Review of Waging War on War: Peacefighting in American Literature

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Review of Giorgio Mariani, Waging War on War: Peacefighting in American Literature
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015. Pp. 296. ISBN-13: 9780252097850.

“Whenever we talk about war literature, we are always, however implicitly, also talking about the question of how war literature is either resisted, accepted, or both. Posed in one form or another, the anti-war question will always be there,” Giorgio Mariani tells us in the introductory chapter of Waging War on War: Peacefighting in American Literature (8). Few attempts however have been made to date, to conceptualise or define anti-war literature as a genre in its own right. While the field of war studies continues to expand, new work in this area tends to either assume that “all war writing is at bottom anti-war writing” (9, emphasis in the original)—a view Mariani shows to be both critically and politically problematic—or to avoid the question altogether. This absence, he argues, is partly due to the innate difficulty of defining the subject: a text’s “anti-war credentials” shift according to its reader, while war literature as a whole can be seen to grapple to a greater or smaller extent with the ethical complexities of culturally-justified or condoned violence. The discussion of war in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, and Vonnegut’s own desistance from terming his novel “anti-war”highlights these difficulties:

Vonnegut is aware of the antinomy at the heart of his novel, and if he hesitates in calling it an anti-war novel, this is probably because he himself does not know what exactly this literary object consists of. Is it a tale that indignantly attacks the madness of war, even though wars need to be fought? A story that promotes a wholesale condemnation of War—any war, no matter how “just”? Or is it a narration that purports to help us understand the causes of war? Should an anti-war novel unambiguously rail against the monstrosity of human slaughter? Or, as many argue, should a war narrative only present the real or imagined thoughts and actions of men and women at war, leaving explanations to politicians and historians? (4).
Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of American Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • war studies
  • peace studies
  • American studies
  • American literature
  • American history
  • twentieth century
  • nineteenth century


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