On War in Fiction: Consuming the Individual

I hope all is well with everyone!  I’m picking up from last month with my series on war in history and what we can learn from it that might help our fiction.

In this series of posts, I’ll be exploring some themes gleaned from military history to illuminate points that I think many people misunderstand or perhaps just blindly disbelieve because they desperately wish it were otherwise.  I hope you find them useful!


Neither conversion nor enlistment in the army is going to obliterate our human life.  Christians and soldiers are still men; the infidel’s idea of a religious life and the civilian’s idea of active service are fantastic.

–C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

War seems to do nothing outside of extremes.  War is not just bad, it is terrible.  A brotherhood formed by war is not just strong, it is unbreakable.  In war, even boredom is hardcore:  all pervasive and overwhelming.  We know this.  Countless historians and soldiers have testified to it.  And that leads those of us lucky enough to have avoided war to misunderstand those extremes entirely.  Does the experience of war always become the dominant influence in someone’s life?  While that is possible, it isn’t axiomatic.

The problem comes when we, as authors, try to vicariously put ourselves into the shoes of a soldier through our imaginations.  We look at war in all of its horrific grandeur and ask, “How could you survive that and be normal?”  The issue is compounded by the liberal history of the Vietnam War, which in its quest to justify the Left’s opposition to the war, makes American soldiers out to be either monsters or victims.  The idea is that the war wrecked so much damage on those who fought it that they simply cannot readjust to a regular life.  Many authors take those assumptions and carry them over to all soldiers as a rule (or something very much like one).

Don’t get me wrong:  War has the potential to destroy the lives and sanity of anyone who becomes involved, but that isn’t guaranteed.  As Lewis noted above, for many millions of soldiers through history war and military service are just one more strand in a much larger tapestry that is their lives.  When they return home, they don’t sulk or suffer–they just move on with life.  That has been true of every war humanity has ever fought.  The idea that being a soldier must, by definition, wipe out someone’s identity and future is “fantastic.”

The first and last point we should remember about any soldier is this:  That he or she is human.  As an individual, he or she will react differently to adversity, especially the extremes of war.  War might break some people to pieces (metaphorically, in this case), while others can come out on the other side essentially intact.  As authors, let’s avoid assumptions.  After all. It is our job to think through the individuals we create and let their character show through.


Next Week–We welcome Rachel back into the rotation on Fridays.  I’ll look forward to seeing everyone soon!

2 thoughts on “On War in Fiction: Consuming the Individual

  1. I agree with you that not everyone is broken by their involvement in war. However, like any other type of trauma, war does affect those involved on some level. It is a crucible of extremes that leaves a lasting mark.

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