The Good Soldier Story

by Dish Staff

Vanessa M. Gezari, author of The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrificereflects on the US news media’s tendency to both lionize and demonize warfighters:

War stories reflect on our national character as many other stories don’t; they are also notoriously slippery, especially when told and retold back home. All kinds of falsehoods ensue, because war is complicated, messy, and inscrutable, even to those who witness it firsthand and certainly to those who occasionally watch it on TV thousands of miles away. Plots from books, movies, and TV shows like Homeland mix with real life; gaps get filled, missing minutes reconstructed. The press holds up a mirror to the rest of us, and what the rest of us know and want to hear over and over are folktales. To grapple with the idea that Bowe Bergdahl is not a carbon copy of the square-jawed men we see on recruiting billboards, or of the skulking deserters of wars past, is too laborious. Stories, after all, serve many purposes. They do not just help us know what happened. They also console, strengthen, or shame us. The United States in particular has excelled at telling stories about itself. We are a nation of idealists. We believe that we win wars because we are better than our opponents – not just better fighters, but better, period.