The Literature of War

This is just a re-occuring, random thought that’s been bouncing around in my head for the past few weeks, but I thought I’d air it out: Is there something peculiar to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars that explains why the literature to emerge from them is almost exclusively non-fiction, whether war memoirs or war reporting? Or does that just reflect on the current state of the publishing industry?

My hunch is that it’s both. Or to be more specific, it’s a reflection of the professionalization of the military. To be sure, there were plenty of war memoirs to come out of WWII (especially from the officer corps). And I once spent a summer going through a half-dozen collections of letters home and in-country reminiscences from the Vietnam War. But the great literature of WWII came in the form of novels, and that of Vietnam in the form of movies and TV programs.

I wonder whether misfits like Mailer, Heller and Vonnegut would have signed up if they hadn’t been drafted. The army isn’t exactly a welcoming environment for artist types, even if their anti-iconoclastic vision is ultimately very useful. Is there any better after action report than “The Naked and the Dead”? Or lessons learned process than “Catch-22”? Nowadays, those same kinds of observations are more likely to wind up on Small Wars Journal and the NY Times non-fiction best seller list. Or maybe it’s just too soon?

If anyone knows of a novel to come out of the two current wars let me know.