In 1969, at the age of twenty-two, Karl Marlantes was dropped into the highland jungle of Vietnam, an inexperienced second lieutenant in command of a platoon of forty Marines who would live or die by his decisions. Marlantes was a bright young man who was well trained for the task at hand but, as he was to discover, far from mentally prepared for what he was about to experience. In his thirteen-month tour he saw intense combat. He killed the enemy and he watched 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 deeply personal and candid look at the experience and ordeal of combat, critically examining how we might better prepare our young soldiers for war. War is as old as humankind, but in the past, warriors were prepared for battle by ritual, religion, and literature – which also helped bring them home. In a compelling narrative, Marlantes weaves riveting accounts of his combat experiences with thoughtful analysis, self-examination, and his readings – from Homer to the Mahabharata to Jung. He tells frankly about how he is haunted by the face of a young North Vietnamese soldier he killed at close quarters and how he finally finds a way to make peace with his past. Marlantes discusses the daily contradictions that warriors face in the grind of war, where each battle requires them to take life or spare life, and where they enter a state he likens to the fervor of religious ecstasy. He makes it clear just how poorly prepared our nineteen-year-old warriors – mainly men but increasingly women – are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of the journey.
Just as Matterhorn is already being acclaimed as a classic of war literature, What It Is Like to Go to War is set to become required reading for anyone – soldier or civilian – interested in this visceral and all too essential part of the human experience.
About the Author
A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten Air Medals. He is the author of the best-selling and prize-winning Matterhorn.