A valiant effort to explain and make peace with war’s awesome consequences for human beings.

WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR

A manual for soldiers or anyone interested in what can happen to mind, body and spirit in the extreme circumstances of war.

Decorated Vietnam veteran Marlantes is also the author of a bestselling novel (Matterhorn, 2010), a Yale graduate and Rhodes scholar. His latest book reflects both his erudition and his battle-hardness, taking readers from the Temple of Mars and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey into the hell of combat and its grisly aftermath. That Marlantes has undertaken such a project implies his acceptance of war as a permanent fact of human life. We go to war, he says, “reluctantly and sadly” to eliminate an evil, just as one must kill a mad dog, “because it is a loathsome task that a conscious person sometimes has to do.” He believes volunteers rather than conscripts make the best soldiers, and he accepts that the young, who thrill at adventure and thrive on adrenaline, should be war’s heavy lifters. But apologizing for war is certainly not one of the strengths, or even aims, of the book. Rather, Marlantes seeks to prepare warriors for the psychic wounds they may endure in the name of causes they may not fully comprehend. In doing that, he also seeks to explain to nonsoldiers (particularly policymakers who would send soldiers to war) the violence that war enacts on the whole being. Marlantes believes our modern states fail where “primitive” societies succeeded in preparing warriors for battle and healing their psychic wounds when they return. He proposes the development of rituals to practice during wartime, to solemnly pay tribute to the terrible costs of war as they are exacted, rather than expecting our soldiers to deal with them privately when they leave the service. He believes these rituals, in absolving warriors of the guilt they will and probably should feel for being expected to violate all of the sacred rules of civilization, could help slow the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.

A valiant effort to explain and make peace with war’s awesome consequences for human beings.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1992-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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