War story can help civilians understand
November 28, 2007
“The noise was like nothing he had ever experienced before, a noise such as might be used to herald the beginning of a terrible new world … He was reduced to the purest sensations of that single, awful fear.”
This is the state of George Tilson, nicknamed Heck because of his refusal to swear. Heck is an 18-year-old boy from Iowa who is fighting in World War II, while fighting an internal war to overcome his own cowardice and find a way to please his father. Denver author Nick Arvin’s novel “Articles Of War” gives us a very stark picture of not only Heck’s personal experience, but of a Europe that is heavily damaged, reflecting in its devastated villages and bombed-out countryside the horrors of the war being waged.
The overall feel of this short novel is a brutal and uncompromising picture of a scared young man coming to terms with his self-perceived cowardice in an unfamiliar land amid a war nothing could have prepared him for. This is exactly why “Articles Of War” is successful in the story it tells.
So many of the stories I have heard from family members along with firsthand accounts I have read reflect the recurring theme of very young men caught in the grips of unrelenting fear, not just fighting an enemy for a noble cause, but fighting just to stay alive and have a chance to go home someday. This is the experience we share with Heck. His experience of the implosion of fellow soldiers by land mines, the look on the faces of dead soldiers from both sides, the psychology a soldier employed to survive long periods of waiting for something to happen.
Somewhere in the midst of the war in France, Heck falls in love with Claire; yet getting close to her seems to terrorize him almost as much as actual combat. His desire to run away is the internal battle Heck faces on a daily basis.
Close to the end of his tour, Heck is assigned to a secret mission that turns out to be the firing squad for Private Eddie Slovik, a deserter from his division. This event is based on actual events, but in the context of this story it is an event that changes Heck as a person and a soldier.
It is this experience that brings his own personal feelings of cowardice and fear full circle.
After returning to his unit, Heck becomes the efficient fighter he had been trying so hard to escape earlier. Yet he can’t seem to overcome his feelings of failure, especially in his intention to please his father. Rather than jump at the chance to return home after the war which would inevitably lead to a reunion with his father, he chooses instead to sign up for another tour of post war duties in Europe.
“Articles Of War” is not a novel that glamorizes the war, instead it is bold and stark in its storytelling, holding nothing back of the fear, the brutality, and the overwhelming loneliness of the war as experienced through Heck and the other characters. I think this is a big reason “Articles Of War” is important to read. Chosen as this year’s Denver One Book, this novel more than deserves the attention.
I finished this novel with wondering how, despite the horrible physical conditions combined with the overwhelming feelings of fear, loneliness, and often hopelessness, the young men who found themselves as soldiers in this world war managed to press on day after day and defeat an aggressor that at times appeared unstoppable.
Maybe trying to learn about what they went through is why novels such as “Articles Of War” are important to read this year.
This book is available at Borders Books in Dillon. Larry Ebersole is available to discuss this review at the store or at Amentalengineer@cs.com.