Synthesis of select War Literature by Tim O’Brien, Ann Jones and Michael Herr

The prominent themes in Dispatches are the sacrifice and suffering that warfare invariably produces. Dispatches is thus a veiled criticism of the enterprise of war as a means to resolving geo-political conflicts. A repetitive theme of the work is that of individual alienation. As soldiers live a chaotic and edgy existence during days of active combat, their emotional and moral apparatus take a pounding. Though they co-habit with members of their platoon, they suffer severe emotional disturbances. Disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are common occurrences among war veterans. Even those soldiers who are lucky enough to return to civilian life feel the repercussions lifelong. Their entire view of the nature of humanity stand altered. It is this pathos that Herr successfully taps into in his reports from the war zone.

Ann Jones’ They Were Soldiers is a more recent publication, covering America’s controversial and costly military occupation of Afghanistan since 2001. Similar to Michael Herr, she also adopts the form of reportage to put her points across. She focuses on the ‘other side’ of the war story, the perspectives of the victims of war. Contrasted to the propaganda of mainstream media outlets, Jones’ account is one of capturing the dark realities. Interestingly, the victims of war in her reports are not Afghans but American soldiers and their loved ones. Needless to say the casualties and losses incurred by Afghans are far greater. But the fact that American soldiers themselves have suffered so much is an indictment of the political establishment, which had colluded with major media houses in suppressing this reality. Under vague slogans such as ‘Support Our Troops’, the Bush administration had deliberately misinformed and misled the people of the country into believing that it was a just war.

The main themes evident through They Were Soldiers are love, courage and reality. The love is that between American soldiers at war and their relatives back home. Ann Jones incorporates numerous snapshots of communication between the two groups with all their emotional and honesty. In terms of reality, Jones illustrates how the relatives were deluded into believing that their sons are safe in Afghanistan, when in reality, they may have been grievously wounded. The news of wounded soldiers would reach back home only after they had already spent several days on hospital beds. The soldiers themselves are under an illusion, that they are fighting a just cause and that their sacrifice would be promptly conveyed to their loved ones far away.

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