Roundtable: War novels, unraveled


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is deemed one of the most impressive war novels on shelves today by the roundtable. (Flickr/Matthew Rogers)

With all the talk of war and the future of American foreign policy, sometimes people gloss over the people actually involved, instead focusing talk on policy and politicians engaged in ideological battles. Today’s roundtable of the Life section will be discussing the most powerful military stories in literature.

Rarely does a book strike you with a real kind of rawness that leaves you furious at its misogynist and despicable narrator. “Jarhead” proceeds to do exactly that, while giving an interesting personal narrative about the boredom and existential dread that comes with joining the military during war.

Written by former U.S. Marine and sniper Anthony Swofford, this collection of personal anecdotes and assessments of what it was like to be in the military during the Gulf War will tear down your conception of a war hero, as frequently perpetuated by cultures everywhere, and show the sheer vulnerability of those directly involved on the field. As we learn from Swofford, the worst battles don’t even involve shooting a gun, but cleaning up human waste, aimlessly wandering around on military settlements and even knowing that you’re

“Jarhead” illustrates how sometimes our heroes aren’t necessarily what we think — and how more than anything, they can be broken human beings desperately clinging onto the little things that matter to them.

Anokh Palakurthi, associate life editor

Few wars are won by alcoholics, but after reading George Crile’s “Charlie Wilson’s War,” I think it’s fair to say that at least one conflict was won by such a person. This book focuses on the true story of Congressman Charlie Wilson and his role in arming the Mujahideen resistance fighters in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation there at the height of the Cold War.

Wilson spends most of the book under investigation for possession and use of cocaine, among other things. His struggles to fight against the Soviet Union by bringing the weight of the United States government to support the Mujahideen is an entertaining and little-known story that deserves to be read.

Edward Pankowski, life editor

In my opinion, the best military novel is “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller. “Catch-22” is a brutally satirical take on the American military bureaucracy during World War II. All the main character, Yossarian, wants to do is not die. He wants to fulfill his service requirements and go home, but his commander keeps raising the mission quota every time he is just about to finally reach it. To stay out of combat Yossarian and his friends fake illness and even insanity.

However, Yossarian is still trapped in the military because, “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.” Basically, if you fly a mission you’re crazy and don’t have to, but if you don’t want to fly a mission then you’re sane and you must. The rule is so perfectly structured that there’s no way around it, and the phrase “catch-22” has even entered the American lexicon as noun for a difficult situation for which there isn’t an easy or possible solution. The novel’s entire plot is centered around this brilliantly frustrating rule, and I don’t think there’s ever been a more hysterically critical take on the American military.

Helen Stec, campus correspondent

The great legend of literature, Kurt Vonnegut wrote one of the world’s greatest anti-war novels of our time in 1969: “Slaughterhouse Five.” It follows the colorful character of Billy Pilgrim in his journey through not only the terrors of WWII in the European theater as a POW, but also his adventures in time and space. The uniqueness of Billy Pilgrim’s character mixed with the unexpected twists and turns choreographed by Vonnegut make this tale not only the a fantastic war novel, but a timeless masterpiece that is a must read for any war and science fiction fanatics. 

John Moreno, campus correspondent

Anokh Palakurthi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at He tweets @DC_Anokh.

Helen Stec is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

John Moreno is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at

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