In my library, I have several books by military personnel. The oldest is an ebook of a diary from the Napoleonic Wars but the majority are written by men who have recently served in Afghanistan and Iraq. This reflects my interest in military history. Today, however, I was thinking about the plethora of modern books about real life experiences by our military.
Why are there so many? Personally, I think it’s a demonstration of a desire to not be forgotten. Not just those who wrote the books, but all those they served with. War is, rightly, unpopular. The political and economic aspects of war contribute in large portions to the unpopularity of most modern conflicts, and I can certainly understand that. Sadly, this has produced a dread amongst our military personnel that we will forsake them.
We can honestly protest against war, especially when such is motivated by greed. What we should never do is to treat those who serve as being part of that lust for money and power. Nobody who serves can believe other than that they lay their lives on the line for just causes. They don’t fight, and kill, and die to ensure that some business can improve their profits or gain an advantage. They fight because that’s what they train for and are ordered to do. They believe that they are helping the weak against the strong. It may seem incredibly naïve but it’s simple fact.
Of course some know, in their hearts, that others have different agendas, but these men and women who risk so much believe that they can, and do, make a difference. The number of books reflects a yearning to be understood and to be remembered. Every time a soldier is abused by their countrymen, because of what they do, another knife is driven into the backs of all who serve. By writing about what they have done, seen, and suffered, there is a hope that more will come to understand them.
Whatever may be said, soldiers fight first and foremost for their comrades. It’s a survival essential. Second, they believe that they serve to protect their homes, even when in distant lands. Third, they believe that they can, and do, improve the lot of those who suffer under the heels of dictators and oppressive regimes. If our military had been as proactive before the Second World War, would that war have happened as it did? Could it have prevented the Holocaust? We’ll never know, of course, but it may be that millions of lives could have been saved.
I find myself saddened that our bravest men and women are made to feel so insecure. I’m also immensely grateful to those who write these books. It will make it much harder to pretend that they were merely the tools of faceless companies and easily manipulated politicians. Whatever the motivations at the top, we have a duty to acknowledge and remember those who risk all in the combat zone.
(Photograph, Kendal War Memorial, Copyright © Steve Smy, 2012.)