December 17, 2004

Pro-War High Art Novels

Mark A.R. Kleiman asks, on a reader's behalf, "Are there any modern (say post 1700) novels of high literary merit that can reasonably be characterized as pro-war? Or, at least as pro-war as the Iliad?"

Well, "high literary merit" is hard to define, and as Holbo points out, "something that an MLA member wouldn't be ashamed to be seen reading" won't work at all. MLA members wouldn't be ashamed to be seen reading Star Wars novels, let alone Starship Troopers. But we know what he means, maybe.

So: How about Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series? Those don't seem to question the war in any way--the people fighting the war are seen as noble, brave, etc. In fact, in the ones I've read, it's the civilian overlords who come out worst, for playing politics and favorites rather than focusing on who's the best fighter. And O'Brian has much literary cred.

Kingsely Amis's The Anti-Death League is kind of an odd case--there's no war in it per se, but it's absolutely in favor of an aggressive military posture that... well, I can't really describe it without spoiling it. It's oddly sweet for Amis. Though the plot does somewhat turn on the idea that the UK is a Force To Be Reckoned With, which I thought had gone out with Suez.

I had been thinking that Yukio Mishima might have something, but Brad Plumer "can't think of any specifically pro-war novels he wrote," and he's surely read more than I have. (Runaway Horses is somewhat militaristic but it's got no war.)

The Red Badge of Courage depicts war as awful--but I imagine any novel of merit that depicts war would have to depict it as awful. It's been a long time since I've read it but I do think that it doesn't undercut the virtue of the war or the merit of the soldier's courage; any thoughts?

And a left-field suggestion; it's been a while since I read this too but in One Hundred Years of Solitude Colonel Aurelio Buendia is I think a noble figure. The wars he fights don't turn out so well but I think he's not condemned for fighting them. Would that count?

Posted by Matt Weiner at December 17, 2004 10:47 AM