Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: Medal of Honor

A review of Medal of Honor, by Allen Mikaelian (with some commentary here and there by Mike Wallace).

Eleven Medal of Honor recipients are profiled here, from the highly controversial woman non-combatant winner, Mary Edwards Walker, a doctor during the Civil War, to two Vietnam War heroes who were affected by their experiences in very different ways. There’s a little bit of background on the history of the medal itself, but mostly this is a book about men who showed incredible valor in the face of great danger. It’s a very affecting look at military experience — not a homogeneous thing at all, but perhaps unified by a common call for unexpected, immediate and astonishing bravery.

It's a light read, with little in the way of military history to put things in context (Wallace's bits don't make much of an impact). And perhaps that's the way it should be; this is solely the "boots on the ground" viewpoint, in which the desires of high command figure little. I've forgotten who said it, but someone who knew what he was talking about once said that men don't fight for their heads of state or for their country; they fight and die for their fellow soldiers. This is a book that makes the sentiment clear. It's especially true in the stories of the black and Nisei soldiers, whose selfless valor in the face of cruelty, persecution and suspicion by their fellow soldiers gives their tales the most emotional resonance.

There's nothing necessary about this particular book, by which I mean it gives no new insights into the nature of bravery or the minds of soldiers in war, nor is the caliber of the prose worth remarking on. But Medal of Honor earners' lives are stories that deserve to be told, and that's reason enough for Mikaelian to publish these particular ones. There's nothing in the most dramatic Hollywood war picture to compare with the real miracles these soldiers performed.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
General warfare: 1

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