For most of the United States’s young history our country has participated in some type of war. From the American Revolution to our current affairs, the US’s future history without wars seems implausible. We can blame the romanticism of war. The ever whispering promise of heroism and invincibility continues to entice the young to serve their country (I am not saying this is the only reason for war, but it is one component). However, these two ideals are quickly destroyed and replaced with a variety of feelings and emotions. Sebastian Junger, author of War, discusses how war evokes excitement and offers its participants the opportunity to discover if they keep will keep living, whereas Tim O’Brien talks about how he learned to survive and understand the meaning behind moral behavior from his post-traumatic stress disorder.  As civilians, we can attempt to grasp the meaning and experience of war, but we won’t truly ever know. Literature and stories are our one tiny peephole into this subject.
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Perry was not supposed to end up in Vietnam, but with the Vietnam draft and the misplacement of his medical paperwork, he is now trying to survive the war.
I think I might need to give up on Walter Dean Myers. I completely respect him as an author, but I have the worst time connecting with his characters. This is not a fault of Myers. It is what it is.
I do appreciate what he tried to do with Fallen Angels. Myers succeeded in capturing the desperation and hopelessness in Vietnam. I do feel the hopelessness that Perry and his soldiers felt. However, this was the only thing I really connected with in the book. Want to feel even more desperation, watch the movie Apocalypse Now. I wanted to be committed to a mental asylum after that movie.
However, beyond this element of plot, my attention started to wane. I think it might be the fictional component. I have read enough war nonfiction that I appreciate the authentic voice. This might be a good introductory book to war, but I would recommend that readers/teachers/students actually pick up the real thing.
On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. While the military bigwigs remained behind in the US, young men placed their lives in danger in the name of “freedom.” Evan Wright, a writer and journalist, accompanied these men. He witnessed how these men perceived their leaders, their team members, and the events surrounding them.
This is a brutal honest look at the war. Wright does not sugarcoat any event. He discusses how some of these young men entered the war under the belief of freedom, while others saw the invasion as America’s greed for oil. Wright even addressees the competence of troop and battalion leaders, and how these mens’ decisions endangered the lives of their men.
If you have an open mind, I would strongly recommend Generation Kill. Wright offers a small glimpse into the minds and actions of the men who helped spearhead the invasion into Iraq. He makes you question everything you heard or saw in the news.
Truce by Jim Murphy
On December 25, 1914, in the midst of World War I, two groups of enemies sit freezing in their trenches. Trying to maintain the holiday spirit, the men on both sides begin to sing Christmas carols, only to hear their enemy also singing. Soon, the men are spilling out 0f the trenches and agreeing to a Christmas truce. This simple act soon sets forth a motion of events that will not only further complicate the war, but put a human face to the enemy.
Final Salute by Jim Sheeler
We have all seen the footage on the news. Another soldier dies in Afghanistan or Iraq. He/She leaves behind a family. However, rarely does the public learn how the loss of these soldiers impact their families. Jim Sheeler visits and interviews people who were impacted by the death of a solider. From the first knock involving the notification of death to the birth of a baby after his father’s death, these stories will break your heart over and over again.
Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick
McCormick reveals how complicated and emotional war is through the story of Matt, a soldier who is suffering from a Traumatic Brain Injury. As Matt deals with his injury, he attempts to piece together the incident that inflicted his injury. The one image he remembers is Ali, a young Iraqi boy being killed. As he slowly remembers what happened, the reader learns that war is not always black and white and that pulling the trigger is not always easy.
1.Anderson, Donald. “‘Soldier-Artists: Preserving the World .'” Paper presented at the annual meeting for the American Literature Association Symposium, New Orleans, October 11, 2013). http://wlajournal.com/25_1/pdf/anderson.pdf