What It Is Like to Go to War is a powerful nonfiction piece of introspection by Karl Marlantes. He wrote it years after returning home from the Vietnam War. Karl Marlantes juts like all the other warriors that return home from a mission to serve their country in war engaged in recording a variety of martial legacy in various forms of literary. Some involved in writing to claim their place in history while other like Karl Marlantes in the book wrote to offer counsel and an introspection of his service in War (Gillam). All theses attempt by Marlantes just the other Veterans before him and his time engaged in writing this literature in pursuit of the elusive catharsis called closure after a traumatic experience in combat. Even after writing Matterhorn a fictional literary on War, Marlantes needed closure that was not coming decades after his days in combat. Marlantes just like the others with and before him needed closure from fighting to move on with his life due to the haunting images that came with a battle. Therefore, the book was a search for closure not just for Marlantes but also for his fellow veterans as indicated in the paper below.
What It Is Like to Go to Wars a book based on Karl Marlantes personal experience in combat. He extends propositions to the general society on how to approach the war and how the warriors need to be prepared before they are sent to war. Drawing from his personal experiences in the Vietnam War as a young reserve officer in the Marine Corps, he formulates a proposal to equip better the young soldiers that society expects to send to war. In the book, he asserts that the individuals need emotional and psychological preparation for the reality that there would be death at the war front. He also calls upon them to treat the enemy with humanity and to use violence in an ethical manner and should be encouraged that combat can be enjoyable and thrilling. Moreover, given the necessary tools to cope with the feelings of shame they have, they can successfully be rehabilitated after the War. In the book, Marlantes admits to having enjoyed combat but reflects on the sadness and emptiness he now feels years after the ending of the war in a period of retrospect. Therefore, the book indicates the need to offer the Veterans a period to “detoxify” after leaving combat before returning home to the regular citizens. The society also needs to recognize its role in preparing and welcoming back the warriors, and he called upon the leaders to take on a "warrior's dictum" not to use violence unnecessarily and that they also have the power to mobilize troops hence are warriors as well. Marlantes further asserts on the need to engage in War for valid reasons and to try other means before resulting to violence and that the violence should be made as short as possible to end the warfare as fast as possible. There should also be a mechanism to reintegrate the warriors back to the society upon their return. Marlantes uses the metaphor of Mars the Roman god of War to urge reconnection of the concepts of war and justice present in the earliest forms of god (Marlantes, 1-257).
Karl Marlantes was a young reserve officer in the Marine Corps studying on a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University and then entered active service and joined the Vietnam War. While serving in Vietnam, he was an active combat officer commanding fighters in the thick jungle and witnessed death on a daily basis and was wounded by a grenade himself. He received several medals for his actions including the Navy Cross one of the highest combat awards. Upon his return from the War, Marlantes continued his studies at Oxford and went into military intelligence in Washington DC (Gillam). As a Veteran, he witnessed animosity from many Americans that had opposed engagement in the Vietnam War with some individuals avoiding or confronting him on his role in the War. He also struggled significantly with haunting visions and nightmares as well as anger and sought to help through therapy. It is the backdrop of the experience that inspired him to write the book what It Is Like to Go to War as a form of introspection or a memoir of his experience in Vietnam to get closure. He writes openly and freely about, his experiences and does not shy away from recognizing his responsibilities (Marlantes, 1-257).
The closure is the ending of a significant phase in a person’s life that may be difficult and painful especially if the experience was one that was traumatic such as the one that soldiers have in combat. The closure is being able to let go of the experiences and life. Therefore, finding closure is to have a complete acceptance of what is happening and honoring of the transition that is in the ways of leaving the past behind. It is a fundamental aspect for every Veteran to have because War changes the majority of the people and they need a form of reintegration into the society (Van Hiel and Mervielde, 558). However, there is majority of individuals that bring the war back home experiencing nightmares and other symptoms of posttraumatic stress. There are others that may have a strong sense of guilt and shame for the things they did in war and hence the need to offer mechanisms for the Veterans to let go of that past. If they do not have closure, it may result in serious issues with the society such as violence, anger, and even suicide among those that cannot cope with the effects. It also leads to problems with blending back into society meaning that such individuals may be impossible to lead a normal productive life after the war. Therefore, closure is fundamental for the soldiers (Van Hiel and Mervielde, 558).
In the book, Marlantes indicates the need for closure in the chapters and the discussions that he presents. The book conveyed in a series of topics has chaptered such as “killing”, “Guilt”, “Heroism”, “The Club” and “Coming Home” of the Combat Veterans (Gillam). It is a direct effort to share the experiences of the Veterans in the different areas right from war to home. It also indicates the efforts of the Veterans to support one another to go past the war through the formation of the club as shown in one of the chapters. Marlantes further asserts that they have waited for long to get a resolution after returning home. He says, “I agree, that Vietnam veterans, and their contemporaries, too, have waited too long for a resolution of these issues.” He refers to the issues that they bring home from the war. He further asserts that the factors of class, race, educational limitations, and culture had left many veterans uncommunicative of their experiences of which communication of experiences is the fundamental step to going past an experience. To achieve closure, the individual needs to communicate their feelings and communicate so as to ace[pt their responsibility in the situation to own up the experiences which leads to a step forward as the pain, anger, guilt, and shame will be lifted as one talks about the experiences (Gillam).
For there to be closure, there is a need for the individual to have some time to grieve the loss or rather come to terms with what they have witnessed or having to leave behind an experience. They should be offered an opportunity to grief in a time frame to ensure that an individual is ready for integration into society or to move forward (Van Hiel and Mervielde, 559). Failure to have a chance to grieve may lead to poor choices later. It is a factor that is emphasized by Marlantes in the book when he recommends the need for the society and the system to offer a grace period for the Veterans to come to terms with the war before going them back into the society. A debrief and a period of preparation of the individual to going back to the civilian is critical to ensure that they are all ready to face the world and leave the war and its experiences behind (Gillam).
There is also need to have a plan for the future for the individual to be able to have closure (Van Hiel and Mervielde, 560). Marlantes emphasizes the need to prepare the soldiers before they go to the war on the realities they are bound to face while in war. He asserts that they need to be aware of the death they may face there watching their colleague die and killing the enemy as well. He, therefore, calls upon leaders to ensure that the war is one that is justified and for the right reasons not just politically motivated violence but since violence as the last result. Moreover, he reiterates the need to have a plan for the Veterans so that they can have something to fall back on their return home. It is because many veterans unlike him that were privileged to have a good education majority of the other Veterans had no education and also were racial, culturally and economically disadvantaged leaving them hollow and wallowing in the war (Gillam).
In conclusion, the book What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes is an articulated and complex search for closure by a veteran for his fellow veterans and himself. It is written in an empathetic voice as the author shares his experiences in combat and makes a recommendation on how to rehabilitate and also pre[pare the warriors before and after the war. It is like a guide on how to find closure and protect the soul of the soldiers sent to fight to serve and protect their country.
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