War Stories

In the course of our homeschooling, my son and I decided we should learn a bit about World War I. I knew very little about World War II’s less popular younger brother except that men still road horses into combat and fought in trenches and started using machine guns. I also knew about the Red Barron, gas warfare, artillery, and someplace called Verdun. I was always very unclear about why it started. I knew there was someone called Arch Duke Ferdinand, but I never believed his assassination was actually the reason the war started. Turns out it was. Or it wasn’t, actually. My son and I concluded World War I was a very stupid war, which could be said of all wars, in a way, except this was the one where we in the West first understood this. From the sound of it (and you History Majors please stand down) the reason the war really started was a story, which went like this: Countries fight each other.

That was the story. The Arch Duke was killed and word went around that it was time to fight again. Everyone was ready to do it – the French were ready to fight, the English were ready to fight, the Germans, the Austrians, the Russians – everyone. Britain needed 100,000 more men for their rather small army. When they put out the call, one million signed up. Because countries fought each other. Everyone knew that. War was a part of being a human who lived in a country. That was the story and everyone told it and everyone knew it and so off to war we went. And then we fought this horrible, unromantic, muddy, bloody, ugly war and many of us did not like this story anymore. Not quite enough of us, but quite a few anyway, and so gradually the story began to change.

You may think the stories you write are of no real consequence. You may think you are only trying to help people escape reality for a plane ride, or pass an evening pleasantly in the company of a new literary friend, but we are all the accumulation of the stories we tell and are being told. While it is unlikely your stories will start or stop a war, they might bring peace to one person for one moment and serve as a reminder of what we actually are, and where we are actually going.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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