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“A precisely crafted and bracingly honest” memoir of war and its aftershocks from the New York Times–bestselling author of Matterhorn (The Atlantic).
In 1968, at the age of twenty-three, Karl Marlantes was dropped into the highland jungle of Vietnam, an inexperienced lieutenant in command of forty Marines who would live or die by his decisions. In his thirteen-month tour he saw intense combat, killing the enemy and watching friends die. Marlantes survived, but like many of his brothers in arms, he has spent the last forty years dealing with his experiences.
In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes takes a candid look at these experiences and critically examines how we might better prepare young soldiers for war. In the past, warriors were prepared for battle by ritual, religion, and literature—which also helped bring them home. While contemplating ancient works from Homer to the Mahabharata, Marlantes writes of the daily contradictions modern warriors are subject to, of being haunted by the face of a young North Vietnamese soldier he killed at close quarters, and of how he finally found a way to make peace with his past. Through it all, he demonstrates just how poorly prepared our nineteen-year-old warriors are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of the journey.
In this memoir, the New York Times–bestselling author of Matterhorn offers “a well-crafted and forcefully argued work that contains fresh and important insights into what it’s like to be in a war and what it does to the human psyche” (The Washington Post).
Marlantes, author of the highly acclaimed novel Matterhorn, reflects in this wrenchingly honest memoir on his time in Vietnam: what it means to go into the combat zone and kill and, most importantly, what it means to truly come home. After graduating from Yale, Marlantes attended Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. But not wanting to hide behind privilege while others fought in his place, he left Oxford in 1967 to ship out to Vietnam as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He eschews straight chronology for a blend of in-country reporting and the paradoxical sense of both fear and exhilaration a soldier feels during war. Most importantly, Marlantes underscores the need for returning veterans to be counseled properly; an 18-year-old cannot "kill someone and contain it in a healthy way." Digging as deeply into his own life as he does into the larger sociological and moral issues, Marlantes presents a riveting, powerfully written account of how, after being taught to kill, he learned to deal with the aftermath. Citing a Navajo tale of two warriors who returned home to find their people feared them until they learned to sing about their experience, Marlantes learns the lesson, concluding, "This book is my song,"