Literature as Handbook for the Genteel Warrior

That is what Elizabeth D. Samet appears to have written in her forthcoming book, excerpted here in the NY Times Magazine. I find her her eerie coolness about the Iraq War deeply unsettling. I suppose it is a good thing that the young officers she describes carry Wallace Stevens or Andrew Marvell into the gibbering moral idiocy of Baghdad with them. A tolerance for ambiguity of the sort one learns from poetry might also serve as a kind of restraint against the military culture of certitude, I suppose. Samet's accounts are full of budding noblesse oblige, but all the Stevens & Marvell in the world doesn't change the truth, as Tim O'Brien (an infantryman) put it in "How to Tell a True War Story" -- "Send young men to war and they come home talking dirty."

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.