(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)
Every time I write a negative review of a war memoir, I have one of two reactions. The first is fear. Some of the authors I've reviewed are famous, acclaimed or successful; others are opinion makers or high up in government. Criticizing these authors could come back to to get us.
But the second reaction hits me deeper: I feel guilty.
I feel guilty criticizing works by other writers because I respect anyone who has not only finished a book, but gotten it published as well. Even if it isn't very good, they've accomplished something I haven't yet. I admire that.
This doesn't apply to every negative review. If you’ve read my Jarhead posts, you know I detest it. Nihlistic, ugly, war porn--it portrays the worst side of the military possible. Equally bad, in the exact opposite way, is the almost fascist, sloppy ghost-written Lone Survivor, (which we plan on tearing a new, um, orifice in a few weeks. Look for it.) a paean to President Bush and the "War on Terror". One impossibly pro-soldier, the other impossibly negative; both unrealistic pieces of propaganda.
Both books are so deliberate in their approaches, I feel free to trash on them. Luttrell didn’t even write his book, and his political asides are both so needless and so innaccurate, that he desrves to be criticized. Swofford, on the other hand, is clearly a good writer. I don’t feel bad criticizing him for choosing to focus on such ugliness, and releasing his book at the most politically convenient time possible.
Some authors don't need my praise, including Hemingway, Ursula Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, and Tim O’Brien. They’ve won literary awards and sold millions of books. They don't need or care if I praise or criticize them.
But then comes the other books. I really respect Fick, Van Winkle, Friedman, and Mullaney for doing what they’ve done. But even the memoirs I liked, like The War I Always Wanted, Soft Spots and One Bullet Away, I criticized. These authors wrote memoirs, which means they put themselves out there. This is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. They put themselves out there, but in doing so, they open themselves up to criticism.
And critique. Their memoirs aren't bad, but they weren’t good either. Even though this is true, I feel bad writing this and I feel the need to get this off my chest. I want everyone to know I don't write negative reviews lightly.
At the same time, I want (and need) to be honest. That is what really matters.