In Memoriam: American War Fiction

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, a remembrance of fallen soldiers in the US Civil War. It celebrated the memory of the thousands of Union and Confederate warriors who’d fought and lost all, regardless of their reasons or the ultimate outcome. By the late 1800’s the day became generalized as a way to memorialize all United States soldiers who’d not survived battle. As the country has aged, we’ve had reason to think about the growing number of those who fit into this category. In 1971 the last Monday of May became an official holiday, more widely known now as Memorial Day. Despite its grim theme, the day has grown to symbolize more than its origins intended. We commonly view this day as the official beginning of summer, of days of bright sun and barbeques, of beach holidays and lengthy vacations in many of the geographical marvels the United States of America has to offer. So with bittersweet regard, we acknowledge the passing of too many individuals, those young and old who’ve dedicated the last of their breath and energy to a cause, a nation, an ideal.

Many authors have imagined the rigors and tests of wartime, creating novels and stories based on the terrifying experiences of those who’ve lived to tell about it. Some of the greatest American fiction plumbs the depths of the difficulties of battle, the anguish and anxiety of war, the adrenaline of fervent belief and the lengths to which it can push us.

This Memorial Day weekend, take some time to put yourself in the place of those who’ve felt the overwhelming desire to give themselves up to something larger than their lives; or those who simply got caught in the struggle, the fight for survival in a world that ultimately took that right from them.

 

Traveller, Richard Adams

Traveller, Richard Adams

There’s no war story quite like Richard Adam’s Traveller, a novel told through the eyes of a horse. This horse carried Robert E. Lee, the great southern general, through the ragged marches and endless battles of the US Civil War.


The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

A collection of interrelated stories about the war in Vietnam, O’Brien delves into the tenebrous fibers of the soul to reveal war’s irreparable damage to soldiers and nations alike.


The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

A classic, deceptively simple novel of innocence lost and never regained, The Red Badge of Courage questions the impetus to fight and the ultimate costs of our own ignorance.


For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

The story of an American volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, this classic explores the tensions between a man’s dedication to a cause versus the value of love and life.


The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

This science fiction novel about a future war details one soldier’s inability to reengage with an ever changing civilian society.


Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Many consider this great tome a romance novel, but the dedication to detail in Mitchell’s tragic, unflinching tale of the effects of the US Civil War on the land and lives of the south raises the obvious love story to a barbed, poignant chronicle of the devastation of war.

 

 

Michael Barnett is a writer and editor with associative ties to Alibris as strong as heartstrings.

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