War: A Memorial Day Reading List
Searching for Illusive Truth in the Literature of Conflict
Memorial Day as summer’s gateway is a relatively young notion. A federal law moving the holiday to the last Monday of the month was passed in 1968, and enacted three years later—around the same time President Nixon eliminated the draft and created an all-volunteer force, which effectively ended America’s upper and middle classes’ engagement with its armed forces. If Memorial Day in 2015 is more associated with trips to the beach and mattress sales than it is with remembering the war dead, that seems partly by design.
In an era of that all-volunteer force, of brushfire wars and clandestine Navy SEAL missions, of dueling bin Laden-raid narratives and drones, so many f’ing drones, the disassociation and distance between the American citizenry and America’s wars can feel vast. Because, well—it is vast. But, presuming one pays their taxes, we’re all a part of it. Which makes the struggle to be involved with what our soldiers and sailors are doing in our name all the more imperative, to substantively know the human consequences of these wars all the more essential. Because we’re all responsible.
To wit: in Iraq, my scout platoon and I didn’t just wear the lightning bolt patch of the 25th Infantry Division. We wore the American flag on our shoulders, too.
As in Orwell’s time of universal deceit, telling the truth remains a revolutionary act. Where better to find truth—or at least something that aspires for it—than in literature? Who better to seek it, to tell it, than writers?
Do the subversive thing today, any day. Defy the masters of the American war machine. Read about war and conflict, be it the human experience of the civilian or the human experience of the journalist or the human experience of the combatant. Here are fourteen such texts, worthy of consideration:
SLIDESHOW: A Memorial Day Reading List