Book Recommendation: What It Is Like To Go To War – Karl Marlantes

Oftentimes, books are my only source of understanding circumstances beyond my comprehension. So when I started to notice a behavioural change in my friends who are now a part of the armed forces for the past three or four years, I thought to give the subject a research. And that’s how I found Karl Marlantes’ – “What Is It Like To Go To War” – his memoir on his days serving the Vietnam War and the aftereffects it had on his psyche.

The book deals with war, the people who fight it, and the PTSD that follows. It’s hence definitely not an easy read, nevertheless, a must-read not only for policymakers, war proponents and military personnel but also for the usual civilians. This is because the book brings to life a thought-provoking, challenging, and emotionally draining take on the people who fight wars for us.

In this book, Marlantes combines personal experience, spirituality, philosophy, historical and even mythological references, to combat the vagaries of war our combat vets go through. “Warriors deal with death. They take life away from others. This is normally the role of God…The Marine Corps taught me how to kill but it didn’t teach me how to deal with the killing.” And because of facing this post-war dilemma himself, Marlantes has a range of training ideas for warriors to return home with least damage to their psyche. He suggests a simple mixture of psychology, ritual practices and spiritual coaching that these men and women can undergo to understand what they’ll experience out there and also to make their reintegration back into the civilian life, easy.

This books gave me an insight into the lives of people who are away from the civilization, fighting a war so the others could lead a life of normalcy. I could understand the gruelling life they put themselves through and probably sympathize with their inability to express emotions what’s otherwise cakewalk for the civilian folk.

For us enjoying the ordinary life, this books gives a sneak peek into the lives of our soldiers and urges us to empathize with their existence, and their lifestyle – a societal reality as much as our own!

Favourite Parts:

  • Many will argue that there is nothing remotely spiritual in combat. Consider this. Mystical or religious experiences have four common components: constant awareness of one’s own inevitable death, total focus on the present moment, the valuing of other people’s lives above one’s own, and being part of a larger religious community such as the Sangha, ummah, or church. All four of these exist in combat. The big difference is that the mystic sees heaven and the warrior sees hell. Whether combat is the dark side of the same version, or only something equivalent in intensity, I simply don’t know.
  • We had learned that there were pangs too sharp, griefs too deep, ecstasies too high for our finite selves to register. When emotion reached this pitch the mind choked; and memory went white till the circumstances were humdrum once more.
  • But all warriors or erstwhile warriors will need to understand that, just like rucksack, ammunition, water and food, guilt and mourning will be among the things they carry. They will shoulder it all for the society they fight for.

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