I just finished two books with such divergent views about war and soldiers that I think they'd make great summer reading for you.
But you have to read both.
The books are "The Rough Riders" by Teddy Roosevelt, and "Walking It Off," by Doug Peacock.
Roosevelt was one of our most influential presidents. The United States is a world power due to his efforts as much as anyone's.
Peacock is less familiar, but if you've read "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Ed Abbey, you know him. Peacock was the model for George Hayduke, the war-damaged and extremely angry ex-Green Beret who is so good with explosives.
Roosevelt's book, which propelled him to national fame, describes his actions during the Spanish-American War when he formed a troop of cavalry volunteers called the Rough Riders, shipped them to Cuba and helped win that very small but critical war.
Boy, talk about another era.
Roosevelt believed that war would prove the United States was a great nation of great people. He fights to get his troops to the front. He admires soldiers who die nobly. He hopes to die bravely himself.
Coolness under fire is his watchword, and Roosevelt's troopers seem to feel the same way. One soldier, Roosevelt reports admiringly, actually says "Beg pardon, Colonel, I've been hit in the leg."
"Badly?" asks Roosevelt.
"Yes Colonel; quite badly."
They might be at tea, not charging San Juan Hill.
Peacock is more the soldier we see now. He was a Green Beret medic in Vietnam. Green Berets aren't wimps, but I suspect Roosevelt would find Peacock somewhat lacking. Peacock failed to die nobly and instead came home wounded of mind, if not body.
"I felt my life had been consumed," he writes. "The flames of the war in Southeast Asia had incinerated the remains of my middle-American existence and from the ashes had arisen the Peacock-bird, more reduced than renewed ... My life before Vietnam, my previous existence as a boy growing up in Michigan, had ended during Tet in 1968."
The "Walking It Off" part comes in several long hikes Peacock describes, ostensively to get rid of his middle-age spare tire but really to walk away from the horrors of war, aggravated by the sorrow of watching Abbey die. Peacock buried Abbey, secretly and illegally, in the desert.
Peacock is walking to reconnect with something that matters, an unsullied American West being destroyed by the same forces that wasted his life in Vietnam.
Two soldiers. Two wars. Two very different outcomes.
Roosevelt was a great president, but I don't want him leading me in battle. I can hear him yelling, "Stand up and get shot like a man!"
Give him this: Roosevelt got shot at too. He led the charge. People all around him died. That guy who took one in the leg was right next to him.
Of course, Roosevelt's combat lasted only eight days. Peacock is like too many soldiers sent to never-ending wars by today's chickenhawk politicians. The soaring veteran suicide rate and the VA's growing PTSD treatment program are testimony to never-ending war's ability to grind down even the bravest and most stout.
Barnes & Noble carries Roosevelt's book. Abebooks.com has many copies under $5.
Peacock's is harder to find, but is available from Abebooks.com, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble's web site. Ken Sanders Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City, has several used copies and a couple collectible "Hayduke" editions.
Both books are great reads, but you have to read both.