I suspect my students think they were assigned to read The Good Soldiers so they could be better informed about the war in Iraq, and presumably that is part of the common reading’s purpose. But a good book, like a true war story, does so much more than merely inform. Given the pictures that both Finkel and O’Brien paint of war, what does either writer want us to “do” with that information? Once you get a vivid taste of what war was like for a particular group of soldiers at a particular time, how does that awareness change you as a reader and a citizen?
A good book, like a true war story, can help you become better informed, but it also can (and perhaps should) make you a more earnest asker of questions. Forget about what happened in Vietnam or Iraq; instead, raise the question of why it happened. If there is a lesson to be learned in any war (or in any war story), what are those lessons, and have we learned them?
I live in an Appalachian hollow in the Juniata watershed of central Pennsylvania, and spend a great deal of time walking in the woods. Here’s a bio. All of my writing here is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. For attribution in printed material, my name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact me for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).