Six Must-Read Wartime Classics
Founded in 1982 by library activist Judith Krug, Banned Books Week “celebrates the freedom to read” and “highlights the value of free and open access to information.” Sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and several other organizations of note, Banned Books Week “draws national attention to the harms of censorship.” 1
In celebration of intellectual freedom, we’ve collected six must-read banned or challenged classic wartime stories from WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War. How many have you read?
Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.
I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. . . .
This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.
Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . . if only he can come out of the war alive.
For decades, this classic was routinely banned in nations gearing up for war, particularly Nazi Germany, due to its harrowing depiction of the horrors of war.
Fifty years after its original publication, Catch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest — and most celebrated — novels of all time.
In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer.
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy — it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. Since its publication in 1961, no novel has matched Catch-22’s intensity and brilliance in depicting the brutal insanity of war.
Catch-22 has been banned in several U.S. states for profanity: in 1972, it was banned in Strongsville, Ohio (overturned in 1976); in 1974, it was banned in Dallas, Texas and in Snoqualmie, Washington in 1979.
Hailed as one of the finest novels to come out of the Second World War, The Naked and the Dead received unprecedented critical acclaim upon its publication and over fifty years has enjoyed a long and well-deserved tenure in the American canon.
Written in gritty, journalistic detail, the story follows a platoon of Marines who are stationed on the Japanese-held island of Anopopei. Composed in 1948 with the wisdom of a man twice Mailer’s age and the raw courage of the young man he was, The Naked and the Dead is representative of the best in twentieth-century American writing.
In 1949, the book was banned in Canada and Australia — ostensibly for language, though Mailer was also mocked for his use of the word “fug” as a replacement for the more typical expletive.
The seminal novel on the Vietnam experience, The 13th Valley is a classic that illuminates the war in Southeast Asia like no other book.
This classic, a finalist for the National Book Award, follows the terrifying Vietnam combat experiences of James Chelini, a telephone-systems installer who finds himself an infantryman in territory controlled by the North Vietnamese Army. Spiraling deeper and deeper into a world of conflict and darkness, this harrowing account of Chelini’s plunge and immersion into jungle warfare traces his evolution from a semi-pacifist to an all-out combat-crazed soldier.
This is the first title in Del Vecchio’s Vietnam War Trilogy, which also includes For the Sake of All Living Things, about the Cambodian holocaust, and Carry Me Home, which addresses the aftermath of war.
The 13th Valley was challenged in 1991 by an Illinois high school principal and pulled from the curriculum — with no reason given.
The classic and heartrending account of the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of an army doctor
In 1968, as a serviceman in the Vietnam War, Dr. Ronald Glasser was sent to Japan to work at the US Army hospital at Camp Zama. It was the only general army hospital in Japan, and though Glasser was initially charged with tending to the children of officers and government officials, he was soon caught up in the waves of casualties that poured in from every Vietnam front. Thousands of soldiers arrived each month, demanding the help of every physician within reach.
In 365 Days, Glasser reveals a candid and shocking account of that harrowing experience — giving voice to seventeen of his patients, wounded men counting down the days until they return home. Their stories bring to life a world of incredible bravery and suffering, one where “the young are suddenly left alone to take care of the young.”
Banned in Maine in 1981, for the excessive use of four-letter words and their harmful influence upon students.
A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.
The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three.
Taught everywhere — from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing — it has become required reading for any American and continues to challenge readers in their perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, courage and fear and longing.
The Things They Carried has been challenged three times due to profanity. At high schools in Pennsylvania (retained), Mississippi (banned), and Illinois (retained); in 2001, 2003, and 2007, respectively.