War stories since The Iliad ( 8th century BCE) have been told to fascinate and celebrate physical courage, mental fortitude, sacrifice for others, and victory —by men, our men.  Story tellers, listeners and readers have been drawn to stories that exalt our people and diminish theirs, praise our fighters and our endurance, and belittle theirs — as if no one has progressed beyond the infant acquisition of “theory of mind,” that those over there are much like us, that their stories are much like ours, celebrating their victory and their dominance, our defeat and our submission – about which we avoid telling stories.

It’s hard to tell a thrilling story of defeat and destruction, so war stories have until very recently been not about the totality of war, but only the moment of impact, the battle itself.  The consequences for those without weapons in their hands, those hiding in ditches, those fleeing in panic, the helpless elderly, the dying child, don’t have the requisite elements of an ear-catching story .

With very few exceptions, Euripides’ Trojan Women being an early and rare example, the consequences of war are not told in story and song, except perhaps in passing, a muted backdrop against which fame and glory shine.

Since the end of World War I, 100 years ago, stories have begun to find interest in the wider consequences of war.  With more literate soldiers, novels and journals began to appear structured around “this is what happened to me,” experiences: gas attacks, water filled trenches, few and foul rations, body parts in the mud and friends turned to bloody mist. Despite the always popular  Audie Murphy stories of one man forcing one hundred to surrender, a wider reality was written of.

Still, one can read these “fictions” and find barely a mention of those not in the trenches, those who never touched a gun, those whose interest was only the coming harvest and the birth of a grandchild, and yet who were killed with the same indiscriminate means.

Continue reading »