Voices in Wartime Anthology: Edited by Andrew Himes, et al., 244 pgs. By Eric Carlson

Nov 26, 2007

Voices in Wartime Anthology is one of the more compelling books that I’ve read recently, and one that has a level of importance for every citizen of this country, if not for every member of the human race. The text itself is a collection of narratives and poems based on Himes’ documentary of the same name, drawing upon the words and voices of poets, soldiers, physicians, journalists, activists, scholars, and survivors, all witnesses first-hand or after the fact to the permeating devastation that human warfare inflicts on both societies and individuals. What they present is not pretty; in fact what these people have to say is purposefully ugly so that those of us who have had the luck and the luxury never to be in a war zone can achieve a level of understanding, however meager, of just how searingly traumatic such experiences can be.

However, it should be pointed out that in absolutely no way, shape, or form does Voices in Wartime read as an anti-war tome. That is not the purpose of the text. No judgments are offered regarding the moral or ethical motivations for war. There is an underlying assumption throughout the book that wars can, do, and will happen, if for no other reason than that it’s a part of the human cultural construct. The purpose of this text is simply to show the reader what war is really all about—it is not glory, it is not victory. Rather, war is pain, blood, and fear—the physical and mental mangling of human beauty. At no point in this book are there any overt (socio-)political statements regarding war, not even by American veterans of the current war in Iraq or the survivors of American intervention in that country. This book is not concerned with politics, it is only concerned with tearing down the illusions regarding the actual conduct and effects of warfare that are created to render it palatable and excusable for those of us that have never seen it. If I may paraphrase Camus, he wrote in The Rebel that one of the reasons that society is becoming more violent is that the blood of the victims is not on the hands of the entire social group. His point is that if human suffering and the responsibility for bloodshed is diffused throughout the group, then the individuals in that group will be less likely to engage in violence. Brian Turner’s poem “2000 lbs.” splattered that blood all over me, broke me apart, and left me a sobbing, shaking mess; never has this reviewer read a piece that was simultaneously so beautiful, terrible, and troubling. This is one of the primary effects of this text—the reader, however distant he or she may be from the carnage of the war zone, senses a level of culpability just by being human.

Finally, in his narrative contribution, editor Andrew Himes offers what I believe to be the most important point of the book: “I have a history as a fool, and an arrogant one. My foolishness was not to oppose the [Vietnam] war, but to oppose the warrior. My arrogance was to imagine that I had a lock on truth, justice, and morality, and that my motives were clean and pure, while those of my opponents were racist, violent, and morally contaminated” (p. 225). This, I believe, is the fundamental truth of both Himes’ documentary and this, the accompanying text; we may oppose or support war based on moral, ethical, or ideological grounds, but unless we understand what war actually involves and what the survivors experience, be they combatants or civilians, we’re little more than blustering bags of ignorance. –The Lord Kveldulfr (Whit Press, www.whitpress.org)