Karl Arthur Marlantes (born December 24, 1944) is an American novelist and former U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War, who was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals.
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- One of the things that I learned in the war is that we're not the top species on the planet because we're nice. We are a very aggressive species; it is in us. People talk a lot about how well the military turns kids into killing machines, and I'll always argue that it's just finishing school. What we do with civilization is that we learn to inhibit and rope in these aggressive tendencies, and we have to recognize them. I worry about a whole country that doesn't recognize them, because think of how many times we get ourselves into scrapes as a nation because we're always the 'good guys'. Sometimes, I think if we thought we weren't always the good guys, we might actually get into less wars.
- The Vietnam War (2017), Episode 5, documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
- Combat is like crack cocaine. It's an enormous high, but it has enormous costs. Any sane person would never do crack. Combat is like that. You're scared, you're terrified, you're miserable, but then the fighting starts, and suddenly everything is at stake, your life, your friend's lives. It's almost transcendence because you're no longer a person. You lose that sense, you're just the platoon, and the platoon can't be beat. And not to mention there's a savage joy in overcoming your enemy, just a savage joy. And I think we make a big mistake if we say, 'oh war is hell'. We all know the 'war is hell' story—it is—but there's an enormously exhilarating part of it.
- The Vietnam War (2017), Episode 7
- He thought of the jungle, already regrowing around him to cover the scars they had created. He thought of the tiger, killing to eat. Was that evil? And ants? They killed. No, the jungle wasn't evil. It was indifferent. So, too, was the world. Evil, then, must be the negation of something man had added to the world. Ultimately, it was caring about something that made the world liable to evil. Caring. And then the caring gets torn asunder. Everybody dies, but not everybody cares.
It occurred to Mellas that he could create the possibility of good or evil through caring. He could nullify the indifferent world. But in so doing he opened himself up to the pain of watching it get blown away. His killing that day would not have been evil if the dead soldiers hadn't been loved by mothers, sisters, friends, wives. Mellas understood that in destroying the fabric that linked those people, he had participated in evil, but this evil had hurt him as well. He also understood that his participation in evil, was a result of being human. Being human was the best he could do. Without man there would be no evil. But there was also no good, nothing moral built over the world of fact. Humans were responsible for it all. He laughed at the cosmic joke, but he felt heartsick.
- Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, Ch. 19 (2010).
- War is society's dirty work, usually done by kids cleaning up failures perpetrated by adults.
- What it is Like to Go to War, pg, 193 (2011)