A hundred years after the First World War began, many people are looking anew at the conflict, among them Thomas Laquer, who wrote a lengthy reflection of its causes in an LRB review of Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers. In The New Yorker, George Packer uses the war as a jumping-off point for an essayon a broader topic: the evolution of war literature in the modern world.
From The Things They Carried to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, veteran literary fiction has always been popular, yet women are almost nowhere to be found in war literature. At The New York Times, Cara Hoffman argues that leaving women out of combat literature makes returning from war even more isolating. “They would be made visible if we could read stories that would allow us to understand that women kill in combat and lose friends and long to see their children and partners at home.”
Do we need another book about Vietnam? We already have some 30,000 non-fiction books about America’s most horrific foreign misadventure, along with countless novels, histories, biographies, memoirs and movies. So the question must be asked: Do we really need more?
The short answer is: Yes, we will always need to know more about the Vietnam War and other defining moments in our national narrative. It’s an open-ended story that began with the arrival of the first Europeans and their brutal subjugation of the native populace, then continued on through the founding of the Republic, slavery, westward expansion, industrialization, wars (both foreign and domestic, victorious and not), the rise to the pinnacle of world power and, now, the inexorable decline of the American empire. We will always need fresh voices giving us fresh takes on this spectacular, ugly, rich, and ever-evolving story.