Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian—Book Review

This book review by Dr. Jim Thurman, political science professor at Central Wyoming College/University of Wyoming, was published in HMU: Dialogues, the newsletter of Harrison Middleton University.

You are Odysseus! Ah, dear child! I could not see you until now . . . —The Odyssey, Book 19

Reading histories of the world’s various nations and peoples, one may be struck by the repetition of phrases recounting how one group or another was “a warlike people…” Our histories appear devoid of groups renowned for their gentleness, or passive nature. Long periods of peace are noted as exceptional.

Since existing peoples all seem to have been “warlike” in their past, it seems likely, albeit tragic, that groups not sufficiently warlike have been forgotten to history; conquered or annihilated. Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian, an anthology from the Great Books Foundation, reflects the scourge of humanity’s warlike past and present.

Standing Down provides the reader a syntopical approach to this critical sphere. Like Citizens of the World, a syntopical volume on human rights, and other similar editions from the Foundation, Standing Down covers a wide range of time, place, conflict, and related themes. Selections range from ancient classics like Homer’s Iliad and The Melian Dialogue of Thucydides, to those of more modern fame, such as Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, to recent accounts of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The styles found in Standing Down run the gamut from fiction, such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, to Tim O’Brien’s brilliant, barely fictional, mostly autobiographical The Things They Carried, to the more purely factual reporting of journalists Eric Sevareid and Ernie Pyle. Some selections are all about combat, while others, like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, are more peripheral—if no less important. Caregiving, patriotism, the role of civilians, and grieving are examples of themes that extend beyond the myopic attention to combat sometimes found in works of this type. The selections are international in character, but mostly represent (with the surprising omission of the Korean War) the experiences of American servicemen and women in other major conflicts.

As the title suggests, Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian was compiled not only to focus on war, but with the expressed purposed of assisting veterans in the often Herculean (or perhaps Odyssean) challenge of readjusting to civilian life. In a time when rapid air travel allows combatants the bewildering experience of being transported from a war zone to a placid home in the suburbs in a matter of hours—gone are the days of spending a few weeks on a ship, a chance to decompress before the homecoming—any attempt to ease the transition is worthwhile, for soldiers, their families, and for society. The value of Standing Down in facilitating this metamorphosis is difficult for this reviewer to access, and is sure to vary depending on the needs of returning soldiers. That said, Donald Whitfield and  the Great Books Foundation have produced a collection of classics, and future classics, whose broad scope of time, place, and theme makes Standing Down a valued resource, not just for veterans, but for anyone wishing to examine, discuss, and better understand the many facets of war.

Dr. Jim Thurman is a veteran of three decades of military service, in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and U.S. Navy Reserve. The term “soldiers” is used here to refer to all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.



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