Cover image for No man's land : preparing for war and peace in post-9/11 America
Title:
No man's land : preparing for war and peace in post-9/11 America
Author:
Samet, Elizabeth D.
Personal Author:
Edition:
1st edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
Physical Description:
xii, 223 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
"An exploration of one of the crucial problems of our time--how soldiers return home from war--by a professor of literature at West Point"--
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780374222772
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

As the post-9/11 wars wind down, a literature professor at West Point explores what it means for soldiers, and our country, to be caught between war and peace

Elizabeth D. Samet, a professor of English at West Point and the author of the critically acclaimed Soldier's Heart , came to question her settled understanding of post-9/11 America as a clear arc from peace to war. Over time, as she reckoned with her experiences-from a visit to a ward of wounded combat veterans to her correspondence with former cadets-Samet was led to profoundly rethink the last decade, an ambiguous passage that has left deep but difficult-to-read traces on our national psyche, our culture, our politics, and, most especially, an entire generation of military professionals. How will a nation that has refused to grapple honestly with these wars imagine its postwar responsibilities?
Samet calls the moment in which we live, lying as it does somewhere between war and peace, a "no man's land." She takes the reader on a vivid tour of that landscape, populated as much by the scars of war as by the everyday realities of life on the home front. Grounded in Samet's experience as a teacher of future army officers, No Man's Land is a moving, urgent examination of what it means to negotiate the tensions between soldier and civilian, between "over here" and "over there."

The views expressed in this book are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.


Author Notes

Elizabeth D. Samet is the author of Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point , which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest and was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2007 by The New York Times ; and Willing Obedience: Citizens, Soldiers, and the Progress of Consent in America, 1776-1898 . Her essays and reviews have been published in The New York Times Book Review , The New Republic , and Bloomberg View . Samet won the 2012 Hiett Prize in the Humanities and was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support the research and writing of a book about mythologies of the war veteran in Hollywood cinema. She is a professor of English at West Point.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Using her knowledge of the American military tradition, Samet (Soldier's Heart), a professor of English at West Point, examines the significance of the nation's ambivalent response to its soldiers returning home from the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. She notes that after the triumph of the Greatest Generation in WWII, America has been less kind to those who serve in combat, naming "the forgotten war" in Korea and "the lost war" in Vietnam. Impressed by a visit with valiant wounded veterans at Walter Reed hospital and her interaction with former students, Samet comprehends how war and violence can transform a soldier trying to grapple with the future, noting one Marine's comments: "I had to deal with the fact that everything wasn't the same, that it never would be, and that that's okay." Occasionally straying off-message in a narrative that includes classical myths and pop references, Samet still ably details the concept of a "no man's land," the gray zone between war and peace, and the soldiers' bittersweet homecoming to a war-weary America. Vivid, insightful, and timely, Samet sums up what this country must do for its returning troops. Agent: David Kuhn, Kuhn Projects. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1 BETWEEN SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS Coming Home FIRST SERVICEMAN: What gives? SECOND SERVICEMAN: Oh, my folks had a barbeque last night. Turned out to be a homecoming. FIRST SERVICEMAN: I had one of those things. It turned out to be murder. SECOND SERVICEMAN: Half of them were afraid if they said something they'd upset me, and the other half were afraid if I said something I'd upset them. FIRST SERVICEMAN: Look, my friend, let's face it, nobody's going to listen to us. Why don't we take off an hour someday? You tell me about what you did, I'll tell you about what I did. SECOND SERVICEMAN: You got it. -- Till the End of Time (RKO, 1946), directed by Edward Dmytryk DEEP IN THE CANYON OF HEROES Has coming home from a war--even a "good war"--ever been easy? Certainly not for Homer's mistrustful Odysseus, who returns in disguise to Ithaca to slaughter the suitors who have commandeered his house and whose loyal yet equally wary wife subsequently refuses to believe he is her husband, and not some impostor, until he accurately describes the bed they long ago shared. Nor for the Chinese soldier whose lament is recorded in a Han dynasty folk song: Having gone to war at fifteen, he comes home at eighty to find everything unrecognizable. A stranger tells him he will find his old house out by the burial mounds, overgrown with trees. Birds roost in the rafters, and forest animals scurry through what used to be the dog's door. The old soldier cooks his dinner from the grain and sunflowers growing wild in the yard, but once the meal is ready, he realizes there's no one left to serve it to him, no one with whom to share it. The soldier's homecoming is as freighted with ambivalent myths as is war itself: two different parties, each with carefully crafted stories that depend on the other's absence, suddenly collide in a no man's land that, if partly of their own making, is primarily the inevitable residue of making war. It's easy to imagine that there's safety in numbers, that mass mobilization makes repatriation a whole lot more routine. This is not necessarily the case. After World War II, the generals and the admirals (Eisenhower, Wainwright, Nimitz, Halsey) had ticker-tape parades through New York City's Canyon of Heroes. Most of the rest of the conflict's more than fifteen million veterans just sort of drifted home. When, on the night before being demobilized at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, in January 1946, my dad was finally able to call home for the first time in a few years, his own father didn't recognize his voice: "This doesn't sound like Teddy." My dad took the train home to Boston the following day. A few days later, realizing that he had nothing to wear but his uniform, he went down to a shop in Kenmore Square to try on a suit. He didn't even recognize the guy in civilian clothes he caught sight of in the mirror. Despite similar episodes of uncertainty and strangeness, my father's transition ended up being a reasonably smooth one. Probably the biggest factor in it was the World War II Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944--the GI Bill--which sent him to college, something he otherwise could not have afforded. The naturalness with which he resumed civilian life was by no means a universal experience, but our fierce nostalgia for those good old, "greatest" days tends to obscure the postwar period's complexities in a mist of patriotic confetti. As the historian Kathleen Frydl argues in The GI Bill , the substance and legacy of the bill itself, especially the ambivalence with which it and its veteran beneficiaries were initially regarded by a range of constituencies, have been distorted by politics and the passage of time. We are justly outraged today, for example, by news of for-profit colleges preying on veterans in order to tap into the benefits they are receiving from the modern GI Bill, but Frydl reminds us that this particular swindle was born in the late 1940s, when there were so many more potential victims to exploit. One of the fantasies contributing to the present era's confused and overwrought civil-military relationship is that every World War II service member was warmly appreciated by a grateful nation and that every veteran felt a reciprocal gratitude. It takes a contemporary observation such as this one made by the poet Wallace Stevens in a 1945 letter to recall that even that war, all encompassing as it was, could still feel somewhat abstract to a civilian at home: All during the war there have been very few visible signs of it here in Hartford. Occasionally, on the street, one would see a long string of young men on the way to the draft board, but that was all. We were intent on the war, yet it was far away. At first, when someone that we had known was lost, there was an extraordinary shock; later, this became something in the ordinary course of events, terrifying but inevitable. Three years earlier, in an account of a bond rally featuring the actress Dorothy Lamour in Bangor, Maine, E. B. White noted a similar indifference to those long strings of young men: "Dorothy ... drove off through the cheering crowd in the blood-red car, up Exchange Street, where that morning I had seen a motley little contingent of inductees shuffling off, almost unnoticed, to the blood-red war." Today, the comparatively small number of those serving makes the average citizen's relationship to war even more attenuated. Coincidentally, the Bangor International Airport, a frequent stopover for military flights, is now home to a nonprofit organization called the Maine Troop Greeters, whose mission "is to express the Nation's gratitude and appreciation to the troops, for those going overseas for a safe return and for those returning for a joyful homecoming and to make their ... stay in Bangor as comfortable and pleasant as possible." An army major told me that one of the greeters is known as "the hug lady" and that every soldier who has passed through Bangor knows her. Even the hardest and most jaded can't help but smile on seeing the hug lady, this officer explained: maybe it feels a bit silly and awkward to be embraced by this grandmotherly stranger, he reflected, yet no one seems immune to the effect of a hug and a homemade cookie. How grateful, I wonder, is the nation on behalf of which the Maine Troop Greeters claim to speak? In what ways should it be expressing its gratitude? Is gratitude even the proper sentiment? THE SEA OF VARIABILITY The soldier's readjustment has always been a difficult art. "It'll take time, I guess," an uneasy veteran tells his father in the 1946 film Till the End of Time . "Sure. You didn't make yourself a soldier overnight," the father responds. "You can't make yourself a civilian again overnight." I've recently been struck by the number of films that depict World War II servicemen coming home to empty houses or, even more troubling, to houses full of strangers. Hollywood could be a sublime wartime propaganda machine; nevertheless, it refused to mute the ambiguities of the veteran's homecoming. Physical and psychological obstacles to readjustment crop up in various films of the period, most notably William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives , released the same year as Till the End of Time . Their scenarios expose all of the uneasiness on both sides that accompanied the influx of nearly sixteen million ex-service members (or ex-heroes, as they are sometimes rather bitterly referred to on the screen) into civilian society. The simple fact that there were so many veterans--the comparatively small totals of the 4.7 million veterans of the World War I American Expeditionary Force and the 8.7 million who served in Vietnam still exceed the approximately 2.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--made their readjustment a pervasive societal feature rather than, as it is today, a somewhat unusual spectacle. In Pride of the Marines (1945) a blinded veteran played by John Garfield sits awkwardly in the living room of the house in which he used to live repeating variations on a refrain as true as it is false: "Things pretty much the same, huh?" Garfield's mantra--a mantra he wants desperately to believe--makes me think anew about a visit I made a few years ago to Walter Reed, before the facility moved to Bethesda as part of Base Realignment and Closure. I was in Washington for a series of meetings at the Pentagon, where I had never been, with various people I had never met, but the hospital was the one item on the agenda that intimidated me. If you can't sing or tell jokes or sign baseballs or heal wounds, can you ever be something other than a war tourist on a military hospital ward? Shawn, the officer responsible for coordinating my trip, assured me that we would see only those patients who had signed up to receive visitors. Shawn and I had met only the day before, but because of the way he had arranged everything over the weeks of e-mails and telephone calls preceding my visit, I already trusted him implicitly: I would go to Walter Reed. We met three patients that day: two soldiers and a marine. One soldier's mother sat in a chair, her face the exact and exacting mirror of a son's bewilderment and pain, more difficult to look at than the injured figure lying on the bed. The marine was a lieutenant, a stranger to me yet in some ways not so different from the many lieutenants I know. He was so happy and eager to please when we walked into the room, wheeled his chair over to us with such alacrity, that I was disarmed. It felt almost as if he had been expecting us, like a figure from a Greek myth, a host doomed perpetually to await the uninvited guests who alight on his doorstep. The lieutenant had lost his leg, and he periodically returned to the hospital for weeks and months at a time for a series of operations. The same nurse, John, had been assigned to him on each occasion, and it was clear that this relationship sustained the marine. John helped him to remember things he no longer could. "John's my guy," he said after the nurse gave him a particular word for which he had been searching. Staring at what was left of his leg, the lieutenant told me that John had also given a name to the place in which he found himself. He called it "a sea of variability." Sitting in the car after the visit, Shawn asked me whether we had made the right decision. "I didn't say anything before, because you had a job to do," he added, and then he told me his story. In Kuwait he had been in a tent into which a fellow soldier had thrown a grenade. The blast from the grenade sent fragments all around him, even through the family photographs he had hung up by his bunk. Shawn and the soldiers near him were wounded; the air force officer who had been next to him later died from his injuries. "I had to deal with the fact that everything wasn't the same, that it never would be, and that that's okay." This is the "heavy reckoning" of which Shakespeare wrote: the chaos of "all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle"--the unassimilable, ungovernable aftermath of war. For Shawn, accepting irrevocable change as a consequence of war was the necessary prelude to learning how to adjust to the sea of variability and to achieving some kind of new equilibrium in such an elastic state. Violence works deep transformations in even the most self-aware soldier. Combat ages a veteran prematurely: sometimes the evidence is physical, while often it manifests itself in less tangible ways, in a certain gravity and presence, perhaps. After a year and a half fighting in Mexico under what he called the "Tropicle Sun," Ulysses S. Grant looked around to find too many of his friends wounded or dead. "At this rate," he wrote to his future wife, Julia Dent, "I will soon be old." "So you see," he observed later in the same letter, "it is not so easy to get out of the wars as it is to get into them." Navigating the volatile world of war, the soldier finds a powerful fantasy in the idea that somewhere else time stands still. Rich with narrative and dramatic potential, this fantasy has provided fodder for countless books and films. Of course things don't stay quite the same at home. The 1946 Paramount noir The Blue Dahlia offers an especially painful version of the veteran's welcome home. Johnny Morrison, a navy lieutenant commander played by Alan Ladd, returns to Los Angeles from flying Liberators in the South Pacific knowing that his young son has died in his absence. He finds his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling), not grieving but hosting a party in her swanky bungalow. After being greeted at the door by a drunken woman who announces to the crowd with some amazement, "Helen's got a husband," Johnny has to break up an embrace between his wife and another man. "You've got the wrong lipstick on, Mister," Morrison tells the man (Howard Da Silva) before socking him in the jaw. It is only when Johnny sarcastically asks Helen whether he ought to apologize for his behavior that the real venom emerges: "Apologize, darling, but you don't have to. You're a hero. A hero can get away with anything." And when he subsequently tries to wrest a drink away from her, Helen snarls, "Take your paws off me. Maybe you've learned to like hurting people." Helen's attack typifies one of the suspicions frequently voiced in these films: that the veteran has grown accustomed to violence and may even enjoy it. Sterling war records often provoke ambiguity in postwar cinema: routinely investigated by law enforcement officials and others, they are subsequently invoked as evidence of good character, competence, or trustworthiness even as they raise concerns that the erstwhile serviceman has developed a habitual reliance on violence to solve his problems. By proving a veteran's ability to kill, a service record sometimes makes him a likely suspect in violent crimes at home. Drifting through Anytown, U.S.A., in search of work or a new start, the mysterious veteran easily becomes a prime suspect in crimes otherwise attributable to uncomfortably familiar (and frequently upstanding) members of the community. In the case of The Blue Dahlia , Helen's unfounded resentment leads her to project onto Johnny an attitude that might be called the presumption of heroes: namely, that everything at home will be just as they left it--maybe even better than they left it--no matter how much they dread otherwise and no matter how much war might have changed them in the interim. The New Yorker correspondent A. J. Liebling reveals the defensive urgency of this desire in his discussion of "a favorite army fantasy: what civilian life will be like after the war." He provides an example of the game as played by some airmen in North Africa who were being moved to a new field in 1943: Somebody said, "I hear they're going to start us here and let us hack our way through to South Africa." Somebody else began a descant on a favorite army fantasy: what civilian life will be like after the war. "I bet if my wife gives me a piece of steak," he said, "I'll say to her, 'What the hell is this? Give me stew.'" Another one said, "I bet she'll be surprised when you jump into bed with all your clothes on." The delicacy of their speculations diminished from there on. The humor here is based on a profound conviction that war permanently alters the combatant. In the face of that radical change, home-front stability becomes an essential part of the fiction that sustains a soldier amid the disintegration of war and helps to allay what is in some, but not all, instances an unwarranted anxiety about the impermanence of relationships left behind. This aspect of homecoming finds one of its earliest incarnations in Homer's Odyssey , where it is manifested in the opportunistic suitors who use Odysseus's household--and its staff of serving women--as their own and compete with one another to take the absent king's place in Penelope's bed. Odysseus's response--slaughtering them all--is only the most extreme expression of the rage of the betrayed, while Penelope's absolute fidelity over so many years embodies the not-quite-believable dream of every absent soldier. Odysseus's story illuminates the ways in which home itself can come to seem an unfamiliar no man's land for the returning veteran. CHAOS COME AGAIN When confronted by Homer with the duration of Odysseus's absence--a decade at war and a second struggling against the petulant gods to reach home--we know that we are being asked to contemplate an outsize epic time. Yet in its stretching of the hero's journey to the limits of plausibility, the Odyssey neatly captures the distortion characteristic of wartime. Time moves slowly for the soldier, who comes home to find that normal processes--the growth of children, for example--seem to have accelerated in his or her absence. One father deployed for long stretches during the last decade confessed to me that he returned to teenagers he no longer felt he knew or fully understood. Sometimes, of course, wartime's distortion has a positive result, as in the case of Adam and his wife, who "still feel like newlyweds after six years of marriage." War exaggerates the feeling that military time is being either distended or compressed, but even in peace military life tends to reconstitute time, a phenomenon encapsulated in the phrase "hurry up and wait." New soldiers must learn afresh how to measure their lives. One idiosyncratic officer I know used to calibrate his active-duty days according to something he called "time out of the greens," those hours he spent in civilian clothes. The army uses the term "BOG:Dwell ratio" to describe the way it apportions soldiers' time. BOG, an abbreviation for "boots on the ground," refers to deployments, while "dwell" signifies "dwell time," or the period spent at home station. The latter has become something of a fixation in the army. Officers with especially long dwell times tended to attract the attention of the army's personnel representatives, and this single factor has effectively become a shortcut to judging the value of an officer's contributions to the force. The concept of dwell time remains an organizational preoccupation even as opportunities for deploying dwindle. This isn't the way the army alone measures time; it's the way I've come to measure it, too. The military chart used to project deployment cycles is called a patch chart or a horse blanket. For years now I have been weaving my own horse blanket of the mind, onto which I map the comings and goings of the officers I know. Their pre- or post-deployment leave often brings them to New York City, and it is not unusual for me to find myself in a midtown bar or a downtown restaurant listening to stories of combat tours just ended, learning about plans for the unit "train-ups" to which they will shortly return, or responding to a range of hopes, fears, and questions about life after the army. I didn't become fully conscious of the degree to which I had been transformed by this system of timekeeping until I reread Othello in 2011, a decade after 9/11, in a Shakespeare course full of juniors and seniors. This particular tragedy has never been one of my touchstones. I've always found unpersuasive the ease with which Iago warps Othello, who is no insubstantial man, to his purposes. But when, on the first day of class, I showed the cadets a preliminary reading list and solicited additions, Othello was one of the first suggestions. Given their chosen profession, one student insisted, this was a play they "ought to read." So we did, and Othello became another of those texts altered for me by the experience of reading it in wartime. In a very particular sense, Othello lives the life that my students, schooled so well by the last decade, have grown used to imagining for themselves and that I have imagined for them. The withdrawal from Iraq and gradual diminution of our commitment in Afghanistan notwithstanding, the rhythm of this particular calendar has been so deeply ingrained in military culture that it has become only gradually possible for its novitiates--to say nothing of many of its fully vested members--to envision a different kind of postwar existence even as they long for it. The deceleration of what soldiers call OPTEMPO, the pace at which operations move, is simultaneously craved and feared. Not so long ago I heard a senior officer tell a group of new lieutenants, "Make no mistake, you will lead soldiers in combat." Maybe. But there's no guarantee. And as I told a new class of freshmen at the beginning of the spring semester in 2014, they will need to consider a whole range of possible futures, paths denied to all those war commuters who came before them over the last dozen years. Nevertheless, the prospect of an army in which they might find it more difficult than their predecessors did to gain war experience is especially daunting to prospective lieutenants indoctrinated by an army still invested in the idea of combat experience as the paramount validation, a force that tends to devalue other types of military endeavors that nevertheless serve the national interest. An anxiety occasioned by an acknowledgment that the wars of the last dozen years are essentially over and a need to believe in the enduring possibility of meaningful service can be seen in many cadets and officers. The content and significance of a contribution that doesn't look like fighting are difficult for them to envision. Where will today's soldiers, conditioned since the inception of their careers by war, derive identity and find fulfilling work in a future without war or one perhaps characterized by a very different mode of fighting? * * * The sixteenth-century Venetian Republic didn't have a very sophisticated force-generation model; Othello's BOG:Dwell ratio was not especially kind. At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare's general has been in Venice only nine months when the Turkish naval threat to the Italian city-state's interests forces him to sail for Cyprus with his new wife. Since the age of seven, Othello's life has been a relentless series of "battles, sieges," "most disastrous chances," and "hair-breadth scapes." In a speech to which no soldier who imagines one day finding love can fail to respond, Othello disputes the charge that he has somehow bewitched Desdemona: "She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them. / This only is the witchcraft I have used." Desdemona, like Virgil's Dido before her, falls in love with a man after listening to him tell the story of his wars. Othello's emotional volatility and capacity for violence, tragically realized in his eventual killing of Desdemona, prompted the class to consider the ways in which war might shape the individual. One thoughtful cadet speculated about his own attraction to military life in ways that reminded me of all those suspicions voiced in the films of the 1940s about the violent ways of GIs: Would being a soldier irrevocably alter his nature? Or was his choice of vocation an unconscious response to impulses buried deep within? This time through the text I was struck by Othello's recognition of Desdemona's importance to him as a bulwark against the disorder in which his life has been forged: "Perdition catch my soul, / But I do love thee, and when I love thee not, / Chaos is come again." While the play is not, I continue to think, primarily an exploration of the traumas of war, I now hear in Othello's "again" a reference to the simultaneous force and fragility of domestic bonds under the strain of repeated combat tours. To my complaint about Othello's gullibility with respect to "honest Iago," several of my students had a ready response. For them, the answer was obvious: Iago and Othello had fought together. The trust welded by that battlefield history trumped all else, even the bond between husband and wife. I'm not sure this explanation is sufficient, but the vehemence with which the cadets endorsed it seemed a key to understanding their own attitudes toward loyalty, service, and hardship. Even though Shakespeare's tragedy reveals the badge of shared experience to be a guarantor of nothing, the cadets' trust in it seemed largely undiminished by the end. The betrayal of assumed solidarity among veterans dramatized in Othello likewise colors an exchange from The Best Years of Our Lives : Coming home to find a man he doesn't know having drinks with his wife, Dana Andrews, a former B-17 bombardier plagued by nightmares and other sources of uneasiness, spots the Honorable Service Lapel Pin--also known as the Ruptured Duck--on the other man's suit jacket and scoffs, "Another ex-serviceman, huh? Greetings, Brother. Have you had any trouble getting readjusted?" "Not in particular," replies the other man. "It's easy if you just take everything in your stride." Othello now seems to me a tragedy at least in part about the extreme case of a life geared to serial deployments and homecomings. This is the life--that of the war commuter--for which the future lieutenants with whom I read it conceived themselves to be preparing, the life I had grown accustomed to picturing for them, the life to which so many remain psychologically committed even if the actual map of their careers may in the end look radically different. What we all underestimated was the degree to which commuting differs from coming home. A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN Healing, be it physical, emotional, or both together, is among the chief labors of homecoming. It demands the capacity to reconcile past and present and to navigate a future of yet invisible contours; the ability to weave new stories when the old ones no longer hold; the ability to discover a home in no man's land. The future officers with whom I've read Homer's epics might recognize the process as that of moving from the world of the Iliad to that of the Odyssey . The war at Troy only seems endless; the clearly defined lines of battle established there disintegrate into a postwar world of unknown enemies and uncertain limits. It is a world in which the most pedestrian and the most fantastic monsters present equally dire threats to the assumptions by which Odysseus has defined himself at home and abroad. In following Odysseus home to Ithaca or Aeneas from the burning city of Troy to Italy, a soldier learns essential skills: how to differentiate false anchorages from true and how to navigate disordered space and measure disobedient time. It is this imaginative capacity that might help to counteract what one lieutenant I know experienced as a sense of post-deployment disintegration. "I went to a few weddings," Sean wrote when I asked him how he had used his leave on returning home after a year in Afghanistan commanding a detachment of troops who handle military working dogs trained in mine detection. But these reassuring rituals were not enough: "I was so fragmented I found it hard to get into the swing of things. This has happened from time to time in my life, but it was especially strong when I returned home." Sean's "solution" over the years for the problem of fragmentation has been to return to the Benedictine monks who educated him at the St. Louis Priory School. Sean's description of his retreat to the monastery reminded me of Pico Iyer's essay "Chapels." Iyer, who also goes on periodic retreats to a Benedictine hermitage, defines a chapel as any place "where we hear something and nothing, ourselves and everyone else, a silence that is not the absence of noise but the presence of something much deeper: the depth beneath our thoughts." That's not a kind of silence easy to find in a war zone, but it is also increasingly difficult to find it at home, in an environment defined by connectivity, where, in Iyer's words, "Times Square is with us everywhere." Arguing for our ever-present need of chapels, Iyer explains, "We've always had to have quietness and stillness to undertake our journeys into battle, or just the tumult of the world. How can we act in the world, if we haven't had the time and chance to find out who we are and what the world and action might be?" Circumstances have led me to read Iyer's reference to battle in literal-minded fashion. Indeed, I don't know why it should still sometimes surprise me that my own chapel has become Grant's Tomb, located on Morningside Heights, in uptown Manhattan. It is there that a silent solitude born of widespread indifference to an old soldier helps me to understand the significance of my commitments to new soldiers. Sean has tried to relax on tropical vacations, but they don't provide what he needs: "the same sort of rest and centered reflection that I get in the stark, earwax-yellow walls of the monastery." Of his latest sojourn, he writes, "I planned on staying just a few days and going home ... for New Year's Eve, but I ended up staying a full week. Not the most exciting type of redeployment, but ... the priory is one of the only safe places I know; it is the only place where I know how to remember who I am and what I want to become." Remembering who you are and what you want to become isn't easy under any conditions, but military life tends to make the project peculiarly difficult. What Sean wants to do is to write. He's harbored this dream for a long time, and we met for many hours during his senior year at West Point to review his notebooks and journals. Sustaining his goal and cultivating a creative life in the army remain constant challenges. The military celebrates the value of reflection, especially in the context of the resiliency training devised in response to the alarming incidence of PTSD, yet it is a culture that remains deeply uncomfortable with sustained bouts of meditation. Fundamentally biased toward action, it pays lip service to the value of reflection while remaining uncomfortable with such invisible, unpredictable activity. The ancient Roman poet Horace, who was briefly and ingloriously a soldier, insisted on a fundamental incompatibility of military service and the deeply imaginative, deliberative life in an ode (2.7) dedicated to his old friend Pompey, with whom he had served in the defeated army of Brutus during Rome's civil wars. From the comfort of his Sabine farm, Horace recounts how, throwing down his shield at the battle, he was whisked away to safety in a cloud by Mercury, protector of poets. The ode parodies the traditional epic deus ex machina: "But swift Mercury bore me aloft in my panic into a dense cloud; you a returning wave carried back again into the seething straits of war." In Homer the cloud is usually only a temporary stay of execution for the warrior; in Horace it succeeds in permanently removing the poet from the battlefield to the safety of his rural retreat. Thanks largely to Wilfred Owen, Horace has become synonymous in the minds of many readers with the phrase dulce et decorum est , an uncomplicated expression of the patriotic ideal that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country: Owen calls this the "old lie." Yet in this ode to Pompey, Horace manifests no illusions about the unalloyed sweetness and propriety of a battlefield death. "With you," he tells his erstwhile comrade, "I experienced Philippi and swift flight, a shield ill-left behind, when virtue was broken and threatening armies shamefully bit the dust." There is no necessary connection articulated here between the warrior's exploits and the poet's lines. Horace severs the worlds of poetry and soldiering. Cowardice--literally running away--liberates him into poetry and all its imaginative energies, while fate sends Pompey back to the battle and subsequently into defeat and exile. Martial vice becomes poetic virtue, and Horace never regrets his choice. Only, it seems, by turning his back on war can Horace begin to make art, his poetry a vocation the other life would not permit. Meanwhile, Pompey has been cheated altogether out of some other life, his steadfastness on the battlefield having been recompensed with exile in that second no man's land into which war so often deposits its survivors. Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth D. Samet Excerpted from No-Man's-Land: Caught Between War and Peace by Elizabeth D. Samet All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.