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They taught me to kill, but not how to deal with killing

"What it is like to go to War" (Atlantic Monthy Press) by Karl Marlantes.

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At age twenty-three, a bright and well-trained Karl Marlantes was sent to Vietnam as a second lieutenant in command of a platoon of forty Marines. Marlantes thought he could handle the task at hand, but soon discovered how far from mentally or emotionally prepared he was for the trials of war – during battle and in the aftermath.

Like many soldiers, he was traumatized after witnessing the deaths of his comrades and the Vietnamese. In “What It Is Like To Go To War,” author Marlantes writes that the army trained him to kill, but "it didn't teach me how to deal with killing.” He talks about how he is haunted by the face of the young North Vietnamese soldier he killed at close range and the decades it took him to come to terms with the shock of killing other human beings.

Marlantes proposes for how soldiers can become better equipped to deal with war through spirituality – especially for when they come back home.


Can anyone who enlists ever be well-prepared for war? What preparations – psychological, spiritual or social – should one make before deployment? What can the U.S. do to better prepare its troops?


Karl Marlantes, author, “What It Is Like To Go To War” and “Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War” (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Karl Malantes will be in conversation with Los Angeles Times’ Thomas Curwen this Thursday, November 3rd at the Los Angeles Public Library Aloud Series. For event details, click here.