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Academic Bulletin Freshman Tutorials - 2009-10 - 9 FT 9

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FT 09-H The Reality & Art Of War Memoirs: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan

Paul Fussell (WWII veteran, author, critic) defines the war memoir in the following way: “the memoir is a kind of fiction, differing from the ‘first novel’ [crucial youthful experience told in the first person] only by continuous implicit attestations of veracity or appeals to documented historical fact.” Such a definition raises some interesting questions about this genre. How is a memoir different from an autobiography? What can readers of war memoirs learn about the character and life experiences of the writer? What can readers learn about the hearts, minds, and souls of other war participants—battlefield and home front? What can readers learn about the strategies of warfare, historical events of specific wars, and the similarities and differences among wars? What elements of style, structure, theme, and literary conventions does the memoirist borrow from the novelist to heighten the book’s dramatic effect? Is “story truth” truer than “happening truth”? And finally, how does a war experience inevitably change all involved—even readers of a war memoir?
These are a few of the questions we will consider as we read four war memoirs from two different conflicts involving American combatants—Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan. Two of the books are written by journalists who reported on the wars: Michael Herr’s classic Vietnam memoir, Dispatches (1977), and Dexter Filkins’ prize-winning Iraq/Afghanistan memoir, The Forever War (2008). Two of the books are written by soldier-authors who commanded Marine rifle platoons: Philip Caputo’s Vietnam memoir, A Rumor of War (1977), and Donovan Campbell’s Iraq memoir, Joker One (2009). In addition, our sources of information will be documentaries and films about the wars. Class activities will include oral reports, class discussions, student panels, research projects, videos, in-class written responses to the movies and books, out-of-class papers examining themes in the books and films, and a final project chosen by the student. 

Herzog, Tobey C.
Credits: 1