Saturday, December 13, 2008

#25 - "Articles of War" by Nick Arvin

I should probably admit up front that Articles of War (2005) by Nick Arvin is only 178 pages long, and therefore does not technically conform to the rules and regulations of this reading contest. Fortunately for me, I’ve decided those rules only apply to the two “official” contestants, especially if it’s a book I want to read.

Articles of War was the novel chosen for “One Book, One Denver” for the year 2007. Since I like the idea of an entire city (or whoever feels like it) reading the same book, I decided to go back and read all the books from the “One Book, One Denver” program. Fortunately, it’s only been in place since 2004, so I only have two more books to read.

Articles of War begins with a letter written by Private Eddie D. Slovik to General Eisenhower on December 9, 1944.

How can I tell you how humbley sorry I am for the sins Ive committed. I didn’t realize at the time what I was doing, or what the word desertion meant. What it is like to be condemned to die. I beg of you deeply and sincerely for the sake of my dear wife and mother back home to have mercy on me. To my knowledge I have a good record since my marriage and as a soldier. I’d like to continue to be a good soldier.

Anxiously awaiting your reply, which I earnestly pray is favorable, God bless you in your Work for Victory:

I Remain Yours for Victory

This letter fueled some premonitions I had for what I was about to read, but I wasn’t certain where it was going. The story follows an eighteen year old boy from the midwest who was drafted to fight in WWII. The other soldiers nickname him “Heck” because he promised his mother he wouldn’t curse. Heck is quiet and solitary, and also young, na├»ve, and inexperienced. He’s a hard worker and wants to do well and prove himself worthy, but he also has no idea what he’s going into and he’s scared and confused.

Arvin does a fantastic job of describing the war through the eyes of Heck, who turns out to be a very believable and sympathetic character. Heck spends some time at the front lines, in the thick of the fighting, yet most of the time he has no idea where he is, what their objective is, or how to go about achieving it. I really felt the monotony, confusion, terror, and utter discomfort that Heck went through, even as a part of him yearned to be a hero.

I generally don’t enjoy reading books about war, but this one is so pointed and human that I really appreciated it. Personally, I think leaders of countries and armies, playing their games of power, should be held morally accountable for turning young adults—barely matured—into killers, and then sending them into battle to die while they hide behind convenient cloaks of nationalistic patriotism and duty. Arvin sympathetically portrays what one of these young men went through while struggling to survive.

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