I Am Soldier
War Stories From the Ancient World to the 20th CenturyBook - 2009
Beginning with Julius Caesar, who is still considered to be the best solider-writer of all time, history has witnessed a strong tradition of warriors mixing the pen with the sword. In I Am Soldier John Keegan has compiled over 50 stories of soldiers on campaign, from Biblical times through the war in Yugoslavia.
I Am Soldier covers all the famous wars and many of the most-famous types of warriors throughout time. There's the Roman Centurion, the Spartan hoplite, the Greek Satrap, the Byzantine Horseman, the Serban Jannisary, the Christian Crusader, and the American Revolutionary. In the modern period there's the Confederate soldier, the French Poilu of the First World War, the American Paratrooper of WWII, and the US Marine of the Korean War.
Each chapter describes what life was like from the point of view of an actual soldier. In the ancient period, where the written record is sketchy, the chapters draw on archaeology and the surviving chronicles from the time. Beginning with the medieval period, where it began to be possible for common soldiers to also be literate, chapters draw on combatants' memoirs.
A particularly poignant story recounted in I Am Soldier is that of Marie Magdelaine Mouran. In the 17th Century, few avenues were open to a woman bent on adventure. A hard home life and the threat of life of menial peasant labor--or worse--caused Marie to don a soldier's cloth and sign-up to serve a company commanded by Captain Destone of the Royal Walloon Regiment in France. Marie soldiered as 'Picard' for a year and a half, ending up in the garrison at Sisteron, a fortress guarding the Durance river in Provence. After a serious wounding in battle, her secret was discovered. A captain pressed charges against her and had her imprisoned--not because of her deceit, but because she had deserted his regiment for one with higher pay. Although the record is unclear, it appears that Marie never emerged from her prison cell.
The picture that emerges from I Am Soldier is not of the differences between fighters of different periods, but of the principles that unite them: discipline, valor, the importance of good leadership, and human limit to which soldiers on campaign are pushed in every age.
'Down in the Delta is where the dying began. ... Now we met real enemy units, in company and battalion size, got into day-long fights, and lost people in serious numbers. By late spring more than two-thirds of our original men had gone ... There is no training that prepares a solider for all of this.' -John Young, The Vietnam War, 1956-1975