Tag Archives: War


Mark’s #43 – Matterhorn: A Novel of The Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

As a missionary to the military community, I try to read a few military related books each year.  When I saw this highly recommended book on Amazon, I realized that my depth of knowledge regarding the Vietnam War was very shallow and that this book could help broaden my understanding in regards to one of Americas less than fondly remembered forays into war (not unlike our current campaign in Afghanistan).

As a highly decorated  Marine officer and veteran of the Vietnam War, Karl Marlantes does an excellent job of immersing the reader, almost immediately, in the deep tropical jungle of Vietnam.  Along the way, the story mostly  follows the young Lieutenant Waino Mellas and the men of Bravo Company.  As a ‘boot’ Lieutenant, he faces the horrors of war for the first time.

Through Mellas’ eyes, one gets a sense of both the shear terror of leading a patrol in the jungle which could at any moment explode with NVA fire, land mines, or grenades. Beyond the heart pumping adrenaline of combat, there is an almost overwhelming monotony of jungle related ailments such as swarms of mesquites, blood-sucking leaches, and constant jungle rot.

In addition to helping me understand what it would be like to be in Vietnam during the war, the author also makes it clear of what he thought of the asinine political maneuvers during the war – both by Congress as well as those of the upper ranking military members trying to make a name for themselves and continue their climb up the ladder of rank and position.   While I have certainly heard and seen military commanders make baffling and blatantly stupid decisions, I felt that the author tried too hard to make all senior officers look like self-serving buffoons (other reviewers with stated Vietnam war experience seem to agree with this assessment).

Another point which seemed a little far fetched was that of the tension in race relations amongst the troops of the time.  Certainly the Black Panther movement was growing back in the states, but Marlantes makes it seem like a central point of concern for the men in the field during this time.  Perhaps it was, I don’t know.

The book does seem to take a liberal slant on the war as a whole.  It also paints the NVA soldiers as utter professionals with a personal stake in winning the war because it was ‘their land’… It wasn’t their land, they were trying to sweep down south with their communist ideology.

Overall, this book is a sobering look into the lives, emotions, triumphs, and tragedies of a dark, difficult, and frustrating war.  I think that, for the most part, the characters are well developed and the scenes are masterfully described.  This is a good novel for an introduction to what it might have been like for the men on the ground in Vietnam.  Be warned, however, the imagery and language of this book can be very graphic at times.


Ron’s #30: Tears of My Soul by Sokreaksa Himm

As we prepare for our missions trip to Cambodia, the team all read Sokreaksa Himm’s The Tears of My Soul, an account of his experiences in Pol Pot’s Cambodia in 1975. It is an excellent account of the oppressive rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Reaksa was 13 when the Khmer Rouge “liberated” Cambodia from the monarchy, and quickly emptied the major cities by sending all families into rural communities.  This was a part of Pol Pot’s Year Zero campaign, to return Cambodia to its glory by sending it back to agricultural villages and removing “American-influenced” professions like teaching and medicine. If people question or challenge the leaders, they are “sent to school,” a deadly euphemism for death.

The boy Reaksa and his family worked for years as farmers, until the Khmer Rouge decided to eliminate all the new-liberated people (those who were moved from the cities after 1975), and brought his family to a pit and brutally executed all but Reaksa. This scene was one of the most violent accounts that I’ve read in print, bashing babies’ heads and chopping the adults with hoes and shovels. Absolutely wicked. Reaksa was in the pit assumed to be dead, but his lay there with his families’ blood and entrails staining him and weighing him down.

The book then continues with two themes: how to find a will to live after this, and how to reconcile these events with a good God. Both of these are Sisyphusian tasks for the young man Reaksa. I like that this book does not provide easy answers, even after he becomes a Christian in a Thai refugee camp. He still has questions after his conversion, but he refuses to dwell on them to let them sap his life. Rather, he seeks comfort in the God of the Universe who knows his pain and suffering.

The Tears of My Soul provided me insight into the pain of the Cambodian people after a devastating time in recent history. This is a massacre that occurred not in history books, but in my lifetime. I was six when Pol Pot snatched power in Cambodia, and I was eight when Reaksa’s family was murdered. Cambodians have a different experience than mine, and I think this book helps me to see that difference better.

This book also shows the devastating nature and logical conclusion of atheism. Pol Pot joins a long list of men who were vehement against God: Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin all killed in the name of no God. Fortunately, we have men like Reaksa who can tell the story.

Here’s a news story on Himm’s return to Cambodia and his forgiveness:


Ron’s #27: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Outside of the novella The Old Man and the Sea, I haven’t read any long works from Ernest Hemingway. As an English teacher, I ought to be ashamed of myself. I love his short stories and his terse writing style, so I added a Hemingway novel to my reading list this summer, and I was glad that I did.

Published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway’s first novel. It tells the story of a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris after the First World War. I know that many of the reviews for this book discuss how the novel captures the hopelessness and disenfranchisement the “lost generation” felt after the war. I suppose this is true, but what I noticed is that this is a group of folks that drinks and drink and drinks. After the tsunamis of beer, wine, and coffee consumed at Parisian and Spanish cafes, I felt like I needed to call AA to get help.

The narrator Jake Barnes is a writer in love with Lady Brett Ashley, a gregarious Brit in love with every man she meets, with the exception of her husband. Jake loves Brett, but Brett loves Mike, Robert, and even the matador she meets in Spain. She is in a perpetual state of infatuation and drunkenness. Jake achingly watches her flit through life and love, but somehow he is unable to grab her and ground her.

The Sun Also Rises is a good introduction to Hemingway’s writing style with its plain-spoken language, short sentences, and dialogue. It also includes the running of the bulls at Pamplona as a backdrop to the violence in the relationships between these friends. The novel is worth reading to get a sample why Hemingway was so influential on American stories.

A bit of a sidenote: Kristie and I visited Madrid in 2007, and watched a bullfight. It was one of the most gruesome things we’ve seen in our travels. You can read my post about it here.


This is when we decided to leave. Take a look at the guy sitting to Kristie’s right. I swear that is Hemingway himself!


Ron’s #18: Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel’s Night is one of the most impacting books I have ever read. When I first read it in 1995, I saw a face of the Holocaust for the first time. I knew the facts of it, but Night helped me to see the human element of it. And, for the first time, I started to think about the idea of how a good God could allow such atrocities and evil. After reading the book in one sitting on the couch on my apartment, I had new categories opened to the world and to my faith.

Night chronicles Elie’s struggle not against Hitler or Mengele or Himmler, but rather with God Himself. Wiesel’s book captures the human questions of theodicy, justifying a good God with evil in the world. It brings up questions that I’m sure I’ll think about for the rest of my life.

This book also showed me the way to God as well: how can we call Hitler or the extermination camps evil unless there is such a thing as absolute goodness? To condemn the Nazis is to say that there is a principle of goodness that they did not meet. If good and evil are only products of society, why do we consider the Nazi German society evil? Who are we to say that what they did was wrong unless a universe principle was trespassed? If there is a universal good, then there is a universal author if that principle, as well. In this way, the Holocaust points a way to a good God in the universe.

After Night, I read many of Wiesel’s books. In 1998, I attended Boston University and took a class with Professor Wiesel: The Literature of Albert Camus. That semester was the best educational experiences that I’ve had. (Ask me about my office meeting with Wiesel when we discussed C. S. Lewis or the failed card trick I attempted to show him in class).

I am currently teaching Night in my Honors 10th grade literature class, and students enjoy it. It strikes me as particularly important now as kids are prone to hold the “whatever works for you” principle of morality. Night shows that morality is not something that society can simply create and the rest of the work should accept blindly. Isn’t that how the Holocaust happened?


Ron’s #10: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Here are a few reasons to love this book:

1. It’s a war book that’s not really about war. It’s about 19-year-olds so far out of their element that it is scary.

2. It reminds me of all the reasons why I do not want to be in a ground war like Vietnam or either of the World Wars.

3. It’s about World War I. How much do you really know about that war? Quick, who were we fighting?

4. The book is written in plain, simple prose to comment on the plain, simple boys fighting this war.

5. There are a few funny scenes when the men try to gain the attention of French women. Don’t try this at home…please.

6. It displays the inner conflict of being patriotic for one’s country and being scared as hell to fight.

7. It is a much better anti-war book than Slaughterhouse-Five, and I liked Slaughterhouse-Five.

8. It has a self-imposed subtitle: “The Greatest War Novel of all Time.” You gotta love that bravado.

9. It is told through the point-of-view of Paul Baumer, a German. How many books have you read with a sympathetic narrator of the enemy?

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