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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Why We Must Listen to Soldiers

Nonfiction Matters Because We Are at War

Patty Campbell and I are pulling together a YA anthology of writings on war. Part of my reason for doing this is because war, the military, even Iraq, feels so far away from me. I do not know anyone in any branch of the military. Which brings me to why Nonfiction Matters. To find pieces for the book I began to read some Milblogs — blogs from soldiers. I found an archive that sent me letters soldiers had sent home from Vietnam. The more I read, the more certain I am that we must be in touch. We who are far removed from war must hear from those in combat. We need to see the world through their eyes. We need their memories, their fears, their patriotism, their anger, their frustration, their conflicts about war.

It is simply wrong to be a nation that is simultaneously at war, and insulated from war. The way we Blue Staters get war is as a policy decision, or as something to hate. But for soldiers war is an experience. We are impoverished as a nation, cut off from ourselves, if we who do not serve do not also listen. All too often accounts of war are framed by their Point of View — an indictment of war mongers, or of weak liberals. When I read what soldiers say, even if I completely disagree with their opinions, we begin to have a conversation, we begin to be part of the same nation.

Many people want their war in novels — fine, novels have a lot to offer. But I want mine straight — I want to hear what a soldier wants to tell me. And I think teenagers must listen, too. After all they are the ones who will fight the next war.


  1. You also need the perspective of those who live in Red states, but who are not serving.

    I live in one of the U.S.’s rare Red/Blue states–Iowa–even though I consider myself a Californian still. It has been interesting to watch the daily impact of the war on a balanced state like Iowa. Iowa went Red in 2002 and 2004 and was squarely behind Bush and the war.

    But, now, the flags are almost permanently at half-staff, as a Smalltown child is killed each week. Their stories are told on the local news and nearly all of them are 18, 19 years old and recently graduated from a town that boasts just one small high school. This has changed and hurt Iowa deeply. Iowa went back to Blue in 2006 and I expect it to be a deeper Blue in ’08. No one, not even the traditional Regan Republicans, supports the war here anymore.