Writing about Death During Combat

I admire novelists and short story writers who describe without flinching the damage combat inflicts on the human body. I’m currently reading Mel Carney’s Command at Dawn (Deeds Publishing, 2019). The book pulls no punches in depicting the hideous way people die in combat. The same was true of A Quiet Cadence by Mark Treanor (Naval Institute Press, 2020) (see my review at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/a-quiet-cadence-a-novel).

I congratulate these writers for telling the truth about combat. As I have noted before in this blog, fewer than one percent of Americans now living have experienced combat. But it is important for us to know and understand the bestiality we are sending our young men and women to face when we send them to war. Our writers bear witness for us.

I am ashamed to confess that I cannot bear witness like my fellow writers. I have tried repeatedly and failed to depict in writing the deaths and woundings I observed on the battlefield. I just can’t do it. It’s not that I’ve forgotten. My nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks bring back the memories as if they were happening before my eyes. But I can’t bring myself to put words on paper about them.

Maybe that will change over time, but I doubt it. Just as the memories never fade, I assume that my enforced silence will remain. I’m deeply grateful that other writers are not so impaired.

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