/ Published July 14, 2010
When War Becomes Personal: Soldiers' Accounts from the Civil War to Iraq edited by Donald Anderson. University of Iowa Press, 2008, 258 pp.
While Americans are not required to serve in the military, many have been a secondhand witness to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan via multimedia technology. Traditional communication mediums, such as television and radio, offer news programs available around the clock. Cellular phones and computers allow nearly instantaneous and unfiltered access to the war zone and its participants through Internet chat and video downloading. These sources enable Americans to see the war directly, but all too often, only in a single snapshot. Much of modern real-time technology lacks the ability to tell the entire story of the human experience—the thoughts and reflections that lay buried in a soldier’s soul until fully understood, rationalized, and ultimately revealed.
In his edited anthology When War Becomes Personal, Donald Anderson shares the stories of American Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen spanning from Civil War battlegrounds to the airspace above the Iraqi desert. His compilation of war testimonials seek to make sense of events that simply cannot be understood. In the volume’s prologue, Anderson praises the written word as a powerful art form that satisfies the human craving for meaning. He understands that the human story can best be told through prose, for the written word allows the storyteller to separate themselves from a moment in time and reflect upon it with wisdom and maturity.
The memoirs in this anthology are first-person narratives that engage the reader by placing them on the battlefield frontlines. One of the greatest strengths of Anderson’s compilation is the variety of sources from which he draws. Multiple viewpoints from the American conflicts in Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East are shared by authors who differ as much as the wars about which they write. Included in the selection of diaries are emotionally-charged narratives by Vietnamese fighter pilots who trained in the United States and returned to Saigon shortly before its fall. Other contributors include incarcerated veterans who struggled with a return to normalcy and the transition from military to civilian life. Victims of post-traumatic stress disorder also share the trials of finding treatment for psychological war wounds. While the authors’ wartime experiences are unique, the reader soon realizes there are common threads among all the personal essays. The human capacity to respect life and the sorrow felt when it is taken away is an enduring theme throughout the collection.
Unlike the bestseller biographies of historical figures, this book concentrates on the boots on the ground. The authors are not journalists trying to sell newspapers and magazines; nor are they academics debating how war should be waged. They are not concerned with political or military agendas. They simply want to tell their stories to those who will listen.
When War Becomes Personal does not present propositions on how to fight the next war. Nor does it discuss new ideas for future employment of air and space assets. It does remind technologically-oriented air and space professionals that war is and will always be a uniquely human endeavor. The human element can never be removed. War must always be personal and we must be mindful of how we employ our uniformed services.
1st Lt Miranda Brasko, USAF
Dyess AFB, Texas
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."