starting thoughts

Opening Shot

An introduction to our annual books issue
September 1, 2010

“The president didn’t send me over here to seek a graceful exit.” So said General David Petraeus in one of many interviews during a press blitz as the summer of 2010 moved toward fall. He was just weeks into running a war that is nearly nine years old, trying to make the case that the pieces necessary for success in Afghanistan, especially troop strength, are finally in place. And, implicitly, that the effort is worth the price. As we write, the latest to bear the cost was an Army sergeant from the 82nd Airborne Division, Christopher Karch, of Indianapolis, age twenty-three. He was number 1,215 among U.S. casualties, killed by small-arms fire when insurgents attacked his unit in the Arghandab Valley. The public will be more consciously trying to measure such sacrifice against the war’s progress in the coming year, and it is the duty of the press to help them. For some inspiration, perhaps, in what is our annual books issue, we take a look at books about wars past, starting with Connie Schultz’s salute to Michael Herr’s Vietnam classic, Dispatches. It is the book she turned to as a young woman in blue-collar Ohio, when she wondered why so many young men left her hometown “full of brag and bravado” but came home “spent and eerily old.”

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.