cover image What Every Person Should Know about War

What Every Person Should Know about War

Chris Hedges. Free Press, $13.99 (194pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-5512-7

""This book is a manual on war. There is no rhetoric. There are very few adjectives,"" Hedges proclaims in his introduction to this graphic primer. Framed as a question-and-answer manual for GIs, not""every person,"" the book gives perfunctory information about military social life, pay, housing and housekeeping (a""central latrine will be established for multiple camps""). But the bulk of it is concerned with battlefield carnage, madness and pathos. A gristly chapter on""Weapons and Wounds"" details the bodily effects of artillery shells, incendiaries and several types of bullets. Questions like""What does it feel like to kill someone?"" (exhilaration, then remorse) and sections on post-traumatic stress disorder and flashbacks probe the psychic wounds of war. A chapter on""Dying"" covers topics like""Will I be frozen in the position in which I die?"" (""You can be straightened out after rigor mortis has set"") and""What will my last words be?"" (""Many call for their mothers""). War correspondent Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (whose introductory paragraphs look a lot like their counterparts in this volume), presents this anxiety-provoking information as a grimly factual account of the true face of war--culled from""medical, psychological, and military studies""--that America shies away from in favor of sanitized myths of glory and heroism. He fails to note that depictions of gore, mayhem, psychological trauma and flashbacks have become staples of Hollywood's treatment of war even as such experiences have become less common in America's high-tech, casualty-averse military. Americans, soldiers and civilians both, could use a clear-eyed analysis of modern warfare, but this limited treatment doesn't yet provide one.