What We’re Reading
Month after month, each issue of Classfare revolves around a theme. And after 18 issues, we’ve found that, while we’re quite knowledgeable in some areas, others require a bit more R&D. As mentioned in my letter this month, this issue falls squarely in the latter camp.
So when we began preparing the outline for each story for Military Issued, I did what I often do: I got to reading. Some of the things I found were informative but boring. Some were quite interesting, but ultimately unhelpful. But out of all the things I read, three books stood out as the most impactful.
This book is not for the faint of heart. The author, Chris Hedges, has witnessed the horrors of war firsthand over years of journalism in areas of extreme conflict. As such, he’s well-accustomed to its impact on the human psyche, his own included. Taking neither a strictly pro- nor anti-war position, Hedges explores the psychology of violence, politics, and patriotism, both on the ground and at the national level. He spends a good amount of time writing on the social-psychological gymnastics employed to justify the moral complication that Hedges refers to as, simply, “organized murder”.
Wherever you fall in your moral or political stance when it comes to war, Hedges will make you think. The book is short, but it’s not easy. It may take you a while to complete; and it probably should. We’re advocates of confronting and challenging one’s personal position, as well as the position of one’s society at large, whatever that may be. This book will do that and more.
The subtitle of this book is The Curious Science of Humans at War. Which is really quite perfect. Lest we forget, soldiers on all sides of battle are humans. And they face a variety of foes, many of whom don’t even carry a gun. The obtuse yet very real challenges of panic, exhaustion, heat, noise, and beyond create innumerable scientific complications, ones which the government has studied extensively. Author Mary Roach takes us behind the curtain of this extensive military science, approaching the subject with both veneration and a heavy (and needed) dose of humor. She not only introduces us to these complexities, but to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to combat them. She spent countless hours with scientists and soldiers alike and catalogs her experiences and insights with wit and wisdom. This is investigative journalism at its best on a fascinating subject that everyone could (and should) take the time to learn a bit more about. You’ll never see soldiers the same way again.
The quintessential textbook on war strategy, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is a Chinese military treatise from 5th century BC. This edition, in particular, features an excellent introduction by the translator that tees up some of the cultural and historical context and significance of the work.
While originally written as a guide for ancient warlords, the book is chock full of maxims that are often as applicable to daily conflict as they are to combat (though we’d recommend you don’t practice these strategies on your significant other). Ultimately, the ideas encapsulated in this book are worth knowing, not only for their historical significance but for their timeless application. Sun Tzu’s writing isn’t metaphorical, it’s practical. And the writing is concise and clear. When it comes to literary classics, this is one of the easier reads. And you may even have a better chance at winning that next argument when you’re done.