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  1. #1
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    Writing sources for battlefield perspective?

    I'm wondering what good sources are out there for what it is like as a soldier in a battlefield? I've foud a few interesting books such as Starship Troopers and Star Wars Battle Surgeons, or movies such as Saving Private Ryan. Most seem to be more like Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy, which I'm reading right now, where it will jump briefly into a battle but doesn't seem to focus a lot on what it is like being away from home in hostile territory for long periods of time. Also I don't seem to see a whole lot that get into unit tactics and soldiers working together.

    Does anyone have any good sources in any forms of media: books, movies, computer games?

  2. #2
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    The Big Red One, Band of Brothers, The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, Slaughterhouse 5, The Thin Red Line, Eyewitness to History series, pick a war, oral histories of wars such as The Good War: An Oral History of World War II -- lots of non-fiction sources.

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    The 'Forgotten Voices' series is good, though it's mostly from a British perspective. The Imperial War Museum has been recording interviews with military and civilians for decades, and began transcribing them into book form a few years ago.

    Edit: ah, this seems to be the official site: http://www.forgottenvoices.co.uk/

    For WWII, the Cornelius Ryan books are classics, and you can probably find copies in the local used book stores; I think I paid $0.25 for each of mine in a book sale. There are also a bunch of self-published memoirs from Vietnam and more recent wars on Amazon.

    As for tactics, you probably want to look up the relevant field manuals. Quite a lot of those are available online, though you probably won't find manuals for current tactics, for obvious reasons.
    Last edited by Edward M. Grant; March 4th, 2014 at 12:01 PM.

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    The Naked and the Dead

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    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    Seriously not being snide about this. Ask a veteran. It's not like folks write it in most books. You get very close focus on your immediate surroundings, your training, and dealing with staying alive.

    Kerry

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    Quote Originally Posted by kmtolan View Post
    Seriously not being snide about this. Ask a veteran. It's not like folks write it in most books. You get very close focus on your immediate surroundings, your training, and dealing with staying alive.
    Duh, that's a good point, particularly for more recent battles. There are plenty of military message boards these days where you'd probably find veterans interested in answering questions; ARRSE in the UK, for example, has people who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands, and probably back to WWII.

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    Thanks for all the input so far, taking notes.

    My area is pretty quiet so we don't have a lot of verterans around to talke to but I had not thought of military message boards. Sounds like a really good potential source and the worse they can do is tell me to go away

  8. #8
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drethon View Post
    Thanks for all the input so far, taking notes.

    My area is pretty quiet so we don't have a lot of verterans around to talk to
    You got one, at least (grin).

    Kerry

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    I've read diaries/journal before. They often hold insight different from what you find in a novel. And the internet is full of journals from soldiers in many wars.

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    I highly recommend John Keegan's The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. The description on Amazon sums it up well enough: "[A] look at the direct experience of individuals at the "point of maximum danger. . . . [I]n his scrupulous reassessment of three battles representative of three different time periods, he manages to convey what the experience of combat meant for the participants, whether they were facing the arrow cloud at the battle of Agincourt, the musket balls at Waterloo, or the steel rain of the Somme."

    It's especially interesting because of the very different technology and tactics involved in the examined battles.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by hunt View Post
    I highly recommend John Keegan's The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. The description on Amazon sums it up well enough: "[A] look at the direct experience of individuals at the "point of maximum danger. . . . [I]n his scrupulous reassessment of three battles representative of three different time periods, he manages to convey what the experience of combat meant for the participants, whether they were facing the arrow cloud at the battle of Agincourt, the musket balls at Waterloo, or the steel rain of the Somme."

    It's especially interesting because of the very different technology and tactics involved in the examined battles.
    I second this. In fact I would have mentioned it first except hunt beat me to it. No matter, it is a good call.

    If you are looking at battles from the point of view of aircraft try Stuart Slade's The Big One series. Whilst he may be a little excessive at times you certainly smell the cordite.

  12. #12
    Try "Platoon Commander" by James McDonough.

    The author writes about his experience as a fresh Lieutenant put in command of a forward operating base in Vietnam. He writes simply, but very exactly, and allows you to really get into his head. More specifically, the book focuses on the realities of leadership, as far as gaining the trust and respect of his men; the tactical details of the numerous engagements he experiences; as well as the strategic aspects of operating within a very hostile territory.

    I really can't say enough good things about this book. It's short, but its covers all the bases, and its very very honest. I've kept it with me for a number of years now and make damn sure I get it back if I loan it out. It's 5/5 stars with 45 reviews on Amazon. Seriously, get this book! It's one of the most engrossing reads I've ever had.

    EDIT: And of course, ask a veteran! A book can only tell so much. (but still get the book!)
    Last edited by Warzoo; March 27th, 2014 at 03:12 PM.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drethon View Post
    I'm wondering what good sources are out there for what it is like as a soldier in a battlefield? I've foud a few interesting books such as Starship Troopers and Star Wars Battle Surgeons, or movies such as Saving Private Ryan. Most seem to be more like Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy, which I'm reading right now, where it will jump briefly into a battle but doesn't seem to focus a lot on what it is like being away from home in hostile territory for long periods of time. Also I don't seem to see a whole lot that get into unit tactics and soldiers working together.

    Does anyone have any good sources in any forms of media: books, movies, computer games?
    Speaking as a vet, though not a combat vet, avoid movies and computer games. They are not realistic.

    Seconding (thirding, fourthing?) the recommendation to talk to veterans. You won't get much at first from most of them, but just listen. Don't ask "Did you ever kill anyone?" (Unless you like never talking to that person again. It's very rude, and very much resented, though it's expected from children.) Take time. LISTEN. Talking about real-life battle situations is hard and the worse the experience the less a recent veteran will say to a stranger. Look around for veterans' organizations, and put yourself in places where veterans meet. Then be a friend before you mine them for stories.

    Nonfiction books are better than fiction, for the most part. Read across a range of memoirs, in terms of rank. Read beyond English-speaking, if you can (there are some translations.) You can find veterans' blogs occasionally that are good. You definitely need Dave Grossman's On Killing, discussing the psychological effects of killing the enemy in battle. (Grossman treated post-combat trauma.) He also wrote On Combat, which I haven't yet read, but I'm sure it's good. John Crawford's The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell is a powerful personal account of a young man who joined the National Guard to get money for college and ended up in Iraq. The only television stuff you should pay attention to are programs done by the military for the military (I'm lucky enough to be in range of a PBS station that carried The Pentagon Channel--and part of the programming deals with military personnel's experiences in, and reactions to, combat.) Someone else mentioned Keegan's _The Face of Battle_...yes, absolutely. The last time I was in the UK, I found a series of rather skinny paperback books, each having a wealth of detail on specific engagements from various wars...naturally they aren't where they should be in the bookshelves, so I can't give a reference--but this kind of book, and this kind of material, is available online if you look for it.

    It will also help you to know something about military matters in general, from training on up. In the US, civilians can subscribe to Army Times for the Army's perspective. You may be able to get hold of non-classified training manuals and procedural manuals, and learn what people are taught before experience proves which part of the manual is worth what. I recommend The Defense of Duffer's Drift (British, Boer-War era, but excellent little book for making clear how many ways a "simple" mission can go wrong) and The Defense of Hill 781 (US, more turgid, but covers combined operations--artillery, infantry, tanks) James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi's Shooting Blanks: War Making that Doesn't Work isn't about the individual experience, but an analysis of what goes wrong, war after war. You need to know something about all divisions of military science (not at the expert level, but enough to know why a small glitch in supply still gets soldiers killed--and it's still happening, for all the computers & staffing. A supply sergeant told me about one such incident in Afghanistan, when we met at an SF convention.) Even if your story starts and ends in a combat situation, for that situation to make sense you have to have a setup that works for readers with a military background. A background in military history and military science also helps you convince veterans you're not just a sensation-seeker. (Though, admittedly, that's what writers are, in contact with others--we're always looking and listening for scraps that can make stories better...)

    (Why not use fictional sources, you may ask. Because fictional accounts of combat carry more than the details of combat (even if those are right)--they carry along the writer's own embedded cultural assumptions that even the writer may not be aware of. You need the raw data, so that your version becomes embedded with your own cultural assumptions, and isn't just Famous Novelist's view of combat, transplanted into a time and place where it wouldn't exist.)

  14. #14
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    I know I'm a little late to this conversation but if the OP is still looking for information and such, there is a movie on Netflix called "Restrepo". It was filmed and edited by soldiers in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. It doesn't get much more real than that.

  15. #15
    I'd say, talk to soldiers. People who've been there.
    Igor

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