With the war in the Gulf rapidly proceeding, it seems like a good time to start reading about war. Here are a few literary suggestions on what to read...and what you might want to depth charge.
Hammer's Slammers, by David Drake, science fiction. You may have a hard time finding this book, but it's well worth the trouble. High quality science fiction, it follows the trail of destruction by a top-notch mercenary tank regiment called, you guessed it, Hammer's Slammers. It basically consists of short novelettes detailing various campaigns of the regiment from its creation to its destruction, interspersed with short essays on a war-torn future. Be warned though, this book is not for the squeamish, or those who still think of war as a game. The book is bloody, violent and disheartening. Soldiers and civilians are killed and maimed with astonishing frequency, and a main character is a brutal psychotic. If you can stomach that however, it's worth your time.
Chickenhawk by Robert Mason - autobiography. This is one of a few truly great books on the Vietnam conflict. Mason wrote of his tour of duty as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, flying "Hueys." It proceeds from basic training through his return home. Sometimes painful, sometimes funny, always poignant, it conveys the frustration of fighting an enemy never seen. There is very little personal violence in this book, mostly its aftermath. The writing is good, and while it may not have you staying up late at night to finish, you'll remember it for a long time.
Anything by Tom Clancy - fiction. Take my advice, avoid it. Though the first two Clancy books were written quite well, the quality slacked off very quickly, and his last several books are, in my opinion, some prime examples of crummy popular fiction. Clancy's "wars" are too clear cut, too clean for my liking. They just don't seem real. There is a good team and a bad team, and the truth is, wars usually aren't like that.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlen - science fiction. Okay, the name sounds stupid, I admit it. But the fact that it was first published in 1957, and still can be found in most bookstores illustrate its merit. The plot would take several pages, at least, to describe, so I won't even try. It is beautifully written. For those Rambo types out there, the violence is plentiful, and yet it contains many intellectually interesting ideas. Heinlen manages to somehow combine an almost knight-like hero and army against an evil empire plot, with a "war is hell" attitude that I have yet to see replicated. Unlike most good books on war, this one leaves you smiling. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.