Huffpost Books

'What It Is Like To Go To War': The Discussion

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Here's the team who will be blogging about the book:

Andrew Losowsky, Books Editor
Annemarie Dooling, Community Editor
Zoë Triska, Associate Books Editor
Madeleine Crum, Assistant Books Editor

Click here to learn about our associations with the military.

Our forthcoming online discussions will be:

Sunday April 1st - Chapters 1 & 2 (Temple of Mars, Killing)
Sunday April 8th - Chapters 3 & 4 (Guilt, Numbness and Violence)
Sunday April 15th - Chapters 5, 6 & 7 (The Enemy Within, Lying, Loyalty)
Sunday April 22nd - Chapters 8 & 9 (Heroism, Home)
Sunday April 29th - Chapters 10 & 11 (The Club, Relating to Mars, Afterword)

Add your comments to the bottom of the page and follow our hashtag #HPBookClub on Twitter. And join us in Seattle on April 18th to meet with Karl Marlantes.

Do we correctly prepare our soldiers for war?


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@ ErynnImSato : Not the type of book I usually read, but excited to dig in to WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR. #HPBookClub

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I don't know what it's like to go to war, but I know what it's like to stay home from war.

I know what it's like to watch your husband on the tarmac---heave over, putting his hands on his knees only lifting his head to sob on my shoulder before he takes off.

I know what it's like answering your 8-year old's question, "Why is Daddy laughing?" because she couldn't tell that he was sobbing.

When we announced this book, we received this post via email.

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The NYT has a great article this evening about the costs associated with deciding to go to war.

America’s role in the world on big issues of war and peace can often be pared down to a simpler calculation: whether the American people deem foreign threats worth the risks of overseas military entanglements.

America’s involvement in foreign wars has typically corresponded with stark public perceptions of threat — German submarine warfare brought the United States into World War I; Pearl Harbor did the same in World War II; North Korea’s invasion of South Korea legitimized cold-war containment.

For more of the article, click here to go to

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Readers - I'm writing this post on a rainy night in New York City, asking for your help. As discussed in our previous post, I've never experienced war in a real way. To that point, I'll be writing my parts of the discussions as openly as possible, and I ask that you please (please!) chime in with your thoughts if you are, in fact, one of the millions of people in the US who has been effected by a friend or a friend of a friend, or a family member who has gone to war -- or if you have served yourself. As we read this book I would love to put faces to stories and names to faces and find out what it is really like to go to war. Please, don't hold back. - Annemarie

Marlantes holds no punches with his opening chapter. By the third or fourth page into the book we've already experienced a handful of personal stories that dictate the feeling of what we will discuss: An honest portrayal of death, unabashed spirituality, and the battle between fear and pride.

"In - Spiritus. Out - Sanctus. "

This is how Marlantes describes both a brush with agony and his first awareness around mortality, both during his time in Vietnam and back as a civilian.

Click below expand this post and read discussion points that could be considered spoilers!

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"Medals are all mixed up with hierarchy, politics and even job descriptions. What is considered normal activity for an infantry grunt, and therefore not worthy of a medal, is likely to be viewed as extraordinary for someone who does the same thing but isn't a grunt, so he gets a medal and maybe an article in Stars and Stripes."

Click here to go to the WSJ website and read the full article.

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Killing seems the most naturally given part of going off to war, but many are unprepared mentally for what happens when you break the years and years of social and spiritual norms that distance us from taking the life of another man. What happens when it becomes your job to extinguish someone's life? And what happens when these soldiers then have to go home and distance themselves from the hideous acts that are simply a part of being at war?

Click below to expand the post and read a few spoilers.

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"The first time I went was during the '07 Surge. Back then, Iraq was a place you went to die. My friends and family all wanted to have 'one last dinner' with me. They were preparing to never see me again.

My primary emotion, like all my fellow Marines, was excitement. After years of training we finally got to do our jobs, participate in the Big Show, and make our mark in history. Not that there weren't moments of shitting terror, horrific loneliness and indescribably intense longing. We couldn't have sex or drink beer. At one point I dropped to my knees, sobbing, because I realized it would be five more months until I could drink a Sam Adams.

After three more deployments, some emotions changed, but not many. It does get easier. I am still bewildered by the fact that my sole reason for traveling across the world is to end the lives of other human being. There is no further simplification. I'm struck by the absurdity of war, so much that I break out in sardonic giggles. I suppose I have the constitution for it. Having a sense of humor is essential, too."

- Hunter H. via email to the HuffPost Book Club

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"To see what modern explosives do to the human body or to be hit by a fragment of bone from a comrade isn’t describable." - Martin J. via email to the HuffPost Book Club

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We're honored to have Jacey from SpouseBUZZ,’s blog for military spouses, join us in reading and discussing this book. She's written a moving piece about the act of reading this book:

I already bought the Karl Marlantes book that marries his own wartime experience with the philosophy of war. I read the first chapter and recommended it to everyone I met. Then I couldn’t make myself read the rest of it.

Because I am afraid. I am afraid of this book. I keep telling myself that as military writer, as a sometimes-trainer of those who have been in combat, as an Air Force daughter and Navy wife and soon-to-be Army mom, as an American civilian. I ought to read this book. I ought to know what war is like so that I can be useful to those in uniform. But every time I approach this book it is like I am walking up to a darkened house on an empty street alone. I don’t want to go inside.

I don’t really want to know what war is like.

Click here to read the rest of her piece.

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A reminder: you can discuss the book in its entirety, without giving away any of its points for current readers, by going to this page.

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Key questions and arguments from Chapter 3 - post your thoughts below in the comments -- Andrew

Do soldiers need to apologize for their actions during warfare?

Is it harder for soldiers to recover from the psychological effect of their actions if the war is fought for "a less clearly defined cause"?

Can soldiers truly understand, before going into battle, that "guilt and mourning will be among the things they carry"? Would it make a difference if they all did?

Do the media portray war in a conscientious and responsible manner?

Click below for more discussion.

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As I type about Marlantes reliving his worst moments from the battlefield, Tom Petty's "You Don't Know What It's Like To Be Me' just came on the radio.

Followed by John Lennon's 'Imagine'. I swear, I'm not making this up.


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@ davidabrams1963 : @HuffPostBooks Just a few of many great lines: Warriors deal with death. They take life away from other. This is normally the role of God.

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Comment from Luckygal47 in response to Tracey Scharmann's moving piece:

“Our family has been thru three deployments. My husband is a weekend warrior, Army reservist, Army stung. He was deployed... 2003,, 6months. 2005-2006, 2010-2011. My husband missed our son grow in my belly and by grace, came him in time for the birth. My husband missed my oldest child's 2nd and 7th year. He missed our youngest full first year. Our son played advanced rec soccer. When our son falls, get's checked..he tells himself, I am ARMY Strong, I got this.

Thank you for your story. I am not ready to read the book club selection. But thank you. Just to know someone understands is what makes things get back to normal.”

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Key questions and ideas from Chapter 4 -- Andrew

Do you agree that "there is a deep savage joy in destruction"?

Is there a part of all of us that enjoys maiming, killing, and torturing?

Is there such a thing as a "clean kill"?

Why don't we bury our enemies with honor and ceremony? Would anything change if we did?

Click "Read More" to see more discussion on this most controversial of chapters in the book.

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Ex-hooah chick writes on SpouseBUZZ about our reading of this book:

It's not just young warriors who come back scarred. My husband was middle-aged when he deployed as a member of the RC.

Every so often he tells me something new about his time over there. You'd think after all this time I'd know all the stories. Truth is, since I wasn't over there and never even served in the military, I have little concept of the war experience. I know what I went through while he was gone, and I know what it's like living with someone permanently disabled with PTSD and TBI and unable to work. That's all I need to know. Sometimes, it's even more than I want to know.

That said, I think that more civilians should enlighten themselves about war. Watching M*A*S*H reruns doesn't count.

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"More directly affecting me, more sinister and telling of the shady, ignoble side of war, are the friends and family who have mysteriously disappeared over the years, from airports in Egypt, mosques in Bahrain and homes in Iraq. The latter being my grandfather, only to be later reported dead, the cause buried forever, along with Saddam's reign. My mother, in Paris at the time, was pregnant and had a miscarriage from the shock. My grandfather Dawood, baby brother Ibrahim and my mother are casualties of a war that I was still too young to comprehend. I'm 23 now, a lawyer, and I still don't understand anything about this, despite being decidedly more well-read than my 2 year old self."

Community member Fatma has a fantastic post coming up later this week about being on the other end of war.

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@ bookmagnet : RT @SarahMMcCoy: Many war issues I wrestled w/while writing The Baker's Daughter. Good discussion here: #HPBookClub

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It's Military Families Week, and HuffPost Impact has a special dedicated to those who serve, and those who support them.

Click here to read their stories, and let us know what you're doing to mark this important week.

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The Reverend Earl E. Johnson, an experienced disaster relief chaplain, has started reading the book with us. Here are his first thoughts.

Today, attention is paid to wounded warriors in body, mind and soul. In earlier times as well as today, it's part of the "cost" of battle. But, how combat impacts the home front---from veteran suicides, homelessness and addition, domestic violence, etc.----this litany is not posted upon the doors of recruiting stations and after September 11th, this would not have profoundly impacted enlistment anyway. The complexities can't be denied. It's more than numbers killed and wounded in combat today. You are a veteran forever.


Chaplains working with our warriors can be vital to mission readiness including their spiritual preparation. All wars are religious. All conflicts are spiritual. September 11th wounded so many souls and injured so many spirits.

What makes chaplains and their professional spiritual care colleagues unique has much to do with establishing and creating rituals based upon individual and community need---after mass fatality disasters and after death in combat. Whether ancient liturgy or contemporary personal voices or shared prayers spoken or in silence, rituals matter.

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It was announced today that The Huffington Post's David Wood was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for the series Beyond the Battlefield, which tells often-overlooked stories of wounded veterans.

The series is important and relevant to our discussions here, an important reminder of the daily struggles faced by veterans when they return home. We consulted David before announcing this Book Club pick, and hope to add his voice to those of our bloggers and commenters before we finish.

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@ MikeKilleen1 : Archaic. “@HuffingtonPost: What's the one word you'd use to describe war? #hpbookclub”

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When we open the chapter, we're already 100 pages deep into talk of suffering, and unpreparedness and destroyed youth. Here, Marlantes takes a shot at a very different kind of evil: The kind that lives inside all of us. It's the evil that permeates our bones and enabled young children to torture animals without warning, and nudges otherwise calm men to enter a battlefield and kill.

Click below for the reading guide, which may contain spoilers!

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@ MarthaVidauri : Fear. RT@HuffingtonPost: What's the one word you'd use to describe war? #hpbookclub

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@ pestypixie : RT @jenniferpkeefe: “@HuffingtonPost: What's the one word you'd use to describe war? #hpbookclub WOULDNEVERHAPPENIFWOMENRANTHEWORLD.

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Full disclosure: I am the granddaughter of two army veterans, Korea and Vietnam. My father was a career army officer who served in both Desert Storm and the Second Gulf War. My brother is an army aviator who deployed to Iraq. My husband is an army physician already informed that he will go to Afghanistan soon. I have grown up in communities that all had Fort before the name. I've carried a military ID card nearly all my life. I was riding my bicycle to our commissary, PX (Post Exchange) and Shopette before I ever stepped foot inside a Macy's, Walgreen's or Kroger. I don't bat an eyelash when a guard carrying an M14 rifle checks my car registration before allowing me to enter a military installation. I'm not a soldier, no. I'm what the military term 'an active-duty dependent'.

- Author Sara McCoy on soldier readiness. Be sure to read the rest of her thoughts here.

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"One of the greatest tests of character is telling the truth when it hurts the teller." - Pg 114.

With that simple quote, we open the next chapter of 'What It Is Like To Go To War,' by Karl Marlantes. While chapter 5 was a deeply personal dive into the evil that lives within us, a chapter that could or could not have taken place during the Vietnam war, depending on who is reading it, there's no denying the importance of this chapter's topic on the effect of returning soldiers and the horrible position we will only continue to put our youth in if we engage in war the way we currently do.

Click below to read more.

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Families are exhausted. You can see it in the parents' faces during conferences. You can hear it in the voices when you call home to complain about classroom misbehavior. You see it in missed and forgotten appointments, in poor attendance at the school play, in fewer chaperones for field trips.

In some ways, things have improved. Soldiers who are stationed stateside are more available for parent-teacher conferences during duty hours. But when the military parent is deployed, or about to deploy, or about to come home, school just isn't as important. And who can disagree? If I were about to deploy, I'd sure want to take my kids out of school and visit relatives or Disneyland. When I returned, I'd want to do the same - take them out of school and enjoy them.

And if my parenting partner were deployed, who's to say my kids wouldn't act out? Would I have the energy for endless phone calls and conferences about my child's misbehavior? One of the parents is overseas in a combat zone. Who cares if the child's a bit of a class clown or a drama queen?

- HuffPost Books Community Member Phyllis Gerben tells her side of the story from a teachers point of view.

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