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That's War

That's War - William Arthur Sirmon What is courage? I doubt I'm qualified to answer that, but I believe Lt. William A. Sirmon is. After facing machine guns and having bombs rained down upon you for months, to voluntarily go back to the frontline after being invalided out due to ticket-home, severe injuries suffered during a mustard gas attack, to me that's the sort of person that might be able to answer the question, "what is courage?".

That's War is the diary of


William A. Sirmon

It picks up on January 1, 1918 at Camp Gordon in Georgia, where Sirmon and his comrades drilled, drank, danced, sang and laughed. He's an upbeat, goodnatured fellow with a good heart and a few minor vices, which makes him someone the reader can easily warm to. Although this is a military diary, which tend to be dry, analytical and dull as dirt, his writing is surprising eloquent and full of life. His buoyant sense of humor lifts the drudgery of reading about his mundane daily routine.

However, the light-hearted Sirmon becomes a good deal more serious when finally sent to the front. That, to me, is where the real value of the journal comes into play. Here we see the effects of war work upon a human psyche day by day. Though his new life is difficult and occasionally gruesome - not all of the details of which are spared the reader - never does the diary fall into melodramatics...well, aside from when Sirmon is being purposefully silly.

Sensitive readers should be warned. Sirmon and many of his comrades are Southern Boys born and bred. They held the prejudices of their time and place. There is a regrettable passage or two which reveals the racist tendencies of the day. It is unfortunate. I am one of those who finds it hard to forgive such behavior, but having read the diary in its entirety, I feel mostly mollified to Sirmon's behavior. In one particular series of passages we see his interactions with a black man, who goes from being little more than a disagreeable color in his eyes to a person with a name, a heritage and value.

There is a great deal of tedium in the long days at Camp Gordon that fill up many pages prior to Sirmon's deployment. The diary is said to be unedited, which for prosperity's sake is best. However, a few less monotonous posts would've improved the overall reading experience. Ah, but that would not be true to life, and in the end I prefer mine warts and all.