Memoirs are important for two reasons: for the author, so they don’t forget those precious details that threaten to get washed away with the waves of time; and to the public, who ought to know exactly what goes on. I hear complaints about the number of veterans writing memoirs, and I understand it, but the alternative is never hearing the refined thoughts of the guys in the middle of the shitstorms — the guys actually pulling the trigger. Otherwise you’re stuck with politicians and generals telling the stories of war — a necessary perspective, but not the only perspective that needs to be heard.
However, there are very few veterans involved in the process of fiction storytelling. That means movies, television shows, novels, theater in any and all forms of storytelling. That could mean science fiction, fantasy, crime, thriller, romance, comedy — any genre in any medium.
But why is fiction important? Fiction can tell stories in ways that memoirs and articles and regurgitated stories at the bar cannot. While those can relay the facts, and often the harsh realities we face in real life, they can have a hard time expressing exactly how something feels. Where an article can tell the what, fiction can tell the why. Music, drama, particular dialogue — these elements of narrative can all serve to express emotions and feelings that couldn’t otherwise be felt unless you were there yourself. Of course, you can’t replicate a wartime experience, but you can’t do that with any medium. You also can’t replicate what it feels like to be terrified of the dark as a child, to fall deeply in love, to be overcome with grief — all experiences that movies and books have excellently replicated through fiction.
Funnily enough, some of the most compelling war movies or television series have been made by people who aren’t veterans at all. They are experts in their craft: making compelling dramas for the screen, page or stage. I would love to see more veterans embrace these crafts as their own.
This has been the case in the past, with people like C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien siphoning their wartime experiences into their work. It was the case with Ernest Hemingway’s experiences in the Red Cross, and in a man versus nature sense, Stephen Crane with “The Open Boat.”
However, for some reason it seems that more veterans have drifted away from the creative side of things. I am not sure if they think that it’s a less masculine or impressive line of work? The soldiers of both world wars didn’t think so, as they seemed to have produced more creative work than our more modern generations since. Still, in more recent years there has been an increase of veterans in Hollywood and with novels, but it’s a slow climb. People like Adam Driver, David Ayer and Rob Riggle are not exactly in the majority.
And this doesn’t necessarily have to mean war movies or books (though I would contend that a war movie made by a combat veteran skilled in the art of filmmaking would be something to see) — veterans have such a rich life experience that could be applied to every facet of storytelling, and I would hate to see that potential wasted. The veteran community is also strong, and as an audience has already proven that it’s loyal as can be — they just have to continue to support (worthy) endeavors by their fellow veterans.
On top of all that, I always enjoy seeing veterans excelling in careers beyond military service.
Featured images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, compiled and edited by the author. Left: JRR Tolkien. Left-center: Ernest Hemingway. Right-center: Adam Driver. And though Hemingway did not actually serve during WWI, I count his service in the Red Cross in WWI as easily comparable to any service in the military.
Far right image of Rob Riggle courtesy of the United States Marine Corps.