Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bauerlein, Mark. "The Write Stuff: the Hunger for Literature Among Student Officers." WEEKLY STANDARD 13.15 (2007).

Cadets come from all regions, income groups, and ideologies--some carrying on a family tradition of service, some whose parents protested the Vietnam war. Most of all, belying the Rambo stereotype, they like novels and poems and plays. In class they read The Iliad, Beowulf, War and Peace, World War I poetry, and also Pope's "Essay on Man," Dickens's Bleak House, Matthew Arnold's "Literature and Science," the curious lyrics of Wallace Stevens, Diderot's plan for the Encyclopédie. Out of class, they keep at it. Lieutenants in Iraq who took her course three years earlier write back to ask about her current syllabus. Another stationed in Korea tells her, "Someone once told me that 'the most important book you will ever read is the first one after your graduation.' I wish I could remember what it was--I have done more reading since graduation than I would have ever thought possible." Still another writes from Mosul, "I have been rolling through books here at a pretty steady clip," and when he returns to the States, he reports, guiltily, that his reading has slipped. Samet attributes these young people's literary fervor precisely to their combat future. While freshmen down in Manhattan at Columbia and NYU think about jobs and paychecks they'll secure after graduation, and hook-ups they make before it, cadets have a rigorous regimented existence in class and out, and they know they will assume command of 30 men and women when it's over, probably in a hot zone. The prospect throws them into hard questions of life and death, duty and sacrifice, courage and leadership, and they probe great works to figure them out. Samet's chapters ramble from episode to episode, sprinkling reflections on the war on terror, Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, and her own frequent place as "the Only Woman in the Room" (a chapter title), but the plebe readers are what hold the book together. All of them, Samet included, "feel a palpable pressure to consider every moment's practical and moral weight." The pressure magnifies the import of Macbeth contemplating the murder of Duncan, Penelope waiting for her husband, Stevens's "Oh! Blessed rage for order"--Samet doesn't have to convince them to respect Shakespeare, Homer, and the rest. The war has done that already. To anyone who teaches English elsewhere, the enthusiasm is wondrous. . . . Read the rest here:

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