War Literature

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
My brother and I are both pretty avid readers and always have been.  In the past couple of years we have collectively amassed quite a collection of literature pertaining to American wars past and present.  For the most part, I believe the bulk of our collection is centered on World War II.  On the one hand, that war can quite literally be considered the pinnacle of America's strength and ingenuity.  Our country united under a common cause and the "citizen soldier" rose up and crushed the Nazi's and the Japanese to dust.  That story has been told countless times from different perspectives across every conceivable form of media.

Realizing I had a pretty limited scope of American military history, I set out to read a couple of books I felt might broaden my views.  While I won't divulge the entire list in this post, two titles from that selection I recently finished are "Fields of Fire" by James Webb and "The Marines of Autumn" by James Brady. These books take as their focus the Vietnam and Koren wars respectively.  Both books are fictionalized accounts of each conflict and both are written by former Marine Corps officers.

The first book, "Fields of Fire", is the best piece of military fiction I have ever read.  Period. I've been a big Jim Webb ever since he refused to shake former President Bush's hand back in 2006. He also served as an extremely transformative Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, and was generally known for being a stubborn (albeit well founded) son-of-a-bitch.  The changes he enacted upon the Marine Corps are still present today, and he is largely credited for returning the intuition to it's warrior-culture roots.

"Fields of Fire" is Webb's fictionalized personal account of his experiences as a Platoon commander in serving in Vietnam.  Written in the third person narrative, the stories of the physical and personal battles fought by the Marines are pretty moving. One of the story's principal protagonists, the charismatic squad leader Snake, really drive the story in an emotional way that other war novels I have read lacked.

The second book, "The Marines of Autumn" is a similarly fictionalized account of a former Marine Corps officers experiences during the Korean War in the lead-up and aftermath of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir . The first time I ever heard of the "Frozen Chosin" was during my time at OCS in the summer of my Junior year at UW.  Our platoon commander spoke of the battle as being of the same hallowed ground one might find at a site like Iwo Jima.  For those unfamiliar, the battle emerged as a direct result of the arrogance of Supreme Commander MacArthur in the month's prior to an American withdrawal from the war following overwhelming Chinese intervention.

The story follows the journey of reservist captain intelligence officer Thomas Verity as he marches North toward China and the Yalu river with the 1st Marine Division in the fall of 1950.  The plot unfolds as the routed North Korean army receives Chinese support in large numbers and bears down upon the 3 isolated and undersupplied American divisions which together made up MacArthur's X Corps.

In each case, both novel's do a great job of bringing to light the circumstances surrounding two of America's largely forgotten and unpopular wars.  Both authors with the experience of time in the field at their disposal portray each war and their respective battles in a honest and forthcoming light.  Anyone interested in the history of the United States, military or otherwise, would do well to read from either of these selections.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.