Quick research question:…

Quick research question: Can you recommend any good books that offer the perspectives of young soldiers? I've ordered All Quiet on the Western Front, but realize that my military knowledge is tremendously lacking.

Any war/conflict is fine, since what I'm most looking for is individual experience of battle, character insight. Though I'd give a bit of a priority to more recent conflicts, last fifty years or so. I'm particularly interested in very young protagonists -- teens, early twenties. And please, engaging writing, because I am not a military nut and will not be able to wade through a whole lot of military-speak.

Any ideas?

9 thoughts on “Quick research question:…”

  1. Michael Herr’s Dispatches (on Vietnam) is a journalist’s outsider view, but a must-read.

    Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a semi-autobiographical novel based on his Vietnam experience. (Susan will second me on the excellence of this book — maybe you remember us talking about it at the Oregon workshop?) I hear his Going After Cacciato is good, too.

    Paul Watkins’ Night over Day over Night, about a 17-year old who joins the SS at pretty much exactly the wrong time (1944). (Not autobiographical.)

    Kameron just read Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Sierra Leone; autobiographical) and said it was excellent, though a bit abrupt toward the end.

    Also, movies. Apocalypse Now: Redux (the “director’s cut”) is much funnier and better-paced than the original release, and seems shorter even though it’s longer. The minor characters, particularly, get much better treatment. Black Hawk Down gets (rightly, up to a point) knocked for being one-sided and lacking context, but for close-up examination of individual experience, it’s excellent. So is the HBO WW2 series, Band of Brothers.

  2. Robert E. Harris

    The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell is based on Britsh letters and journals in the Imperial War Museum, WW I stuff. Fussell also wrote The Boys’ Crusade about US soldiers in WW II in Europe, and a volume of autobiography which has some acount of his own experinces in WW II in Europe. He was a very young infantry lieutenant and was seriously wounded.
    There are some quotations from soldier’s letters about battles in McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, and these give the same sort of impression that things in Fussell’s books give and other sources, too. Enthusiasm before the first batle, disillusion after.


  3. These may not meet your parameters of “experience of battle,” but Jarhead by Anthony Swofford (Marine in the first Gulf War, also recently made into a movie) and Absolutely American: Four Years At West Point by David Lipsky (journalist follows a class of WP cadets) both feature quite young soldiers and recent conflicts.

  4. Jim (of Tallahassee)

    The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell
    Author: Crawford, John
    Description: John Crawford joined the Florida National Guard to pay for his college tuition, willingly exchanging one weekend a month and two weeks a year for a free education. But in fall 2002, one semester short of graduating and newly married — in fact, on his honeymoon — he was called to active duty and sent to the front lines in Iraq.

  5. It seems like its too obvious, but you should look at Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, which is all about the feelings of a young man during the Civil War. It does exactly what you seem to want, and it is one of the truly great novels in American literature. All Quiet is another one of the great books on the topic, but RB is from the perspective of Henry Fleming throughout.

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