Oops, I let Veterans Day slide by without posting anything about the date of observance, so here are a few belated thoughts about novelists who write from the war experience. Actually the list is quite long, for it seems that participating in a prolonged military engagement provides good material, not to mention some real-life experience for novelists and other types of creative writers. I’ll skip the great Russian writers – you know the titles – War and Peace or Doctor Zhivago and jump to the American scene.
Actually the American Civil War was not only one of the bloodiest of all wars, but also one of the most written about. Besides such notable stories as the “Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane and the “Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”, by Ambrose Bierce there are over a thousand first-person accounts of the war that were published in book form. Just reading a synopsis of one of these accounts is fascinating, but the going for the whole book might be even better.
Fast forward to the Second War World, which provided firsthand material for a number of successful writers. Take for example Norman Mailer and his “The Naked and the Dead” or James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”, “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut or “Mister Roberts” by Thomas O. Heggen. All of these are stories well told that usually brought the writer some literary fame and financial compensation. Even Jack Kerouac served in WWII with the merchant marines. He too, wrote a story about the adventure which has just recently been published. It is entitled “The Sea Is My Brother”. Not one of his most noteworthy titles, but it goes to show how widely the war experience runs.
Good writing during wartime did not stop during Vietnam with quite a few films and books having been released and still available to readers as paperbacks or DVD’s. My favorite Vietnam War book, “The Things They Carried With Them by Tim O’Brien and Full Metal Jacket, the Stanley Kubrick movie.
I hope this post doesn’t sound like I’m glorifying war, but it is hard to imagine what some of these writers would have done if they hadn’t gone to war.