their strong relationship with the parent at home and about the hardships the family faces with absent parents. They express their opinions about war, think about future careers, and offer advice to others on how to cope as an army kid. Each interview is prefaced by a paragraph that provides extra information, for example, on army bases, the National Guard, the war in Iraq, or support groups. Although the emphasis is on the war trauma that can affect both the soldier and the soldier’s family, these young people take pride in their parents’ service. Ellis provides an insightful, sobering reminder of the burdens soldiers’ families must bear.
  1. Children of WarEllis, Deborah. Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees. Groundwood, 2008. ISBN 978-0-88899-907-8 $15.99
  2. In the fall of 2007, Ellis visited Jordan in an attempt to bring attention to the plight of adolescent Iraqi refugees. With the help of interpreters, she interviews child refugees between the ages of 8 and 19 from Iraq , now living in Jordan, and a few who have made it to Canada. This poignant collection of voices represent individuals who have suffered through more death, destruction, and violence in their young lives than most people endure in a lifetime.  The brief introduction discusses Iraq’s contemporary politics and the ethnic and religious diversity, and Ellis is clear about the brutality of Saddam, his fall, the role of oil in the conflict, the U.S. invasion, and bombing. Accompanying each interview is a brief introduction and a photo, although a few children didn’t want to be identified. A powerful, moving portrait of the forgotten victims of war.
  1. War IsAronson, Marc and Patty Campbell, eds. War Is… Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk about War. Candlewick, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7636-3625-8
  2. In this provocative anthology, two editors with opposing viewpoints present a powerful indispensible collection of works reflecting on the nature of war. Aronson believes war is inevitable, while Campbell calls war is crazy, cruel, deceptive, delusional and unbearable. What both agree on is the need for teens to hear the truthful voices from those who have experienced war firsthand. What they have compiled is a provocative collection of essays, memoirs, letters, and fiction from nearly than twenty contributors. The contemporary and historical selections include columns by World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, Christian Bauman’s heart-wrenching “Letter to a Young Enlistee,” excerpts from Chris Hedges’s What Every Person Should Know about War and Nagasaki survivor Fumiko Miura’s  memoir.  This is an important book that will prompt much discussion and reflection.
Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 11:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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