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Why No Iraq War Literature?

Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009

Kenneth Payne flags something I've noted before as well: No significant works of art have yet emerged from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If that seems like a trivial observation, consider the impact of "All Quiet on the Western Front" or WWII-era literature (Mailer, Heller, Vonnegut) on American society and culture, or Vietnam-era cinema (Deer Hunter, The Boys of Company C, Apocalypse Now, even Platoon) and TV (MASH).

Part of this has to do with structural changes in the media. Publishing is now overwhelmingly dominated by memoirs and non-fiction, both of which we've seen with regard to these wars. And I couldn't say exactly how or why, but intuitively it seems like the saturation of online coverage of these wars plays a part, perhaps by making them more immediate to those intent on following them.

But as I suggested previously, I've got a hunch that this has to do with the transition to a professional, as opposed to a conscription-based, army. Artists, as a general rule, do not usually fit the military profile. So there's a self-selection process at work weeding out the kinds of personality types that might, having returned Stateside, produce a significant work of art from their wartime experiences.

Thoughts -- and any literary masterpieces I've overlooked -- are welcome, either by e-mail or in the "Discuss" section.

Update
: Rob, in the comments, mentions Hurt Locker, among other films about the Iraq War. (It hasn't come out yet here.) And another reader, via e-mail, pointed out that the Korean War, too, seems to have come up empty on the literary or cinematic front (Manchurian Candidate is about the only film I can think of that even mentions it.) MASH, which technically depicts the Korean War, was too commonly perceived as an allegory for the Vietnam War during which it emerged (1968 for the film, 1972 for the TV show) for me to count it as the former. Keep them coming and I'll update as necessary.