Pens at the Ready


The best books on today's wars are being written by veterans.

They Fought. They died. They killed. They came home. And some of them started to write. Now 11 years after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, nine years after the invasion of Iraq, the soldiers have started to write. They have written hooahs and gung hos in the first person; they have written books so painful to read, you don't believe they could still be alive; they have written in truth and out of des- peration. But we are hearing their voices.

Think back to Vietnam, to the genera- tion that gave us The Things They Car- ried, In Pharaoh's Army, and Dispatches, among many other now classic books.

All books that have done more to tell us about Vietnam than a thousand hours of TV. When we think of that war now, we think of Cacciato imagined by Tim O'Brien, of the nightmare visions of Phil- ip Caputo, of Neil Sheehan's perfect sol- dier who saw the light only to be blinded by it. In short, their war has become the war. That's the war we know, and the great heroism of these writers is to have brought it to us as true and unvarnished as a bullet entering the brain.

Years after the wounds have healed, at least to our eyes, we still turn to these books as a way to not forgot and to be amazed, again, at what great literature can do with the worst. We think it's im- possible, and surely no one who has watched Fox News, read the newspaper, even daily, and followed the news can achieve that same understanding that a single perfect paragraph in the hands of a writer who has seen war and wants to understand it himself can bring to us.

And let's not be shy in calling them he- roes. Many of them may already be he- roes for their acts on the field, but it takes another sort of bravery to try to share the incommunicable experience of war. -Lucas Wittmann

DUST TO DUST: A MEMOIR

By Benjamin Busch. $26.99; Ecco.

Benjamin Busch served two tours in Iraq with the Marines and was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In this haunting, lyrical mem- oir, he is mired in the seductiveness and conse- quences of macho violence. But Busch hasn't only written a memoir about war; the journey also takes him to the heart of family and yields gems like this: "My parents' home is now a museum to my memory of them in it. No one to greet me at the door. No warmth inside." --Nicholas Mancusi

THE SNAKE EATERS

By Owen West. $26; Free Press.

While most veterans describe their own experiences, Owen West, of Goldman Sachs and the Marines, sets out to analyze how one unit of American advisers and the Iraqi unit they trained adapted to the insurgency and turned around their corner of Iraq. It's a devastating indictment of how poorly prepared and disorganized they were, and a salute to how brilliantly brave and resourceful they were in succeeding at their mission to make their unit one of the best in the Iraqi Army.

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