It’s March, and if you haven’t updated your reading list for this month (or for the year if you’ve been slacking), we have a few books to recommend to help you get back on track. Good luck with your reading, bookworm!
You may be familiar with some of these, while others may be a refresher or a reminder. Nonetheless, the following nonfiction books below take us into the perspective of the men and women who experienced firsthand the horrors of the major war in recent years and lived to tell the tale of the darkest hours of mankind.
World War I (1914)
Forgotten Voices of the Great War, by Max Arthur. From the lens of the men and women who found themselves caught in the crossfire between Imperial states and rising superpowers vying for dominance in Europe. Intending to preserve the firsthand accounts of the aging generation, a group of academics, archivists, and volunteers embarked on a long but rewarding journey in the early 1970s of collecting these stories from ordinary people who were present when the war broke out and lives through the nearly-five year conflict.
Accordingly, the book contains more than 34,000 recordings from both retired service combatants and non-combatants, recounting the Great War from their viewpoint and how they survived what was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.”
Storm of Steel, by Ernst Jünger. Written from the point of view of an ordinary German Infantry soldier, author Jünger recounted his time in combat on the Western Front while serving in the 11th Infantry Division of the Imperial German Army. The book is a direct antithesis to another notable World War I novel—All Quite on the Western Front, by Erich Remarque—taking readers into the eyes and mindset of a 19-year-old inexperienced replacement soldier as he staggers through the bloody war of 1914. It includes not only Jünger’s brutally honest account of his time in the trench but also a reflection on the unique bond he and his fellow soldiers formed amid their tragic loss.
World War II (1939)
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. This one’s a personal favorite. This book is psychiatrist Frankl’s memoir of his incarceration in one of the Nazi German’s ghastly concentration “death” camps. Here he recounts the events before and during his imprisonment and how he coped amidst the suffering and chaos at the hands of his captors, as well as gives the readers an insight into the life of average prisoners. With his expertise, Frankl shifted his mindset from the feelings of hopelessness into a positive one, developing logotherapy that would later become a significant method in psychology. A personal quest for everyone to reckon with, the Austrian neurologist stresses the importance of finding one’s purpose and how to quipped this as a drive to get through life regardless of the circumstances.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission, by Hampton Sides. The nonfiction novel recounts the epic rescue mission of over 500 Allied war prisoners and civilians from the brutal hands of the Imperial Japanese in the province of Nueva Ecija, Philippines. The Raid at Cabanatuan, also known as the Great Raid, follows the 121 US soldiers volunteers from the 6th Ranger Battalion and Alamo Scouts who went on a daring mission to rescue comrades, including the surviving American POWs who endured the dreadful Bataan Death March, with additional strength from more than 200 Filipino guerrillas. As the war came to an end, Japanese soldiers were reported lashing out at POWs to vent their frustrations over defeat. When news about a recent massacre elsewhere in the Philippines reached the Allied Forces, they knew their time to liberate the rest of the POWs could be running out.
Sides has vividly recreated the minute-by-minute narration as it unfolds alongside intimate portraits of the POWs and their atrocious lives in the hellish camp.
Korean War (1950)
The Coldest War: A Memoir of Korea, by James Brady. At 19, Jim Brady sought to avoid the draft. He thus volunteered to join a Marine Corps program in 1947 to be a lieutenant, only to find himself leading a rifle platoon three years later on the battleground thousands of miles away from home and to what has become America’s forgotten war. The book includes personal experience and reflection of the young marine lieutenant serving in the First Marine Division in Korea. Moreover, he provided an eye-opening truth on the bitter reality American soldiers went through and how folks back home have largely overlooked the campaign, with nearly 55,000 casualties for a war that lasted for 37 months.
The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of US Marines in Combat, by Robert Drury and Tom Clavin. An account that will keep you on the edge of your seat, The Last Stand of Fox Company tells us the incredibly daring story of a small company of Marines of the Seventh Marine Regiment in the treacherous defense of Fox Hill five months into the Korean War. Cold, running low on ammo, and obviously outnumbered, the 246 Marines bravely held their position in the next eight days—determined to take over the Toktong Pass near the Choisin Reservoir against the 100,000 Chinese soldiers. Taking over the narrow gorge would save the other 10,000 men of the First Division Marines who found themselves trapped following China’s unexpected participation in the war. It wasn’t really a surprise, considering General MacArthur had received numerous warnings from Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong beforehand but refused to heed and pushed coalition forces into the depths of North Korea. The Fox Company Marines faced great danger, not only from numerous enemies but also from the biting cold, thus expecting devastating casualties along the way.
Vietnam War (1955)
We Came Home: The Firsthand Stories of Vietnam POWs, by Barbara Wyatt. After nearly ten years, hundreds of American POWs were finally liberated from the hands of the vicious North Vietnamese and Viet Cong (South Vietnamese communists) following successful diplomatic negotiations that concluded the US military’s involvement in Vietnam. After witnessing the dramatic arrival of the American POWs, Wyatt set out on a journey to painstakingly reach out and collect personal accounts to preserve the messages each of these men carried and to share the horrors they had endured, as well as the ways they coped amid the tortures and hopelessness inside the hellish prison camps. The book includes 465 personal letters out of the 591 POWs, each telling their own experiences, their version of the Vietnamese camps, and how each had formed ingenious ways to communicate, bond, and survive another day until the day of freedom.
By the way, we previously did an exclusive interview with the author. Check it out here!
Nam: A Photographic History, by Leo J. Daugherty III and Gregory Louis Mattson. Taking a break from long pages of reading, this book comprised hundreds of black-and-white, and some in colored, photographs taken throughout the ten-year controversial involvement of the United States in the conflict in Vietnam. It also features descriptions, commentaries, maps, and wartimes before and after effects.
Gulf War (1990)
Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, by Anthony Swofford. Entering a new era of warfare, Jarhead takes us into the eyes of Marine veteran Swofford and his time serving in the first Gulf War. While he saw little-to-no action throughout his six months deployment in the Middle East, he recounted the experience as mentally and emotionally tormenting as a young Marine. Two years following release, the novel was adapted into a feature film of the same name, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, in 2005, and had two more sequels.
Read Next: Reading (and writing) about war in the information age
Bravo Two Zero, by Andy McNab. Written under the pseudonym Andy McNab, the initially acclaimed nonfiction recounts the undercover mission of the English Special Air Services (SAS) patrol, a British Special Forces tasked to infiltrate the Iraqi lines when things didn’t go as planned. With lines of communication going offline, the squad of eight men found themselves alone and surrounded by Saddam Hussein’s Army. Out of the eight who went in, only five came out.
However, this one’s shrouded with controversy, so you might want to take the novel with a grain of salt.
War in Afghanistan (2001)
Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor, by Clinton Romesha. Written by the Medal of Honor recipient himself, Romesha recounts in a riveting firsthand account the intense thirteen-hour firefight in Command Outpost Keating, Afghanistan, when hundreds of Taliban insurgents attacked the small, remote American military outpost. Also known as the Battle of Kamdesh, the base was nearly overrun, but the brave men of Red Platoon and the rest of the Black Knight Troop refused to stand down and held down their positions to defend the outpost. Spearheading both the defense and counter-attack, Romesha and the rest of the unit were able to fend off the Taliban—but not without losing eight of their own. Nonetheless, the epic battle had been widely recognized. Most of the men who participated in the defense were granted awards, including Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medals, Distinguished Service Cross, and the highest valor, Medal of Honor—which was awarded to Romesha and then specialist Ty Carter.
No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden, by Mark Owen. Former US Navy SEALs Chief Special Warfare Operator Matt Bissonette (pseudonym “Mark Owen”) recounts his firsthand experience as part of the mission that killed the infamous, elusive Osama Bin Laden, and has claimed to be present when the terrorist leader responsible for the September 11 attacks was shot dead. Aside from recalling the successful Operation Neptune Spear, Owen also wrote about his humble beginnings and journey to become part of the elite SEAL and discussed his participation in the Maersk Alabama hijacking rescue operation in 2009. Failing to get the US Department of Defense (DoD) approval before the announcement, the book’s release received a handful of controversy as it contained ample classified information about the mission and could potentially harm future special operation missions.
Without these accounts, who else will tell the realities and unfiltered stories left in the ground craters and building debris left by lethal shellings man have created to resolve conflict in the most barbaric way?
If we miss your favorite or you have a book to recommend, please share it with us in the comments!
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