Soldier-writers have long produced American literature, from Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs about the Civil War to Norman Mailer’s World War II novel, “The Naked and the Dead,” to Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” about Vietnam.Emphasis mine
The current group is different. As part of a modern all-volunteer force, they explore the timeless theme of the futility of war — but wars that they for the most part support. The books, many written as rites of passage by members of a highly educated young officer corps, are filled with gore, inept commanders and anguish over men lost in combat, but not questions about the conflicts themselves. “They look at war as an aspect of glory, of finding honor,” said Mr. O’Brien, who was drafted for Vietnam in 1968 out of Macalester College in St. Paul. “It’s almost an old-fashioned, Victorian way of looking at war.”
The writers say one goal is to explain the complexities of the wars — Afghan and Iraqi politics, technology, the counterinsurgency doctrine of protecting local populations rather than just killing bad guys — to a wider audience. Their efforts, embraced by top commanders, have even bled into military reports that stand out for their accessible prose.
“The importance of good official writing is so critical in reaching a broader audience to get people to understand what we’re trying to do,” said Capt. Matt Pottinger, a Marine and former reporter for The Wall Street Journal who is a co-author of the report “Fixing Intel,” an indictment of American intelligence-gathering efforts in Afghanistan released last month. “Even formal military doctrine is well served by a colloquial style of writing.”
Monday, February 8, 2010
Narrative in Service to the State: Brian Turner, A Well-Written War
It would be hard to find a better example of the inseparability of narrative, whether poetry or fiction, from politics, than Elizabeth Bumiller's NYT review of Brian Turner's A Well-Written War. The last paragraph quoted here is a perfect demonstration of how a documentary mindset--the conscious pursuit of 'objectivity,' is most ideologically in debt to conventions that rationalize the status quo and erase alternative ways of imagining the world: hence, the most restrictive and limited representations of reality. To show the world the way it seems to be is propaganda, not art.