War forges a soldier’s character, bringing out the best and worst in his or her nature. Individual acts of heroism and cowardice, self-sacrifice, and self-interest, have long been chronicled by authors who take war and its battlefields as their subjects. In this presentation, Wendy Galgan shares some of her favorite American war writing so that, by working with these texts, those of us living now can learn at least some of what it is like to experience war.
Wars, obviously, have a transformative effect not only on individual participants, but also upon countries involved in the conflicts. This has been the case for the United States of America, in particular through three wars: the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam conflict. These wars, these pivot points if you will, serve to fashion an American national identity, and the country’s poets, novelists, reporters and biographers — as much as the soldiers, generals, and Presidents — identify and promulgate this identity. In addition to looking at individual wartime experience, this presentation looks at the ways in which America as a country has come to define herself through her wars.
War writing is a rich vein that runs through American literature. By examining and discussing some examples of American war writing, we are able to appreciate and understand (at least partly) war and its effect upon soldiers and civilians, as well as the United States as a whole.