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Greatest war novels

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  • Greatest war novels

    During the last year, I have read several war novels, Joseph Heller's satire of military leadership, Catch-22, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, a reflection on violence and war during the Indian wars of the 1840s and 50s, and German soldier and writer Erich Maria Remarque's classic All Quiet on the Western Front.

    Heller and Remarque directly experienced their wars, although the works themselves are fiction. Heller flew 60 combat missions over Italy as B-25 bombardier, while Remarque spent several weeks in the trenches of the western front during the summer of 1917 before shrapnel injuries saw him spend the rest of the war in hospital. Readers of the book won't easily forget his "fictionalized" accounts of the German war hospitals. I feel war novels provide a completely different opportunity to experience, reflect and understand war, usually through a personal lenses, as opposed to the strategic and operational, impersonal discussions that usually take place.

    Heller's 22 might be an exception in this case, because quality of leadership is a major factor in war outcomes, if not always the ultimate strategic outcome, it can affect timelines and ultimately the number of casualties suffered. It seems fitting that Heller's novel was based on the Italian Front given the subsequent focus on american leadership by General Clark, and the arguments surrounding his ego and the effects in may have had on his decision to focus on capturing an undefended Rome. Separately (perhaps harshly), continued pointless allied offensives late in the campaign may be attributable to egotistical leadership. Ultimately war can provide us with countless examples of this theme in operation. Heller's 22 also deals with much more more than the theme of military leadership. It offers an alternative perception, flipping the accepted logic of the nature of motivation for a soldier, nationalism and self-sacrifice. The themes are fascinating to reflect upon for those interested in studying war. Has anyone on the board read the novel?

    Remarque's book was hated by the Nazis, which is in itself a ringing endorsement if I ever heard it. The book manages to handle both the war and home front and Remarque describes how the war destroyed a generation, not just those who died, but those who lived. It's a fascinating account of life as a soldier in the trenches. The "naive" discussions between the German soldiers are rare moments the novel reflects on the greater idea of the war and its strategic merit, and are equally fascinating, and touch more personally with the idea that this war really was more pointless and mad than usual.

    Blood Meridian is a masterpiece of writing. Published in 1985, McCarthy didn't receive widespread recognition until another of his great works, All the Pretty Horses won several awards in 1992. Now he is considered one of the great modern american novelists and subsequently Blood Meridian has received acclaim, appearing in many lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Its themes are man's relationship with war and violence and be warned, the novel is astonishing in the severity of its violence. When I finished it, I felt raw and exposed to the concept of what war is really like in the flesh, what violence is really like, yet never in the book does it feel like McCarthy is taking a stance against war, merely a description, an account and, despite it being historical fiction, the novel seems to be to be an invaluable way for those who have not lived with war to experience more closely its reality. McCarthy hasnt lived with war, fiction such as this is ultimately a lie, but it doesnt seem to matter when you have an author of this talent produce a masterpiece such as this.

    Can anyone recommend great war novels they have read?
    Last edited by tantalus; 12 Dec 16,, 18:50.

  • #2
    Originally posted by tantalus View Post
    Can anyone recommend great war novels they have read?
    The Killer Angels of course!
    "Donald Trump is the first seditious president in our history. He decided he would not abide by the election, the duly constituted, free election of Joe Biden as the president of the United States, and staged a coup to keep Biden from taking office." ~ Carl Bernstein


    • #3
      Naples 44' Written by Norman Lewis. A British intelligence officer attached to the American Army. A real gem of a book..

      If you think Catch 22 is far fetched. Read this book and you'll realise that it only touches the surface. Its Norman lewis's day to day diary of events . It describes the famine and desperation of the people vividly. You think you've heard surreal and then half way through the book he describes a whole cargo ship disappearing out of the bay overnight...somehow spirited inland and broken into a million pieces. He writes in a way which allows you to join the dots such, as certain connections to the mafia and its re installment


      • #4
        Originally posted by tantalus View Post
        It's a fascinating account of life as a soldier in the trenches. The "naive" discussions between the German soldiers are rare moments the novel reflects on the greater idea of the war and its strategic merit, and are equally fascinating, and touch more personally with the idea that this war really was more pointless and mad than usual.
        One that might be interesting for you to check out as a companion and contrast piece to Remarque would be Ernst Jünger's "Storm of Steel"; written autobiographically as a diary. It portrays the war from the viewpoint of someone enthusiastic about it - but the work is standing out for completely omitting any political stand, it neither expresses anti- nor pro-war opinions (and has often been criticized for it - although Jünger is criticized more for his personal political leanings, especially his anti-republican views at that time). It is however also particularly noted for vividly describing the increasingly bad supply situation of the late war.
        Jünger also wrote a number of much less known (and probably never translated) derivative works in the mid-20s that take episodes of "Storm of Steel" and expand on them, usually describing the immense material and manpower investment into operations that turn out to be completely devoid of strategic importance.

        If you want to delve further into the topic read Edlef Köppen's "Heeresbericht" (... not in english), written to express the same as Remarque, but in a similar memoir style as Jünger. Like All Quiet on the Western Front it was also burned by the Nazis - and unlike Remarque it was not reprinted until 1976. As an alternative check out Ludwig Renn's "War" (available translated): It was the second-most successful anti-war novel in Germany after All Quiet on the Western Front, which given that Remarque's publishing started a fad of such novels for the next couple years.
        All three authors - Jünger, Köppen and Renn - served on the Western Front throughout the war btw. Renn later fought alongside Ernest Hemingway in Spain btw, while Jünger voluntarily joined the Wehrmacht in '39 and served both in France and shortly on the Eastern Front before joining Stauffenberg's group.


        • #5
          Depends on one's definition of a war novel.

          War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
          Real eyes realize real lies.


          • #6
            I'll echo TopHatter here. Possibly the best novel I've ever read.