“A Marine who knows what war is like and can make the reader feel the pain and profanity of it.”

Marine turned writer C.J. Chivers.

Barnard Law Collier adds these insights about military life to yesterday’s post “America’s Newsrooms Have Been Shockingly Negligent in Hiring Reporters Who Know These Conflicts and Their Impacts Best—Our Veterans.”
A soldier’s life and a civilian’s life exist in different times, mind sets, and places. Journalists without military experience cannot accurately describe what they feel like and mean.

That knowledge doesn’t come from books, and too few reporters and writers have been through the brutal mind-bending it requires to survive as a soldier. A notable exception is J. C. Chivers of the New York Times, a Marine who knows what war is like and can make the reader feel the pain and profanity of it.

A second exception is Roland Bartetzko, a one-time combat fighter in the German Army, the Croatian Defense Council, and the Kosovo Liberation Army, who knows soldiering as it actually is for the soldiers. His stories ring true.

Here is his answer to a question on Quora:

What ten things make a soldier miserable?

This is my personal list of the things that made me miserable:

• When you’re out of cigarettes and coffee.

• When you’ve been in combat for twenty days and have nothing left to eat other than cold flatbread.

• When you’re on the front line and wait for your relief and instead of the awaited infantry company, a jeep is approaching your positions. You see your captain climbing out of it, telling you that there’s no relief coming and that you have to stay another three days on the front line.

• When the same thing happens again after the three days are over.

• Losing an important battle. Imagine your favorite soccer team fighting for the title the first time after fifty years, and losing the match in the last minute. Multiply this feeling by a hundred and you know how it feels to lose a battle.

• When your holiday is over and you have to go back to the field.

• After you’ve marched the whole day with a heavy backpack, you realize that the village you wanted to go to is occupied by the enemy and you have to go back where you came from.

• When you hear over the radio that your platoon commander is badly wounded.

• When just minutes later, you hear over the same radio that your 2nd in command of the platoon also got badly wounded.

• Visiting your wounded comrades in the hospital. It’s always sad. Some of them have lost a limb and you go into their room and don’t know what to say.

• Funerals. They’re heartbreaking, especially when the soldier’s family is present.

The worst: When you lose a comrade from your squad.

I’ve read several dozen of Bartetzko’s war stories and avidly await the next. His latest book is The Smell of War—Lessons from the Battlefield.
Barney Collier describes himself as cultural anthropologist, writer, former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief, and publisher.

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