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May 12, 2010 / schulerbooks

Upcoming Megan Stack book looks at war in the Middle East from a woman’s point of view

Considering the slew of military-themed books that are unleashed leading up to Father’s Day — this year’s batch includes War by Sebastian Junger, The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick, and Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre — I’m very intrigued by the upcoming book Every Man In this Village Is a Liar by award-winning war reporter Megan Stack. Aside from the fact that the book is getting VERY good reviews, there aren’t many books on war from a woman’s point of view, and Stack’s point of view is very well informed from years of journalism (she was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer in International Reporting). The book doesn’t come out til June 15, but you can catch a feel for it from this essay, provided by Random House:

War is a story told by men. There’s a war, and then there is a man to chronicle the gory details, broadcast them wide, cementing the pornography of combat in the imagination of another generation. They have made a fetish of conflict.

Because I have been in war, it is hard for me now to read about it. It’s not that it brings up painful memories; it’s that I often find the author’s undertones off-putting. The writer describes the battle, the sweat and slam and explosions. But what he is really saying is, Look at me, I was there. I have gone to the final extreme of manhood; I have proven myself not on some chessboard of corporate intrigue or barroom brawl, but on the edge of real death. I was there and now I glorify it, for in its glory I found a piece of my own. Hemingway cloaked this boast in assumed nonchalance: “Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.” As a man, you have your taste of war, and you dine out on it for the rest of your life.
War is like a commodity for men; a man holds himself in deference to other men who have had more war.

The same is not true for women. A woman war reporter may be patted on the head and told she’s brave to be there, or may be regarded as eccentric, off, a little masculine, perhaps. War is a very bad thing men would rather be left alone to do.  But if she insists on coming, then she is sent off to write about the victims, the families and children. Because that is women’s traditional role in war: peripheral. Nurses, messengers maybe, but more than anything, victims. Even when women come to fight, they end up getting victimized – the Department of Defense just found a 16% rise in sexual assault among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I wanted to go to war, and write about it, too. Except once I saw what it really was, stripped of all its cocksure verbiage, I didn’t want to write about it the way men did. In Jerusalem, one of the storied old-timers said to me, in one of those drunken I’ll-tell-you-something-I-shouldn’t-say moments, “It used to be a lot more fun, before all the women started showing up. They take it all so seriously. They…” He gestured emptily. “But you’re not like that.”

He was wrong, though. I was like that. Because in the end I couldn’t play war like a game, and I couldn’t come away pretending that it was glamorous. I couldn’t ignore the ache of fear, the heaviness of violence in the air, the shadows the carnage leaves behind, the destruction to souls and psyches and societies that can never be undone except with the rise of a new generation, and sometimes not even then.
Maybe war was more fun before the women started showing up. But we need women’s war narratives. There are deeper, darker things around the actual fighting that eventually must be faced. And that’s why the women should keep on showing up.

–Megan Stack

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