The Story of Military Dog Tags

the story of military dog tags

The story of Military Dog Tags spans millennia, and is fascinating to see how keeping our silent heroes accounted for during war times was first a priority, to later fade away only to return out of a basic human desire of being known, even in death, and not to become one of (too many) unknown soldiers.

What makes an army? The number of its soldiers? The thirst of its leaders or their pathos and charisma . As far back as 2000 BC the Xia Dynasty of China kept a 12 000 men army, the ancient Egypt saw a 100 000 men army during the reign of Ramesses II, the next massive army was that of the Persians under Cyrus the Great, with half a million men, equaled in number only by Mauryan Empire of India around 300 BCE.

Yet, did they mattered, the warriors? Were they seen an human beings, as individuals with dreams and aspirations, or as mere soldiers, the parts of a whole? Who missed them when they were gone, left to fertilize a foreign land? Who cried and uttered their names one last time? Who knew each one of them by their name?

A mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife
Wrote his name, carved it in wood
To remind him their love,
To keep him safe from death
A spell of love
The first ever dog tag.

Patricia Furstenberg

The first dog tags we know of in history belonged to the Spartans who wrote their names on sticks tied to their left wrists – because the left arm was holding the shield when in battle and the shield was a precious family heirloom. Spartans were bot only literate, but admired for their intellectual culture and poetry.

Could they have looked like these?

Story Military Dog Tags - split wood tally sticks
Split Wood Tally Sticks, Courtesy of the National Archives UK

They might have looked fearless, the Spartans, in their crimson tunics and battered shields with the letter lambda painted on, and long hair – which they considered the symbol of a free man.

It is of no surprise that Roman legionaries also carried dog tags. But so did the poor Roman slaves… Less personalized than those of the Spartans, the Roman dog tags were received by each soldier on the moment of joining he Roman legion, the Roman Army Recruits, and were called signaculum, the seal. A signaculum, made of lead, carried the soldier’s name, “Unit” of assignment and, in some cases, home record etched on the front as well as a stamp to authenticate it, on the reverse. In the beginning the signaculum was kept in a small leather or cloth pouch and worn around the neck.

Until the permanent Soldier’s Mark was instated for Roman legionaries, a brand imprinted on the hands of the soldiers with a hot iron, possibly to discourage desertion, but only after he was proved fit for service. A tattoo, if you please.

A Roman slave pendant tag

a  Roman slave collar

It was hanging from a ring, meant to be worn around the slave’s neck and made of iron and bronze.

TENEMENE. FVGIA ET REVO. CAMEADDOMNVM. EVVIVENTIVM IN. ARACALLISTI

“Tene me ne fugia[m] et revoca me ad dom[i]nu[m] meu [m] Viventium in ar[e]a Callisti”
~Translating to (if my Latin serves me well)~
Hold me lest I flee and return me to my master Viventius in the area of Callistus.

Luckily, this custom was later abolished by the relaxation introduced by a long peace.

I couldn’t find any records or mentions of any form of identification for soldiers that fought in Europe or elsewhere for the next fifteen hundred years or so…

I thought of the Janissaries, this incredible heroes of the Ottoman Empire that tormented southeastern Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia for over six centuries, between the 14th and early 20th centuries… But Janissaries, despite their military status and recognizable hat (that tall bork fitted a stunning jeweled ornament in the middle of the forehead), were an army of slaves to the Ottoman Sultan. Their identity didn’t matter, only their force through training and numbers…

Story Military Dog Tags - Janissaries
No dog tags for Ottoman Sultan’s Janissaries, just a jeweled tall hat, a bork.

It was only in 1712 France that soldiers were recorded again, and issued a cartouche (cartouche de congé or feuilles de rutes) to prove their legal leave… but nothing about an identification tags.

This lack of identification tags for soldiers comes at no surprise if we consider that in 16th and 17th century France personal identity (of a civilian) was based on interpersonal relations, shared experiences and social bonds between the members of a community, from family to the parish and so on. Thus, a stranger leaving this cocoon, this sphere of interpersonal relations became unknown, no longer recognized – and identified.

It was in 1792 when births and deaths in France had to be legally registered and passports were issued for every traveler during the French revolution. Although some primitive forms of passport did exist, being inherited from the Middle Ages and being more of a privilege than a form of identification…

We do know that Napoleon mustered an army of 2.5 million people at the beginning of the 19th century…. nearly 400 000 were killed in action not counting the invasion of Russia where around one million French and allied soldiers perished.

Across the Pond, someone was killing President Thomas Jefferson’s sheep. His neighbor’s dogs. So the President wrote the first dog licensing law for his home state of Virginia wishing to identify the owners of the naughty dogs owners and make them pay for his loss. By the 1850’s most cities had such laws requiring dog owners to attach a collar with their name and license number around their doggo’s neck.

Because no one expected the American Civil War to last so long, 1861 – 1865, most soldiers marched off to fight in a wide variety of uniforms, most of them homemade. Their own clothes. Later the uniforms became blue for Unions, Bluebellies, and light brownish for the Confederates, Butternuts.

It took more than three years of bloody fighting for everyone to understand how dangerous the coming battle would be.

Do you remember the ‘sash’ Scarlett made for Ashley? No dog tags, still… made to tell him apart.

Yet no soldier’s uniform of the American Civil War included a set of dog tags, although in May 1962 John Kennedy from New York proposed that each Union soldier is issued with an ID tag. And the soldiers cared that, when they die, their families back home know to mourn them. There is a sea of graves with headstones marked ‘Unknown Soldier’. So soon, as soon as the men saw that this war will never end, the soldiers (perhaps their wives too, their mothers, sisters, sweethearts, from South and from the North) began to sew their names on the uniform, before leaving for battle, before kissing them good bye, hugging them one last time, before praying together for a happy reunion. One more…

Those in a hurry just wrote their name on a piece of paper or a handkerchief, pinned it to their blouses and hoped they won’t bleed on it, when wounded. Some even carved their names on small wooden discs , pierced a hole through it and hung it from their neck with a piece of string. Others stenciled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of their army belt buckle. Most of them were 16 – 23 years old.

Still, about 50% of soldiers killed in action were positively identified.

Eventually, merchants saw a booming business and began producing metal disks shaped to suggest a branch of service. These were soon called name discs or soldier pins. Some sold soldier pins made of silver or gold and etched with the soldier’s name and unit. But not everyone could afford one so most soldiers made their own ID tags by grinding off one side of a coin and then etching their names on it.

Cheaper, machine-stamped tags appeared, made of brass or lead with a hole. They had an eagle or shield and a motivational phrase such as “War for the Union” or “Liberty, Union, and Equality” on one side. The other side showed the soldier’s name and unit, and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated. By the 1890s, the U.S. Army and Navy began experimenting with issuing metal identification tags to recruits.

It didn’t took long until the wooden and metal discs used for dogs were referred to as dog tags and that name carried over to their human counterparts.

But such dog tags were also provided to the Chinese soldiers during the Taiping revolt, 1851 – 1866, when both the Chinese Imperial Army soldiers and the Taiping rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden dog tag at the belt with their name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment inscribed.

1866 Europe, the Prussian soldiers began wearing dog tags during the Austro – Prussian War but on a volunteer basis only as many considered them a bad omen. Sad, as in the aftermath of the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa), when the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire which led to the German unification, the Little Germany (Germany without Austria), out of 8900 Prussian casualties only 429 of them could be identified. It was three years later the Recognitionsmarke, recognition mark, became obligatory, but the soldier called them Hundermarken, since they looked like ID tags used for the canines of Berlin… Story goes that King Wilhelm flew into a rage about the common naming of the tag saying that his soldiers are not dogs – so the nickname was forbidden in the following years…which only encouraged it’s use by the soldiers.

You can see below an Austro – Hungarian Empire‘s Officer Legitimization Case, a pre-design of a dog tag. On the obverse the case is engraved with the Imperial Cypher of King Frans Joseph I of Austria, while on the reverse is the Austro – Hungarian Coat of arms (double headed crowned eagle). The case opened and inside were included personal ID, service records, list of decorations awarded.

Meanwhile, in 1907 the British Army replaced the identity cards with aluminum discs, each soldier receiving two. An octagonal green tag was attached to a cord around the neck, intended to remain on the body for future identification. The second tag, a red circular disc, was suspended from the first and could be removed to record the soldier’s death. The British forces serving in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand received similar dog tags during the Great War, exception making the sailors who preferred an ID bracelet.

It was in 1906 when the U.S. government decided by a general order that a circular aluminum disc be worn as an identification tag by all soldiers, and by 1913 all military service members were required to wear such an identification disc. The aluminum disc was the size of a silver half dollar and imprinted with the name, rank, company, regiment or corps, and worn suspended around the neck.

Story Military Dog Tags - WW1 German dog tag
A World War I German army dog tag indicating Name, place of birth, battalion, unit and serial number

When U.S. entered World War I (1914-1918) in 1917 all its service members, killed or wounded, were therefor identified and accounted for. It was now when military service members began wearing two such identification tags hand-stamped with their name, rank, serial number, unit and religion. One tag was meant to remain attached to the body of the deceased while the other would mark the coffin or the grave site, be it home or away.

Story Military Dog Tags - WW1
Source: Ian Houghton’s amazing blog

Canadian, USA, British WW1 dog tags and a custom stamping set:

At the same time back in Europe the French soldiers were fitted with a bracelet displaying a metal disk engraved with the their name, rank and other pertinent formation. And here’s a Scottish one:

In Russia, after the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 and the necessity to increase the newly mobilized force exponentially, up to 75% of the Russian troops entered WW1 with no form of personal identification…
Below, a Russian tag from 1902, a 1909 wooden cylinder used to protect a piece of paper with the soldier’s details (although it was also used to store matches), and a 1917 dog tag:

Of course, I should show you some Romanian dog tags from WW1 and WW2:

During WWII, 1939-1945, most dog tags used looked like the ones we’ve seen often – at least in the movies: rectangular shaped with rounded ends and machine stamped. First made of brass, then from a corrosion-resistant alloy, nickel – copper, and eventually from stainless steel.

Story Military Dog Tags - South African
One of the two identity discs issued by the South African Navy during World War II with rank, surname, initials, force number and religious affiliation

Below: a British RAF dog tag of a soldier named Astman and Australian dog tags (notice the rubber rim meant to silence them)

Still, the human’s wars were not over…

Two Finish dog tags, first one from the Winter War (the war between the Soviet Union and Finland, 30 Nov 1939 – 13 Mar 1940), the second one is modern, it has the letters SF, Suomi Finland, stamped within a tower.

During the 1950s some rules regarding dog tags changed, one identification tag was placed on a long chain, while the second was hung on a shorter chain. In case of death the identification tag on the shorter chain was meant to be placed around the toe of the deceased, toe tag. The other dog tag was meant to remain with the deceased or used to report back the name of the deceased soldier.

For those who experienced the Communist Block, Eastern Block, and the Cold War this army pass book for a Corporal in die NVA – Die Nationale Volksarmee der DDR (The National People’s Army) will bring back a wave of memories. Next DDR and Germany dog tags (notice the differences between the two):

During the long Vietnam War, 1955-1975, the soldiers, exasperated by the noise the dog tags made while banging each other, something that endangered their safety during the long, humid moths of unending battles and hiding in the Asian jungles… began taping the dog tags together. Thus rubber covers came in use so the tags remain silent. But the Vietnam War was a different war and bodies often became dismembered to an extent they were often unidentifiable… so the soldiers would often wear one dog tag in one boot, tied with the bootlace in case in might, just might help with the recovery of their remains.

I discovered two P.O.W. (Prisoner Of War) dog tags, fashioned by prisoners while locked away, awaiting. What? … While hoping, thinking of what they left behind, of what they have back home (their only wealth), dreaming, not as in hoping, but as night visions, the only way they could escape an uncertain present built out of nightmares. I believe these dog tags are the most valuable ones, both a letter and a will, a cry for life and a farewell.

Below is a dog tag fashioned by a prisoner of war, P.O.W., held captive perhaps somewhere in Asia (by the deign of the tower) during WW2. Notice the machine gun in the tower and the barbed wire fence.
And a dog tag made by a P.O.W. during the Boer War with a medallion made from a horn. You cab read ‘Boer Camp’ inscribed at the bottom.

This is the story of Military Dog Tags, coming such a long way from a name engraved on a stick of wood to stainless steel plates holding military and medical records and even microchips and, most importantly, the soldier’s name.

Below: dog tags from the Iraq/Afghanistan Dog Tag Memorial at the Museum of the Forgotten Warrior outside of Beale Air Force Base, California. The memorial honors all the men and women killed during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as of October 30, 2011, containing 6296 individual dog tags. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Fowler)-source.

A dog tag,
A soldier’s surviving touch,
His last handshake,
His last word,
His last breath
Spared for those back home.
(Patricia Furstenberg)

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

Subscribe to my e-Newsletter for fun and informative content on dogs, books, history, folklore and a castle or two:

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 1 Year Anniversary

5 books everyone should read in their lifetime

Celebrate with me Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for and its 1 year anniversary from its publishing debut on Amazon.
Looking at war from the perspective of all those sucked into it, civilians, soldiers, military working dogs, MWD, and eve belligerents, Silent Heroes is a narrative about the value of life and the necessity of combat; the terror of dying; the ordeal of seeing your loved ones and your platoon-mates killed in front of your eyes; the trauma of taking a human life.

“What I tried to convey through Silent Heroes is that all those impacted by war are, at the end of a fighting day, human being with dreams and families. A war’s consequences, like the shadow of a nightmare, reach far beyond the battlefield.
Perhaps being a woman that writes about war I couldn’t ignore my inner voice speaking for the daughter, the wife, and the mother in me.”

Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 1 Year Anniversary, 5 books everyone should read in their lifetime
5 books everyone should read in their lifetime, Jodi Picoult, Ken Follett, Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg, Victor Hugo, Shantaram – as chosen by fantastic reader and book blogger Mani.

On the book itself and on how it came to be, read below.

Numerous other silent heroes, from countless wars, came before the book itself, especially the Military Working Dogs of Gulf War, Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. That was just the beginning.

Secrets Revealed in of Silent Heroes

5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. A Mysterious Underground Fortress
5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. The Military Chain of Command
5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. Taliban’s Secret Lair
5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. Women’s Rights under Taliban
5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. The Humanity of U.S. Marines

Music often inspired me. I invite you to listen to some of the tunes behind Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for on the book’s 1 Year Anniversary:

The Music of Silent Heroes

Songs that Remind me of the Marines, my Silent Heroes
Songs that Remind me of Silent Heroes: the Afghan people

The Setting behind Silent Heroes

5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes
Afghanistan, a Dangerous Landscape

The youngest human character in Silent Heroes is a little Afghan boy of eight years old, Rafik:

Rafik’s Travels in Silent Heroes

Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. An Afghan Village
Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. At Camp Bastion
Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. The Afghan Desert
Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. An Oshkosh Vehicle
Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. The Hindu Kush Mountains

Silent Heroes book Afghanistan military orking dogs Patricia Furstenberg

Of course, there would be no Silent Heroes, 1 Year Anniversary, without some:

Silent Heroes Poetry and First Chapters

The Soldier and his Dog, Silent Heroes
A Boy and his Dog
Read the opening pages of Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

If you love secrets and symbology you might enjoy reading:

Secrets of a Book Cover

Secrets of a Book Cover – a Guest Post: the soldier and his dog, an Afghan sunset, and Afghan eyes
Secrets Hidden in a Book Cover – the colors: red, brown and gold

Women Writing about War

How is my Writing Different in my Genre
A Resultant Force, Women Writing about War
Women Writing about War

Silent Heroes

And, how else:

Celebrating the Readers of “Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” and Their 5 Stars Reviews for This Book

Bamiyan Buddhas, Silent Heroes

Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes

The Bamiyan Buddhas stood for nearly two millennia as silent heroes, symbols of the Buddhist faith, witnesses to the hustle and the bustle of the Silk Route with its whirlwind of wealth, ideological exchange, and art, and to countless illogical wars.

In silence they stood since the middle of the first century, and witnessed. Did they know they were the largest in the world? Perhaps they heard rumors. Did they even care? I think not. Like the Buddhism they stood for, they enjoyed the freedom to observe and meditate, learning about human nature and that nothing lasts forever.

Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes
Bamiyan Buddhas, these Silent Heroes

But how did the Bamiyan Buddhas really look like?

Yes, like standing Buddhas carved into performing specific gestures, but also carved into niches, allowing worshipers to circulate all around their feet, at the base of the statue, while meditating. They were not just shaped into the face of the mountain. By hairstyle they were Buddhist, but their capes showed clear Hellenistic Greek influences (think Louvre’s Winged Victory of Samothrace) as well as Indian elements. Two cosmopolitan masterpieces.

The tallest Buddha was almost as tall as the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, or half the height of the Victoria Tower, London, or almost a third of the height at which World Trade Center once stood.

If we would have a telescope to look back in time we would see:

‘a rock statue of the Buddha standing, one hundred forty or fifty feet in height, a dazzling golden color and adorned with brilliant gems.’

as well as

‘a copper statue of the Buddha standing, more than one hundred feet tall.’

The Great Tang Records of the Western Regions (Da Tang Xiyu Ji) by Xuanzang (Hsuan-Tsang), chinese monk, description written in 643
Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes
If we would have a telescope and look back in time (left) at the Bamiyan Buddhas

What happened to the Bamiyan Buddhas, these Silent Heroes?

‘Taliban forces operating in Afghanistan had destroyed these colossal statues in March 2001. They started by damaging the Buddha with anti-aircraft firearms and cannons. Yet the damage inflicted was not enough for the Taliban. They returned with anti-tank mines that they placed at the statues’ bases. When sections of rock broke off, the statues suffered further damage. And still, they did not stop here. The Taliban dropped men down the face of the cliff. They had placed explosives into the various grooves found in the Buddhas. The plan was clear, to completely destroy the facial features of the two statues. Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran: Islam condemns idolatry. When one of the blasts could not destroy the facial features of one statue, a rocket was used in its place. It left a hideous gap in whatever was left of the Buddha’s head.

The Taliban did not succeed in wiping out the two Buddhas, but they became unrecognizable as the figures they once were. A cultural, religious, historical and entomological symbol and landmark.

It was a bleak day in human history when something that watched over the valley for 1 500 years was destroyed in a matter of weeks.

Thanks to 21st-century technology the larger of the two Buddhas has been reconstructed using 3D light projections. A holographic image which, unfortunately, is only unveiled rarely, during special occasions.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Why destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas?

Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran, as Islam condemns idolatry and Taliban was known for their extreme iconoclastic campaigns. Maybe a need for gaining global media attention. Or just pure evil.

Bamiyan is now listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in Danger.

Bamiyan Buddhas Silent Heroes
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon or Loot (South Africa)

Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

life lessons I learned from my dog

Considering that 99 % of my books have at least one dog as a character, sharing with you some of the life lessons I learned from my dog was inevitable.

With my dog as a teacher, I learned…

When a loved ones comes home, always run and jump to meet him. It will make him smile. and this will make you smile. Smiling is contagious, ask any dog.

Never refuse a walk. Let the experience of fresh air and the wind that blows on your face bring you happiness.

Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

When it’s in your best interest … listen! It is usually rewarded with a pat or a good word. Anyone needs a good word.

When someone invades your territory… give a warning before attacking. Don’t just snap, even if you are hard at work, snoozing or writing.

Play every day … because life is short. Ask any military working dog.

Silent Heroes of war

Let people hug you and accept the love you receive. Hugs are proven to boost the immune system.

On sunny days, stop and lie down on the grass. Stick out your tongue and enjoy the sun.

On hot days, drink plenty of water and throw yourself underneath the shade of a tree. Pretend you sleep. Listen to the sounds of life going on around you.

When you are happy, dance to express yourself and share your good mood with those around you. It is contagious.

Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

When you are arguing, accept your mistakes but don’t stay upset for a long time. It is time wasted.

Eat with lust and enthusiasm. Eating involve all your senses, so you can enjoy what is in your plate five times over.

Stop when you feel tired and take a break. It will only replenish your energy so that later you can play… I meant work… harder.

Learn to be loyal. One loyal tail is worth more than ten dishonest ones.

You cannot pretend to be what you are not, any dog will sniff you out. Be yourself, it is less exhausting and you will always know you spoke the truth.

Military dogs in Iraq war, Afghanistan War, Gulf War
Military dogs in Iraq war, Afghanistan War, Gulf War – and their human handlers

And one of my favorite life lessons I learned from my dog:

No stick is too heavy to pick up. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you can’t do it if you set your mind to it.

When a loved one has a bad day … be patient and sit across their chest.

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

Subscribe to my e-Newsletter for fun and informative content on dogs, books, history, folklore and a castle or two:

7 War Books You Must Read

7 war books you must read

If for each war victim would a war book be written, then each one of these books would be a must read, in their honor, don’t you think? War stories, as we remember them told by grandparents, always had something nostalgic about them, although the brutality of war, in its essence, was remembered as a traumatic experience. Perhaps the nostalgia came from the people caught in battles, the friendship,the humanity that united them.

The richness of emotions that both warrior and narrator go through when dealing with this subject has fascinated plenty of authors throughout time. Perhaps for an author another intriguing aspect is the location, as war novels generally take place in territories far away, if not geographically then through their descriptions, full of blood and pain, love, loss and hope. Time frame presents an alluring aspect as well, a war story will have a before and an after, while characters don’t have to have come with a pedigree to be memorable. In a war story anyone can be a hero,a soldier, a child, a dog. War stories also stir issues connected with spiritual inheritance, loss of memory (spiritual or factual) and, last but not least, identity and humanity.

Essential in all the novels below is the viscerality of writing and the relentless way in which a war changes a man forever. Reading such a type of novel will raise many questions about our condition as people and will make you aware that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to an extreme experience, one having the potential for total transformation.

7 War Books You Must Read:

1 – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

7 War Books You Must Read, Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

A book just as popular nearly one hundred years after publication, to me the main theme in Gone with the Wind is that of survival.

The novel combines several genres (psychological, buildungsroman, romance, historical ) and manages to create an unforgettable story, perhaps the most beloved story about the Confederate States of America. and it does this by the use of its main characters, especially Scarlett O’Hara.

The theme of survival and the reason for the courage that derives from it, the power to never give up as well as the unbridled passion of a young soul, the love for money and the saying “Tomorrow is another day”, plus the ability to identify, to some extent , with the characters of the novel, still make Gone with the Wind a modern work, although the historical background belongs to the American Civil War era of the United States history.

Do you know what inspired the title? It was a line from the poem Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson; the poem’s most famous line is: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind.”

“If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.’

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

2 -War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy

War and Peace, Lev Tolstoi, Napolon's invasion in Russia 1812

Praised for being very much in line with the reality, the events of War and Peace take place in 1812, during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and were rendered with force and expressiveness by Lev Tolstoy, especially because the author already lived the experience of war, fighting in the Crimean War. It is recommended to read in episodes, taking into account the fact that the novel has over 1000 pages.

The novel is the chronicle of three families from the high Russian aristocracy of beginning of the 19th century, Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov, whose joys, love stories and dramas take place during the Napoleonic Wars, especially the Austerlitz and Borodino battles. The book raises questions about survival and death during peace and war, as well as the necessity of war. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia destroyed million of lives on both sides, and worth mentioning is that, beside he Russian lives lost, the French army lost about half a million of soldiers of French, Italian, Belgian, German and Austrian nationalities.

A definite whirlwind of love, loss, and war.

3 – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

7 War Books You Must Read, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway

Hemingway’s short semi-autobiographical novel takes place on the Italian front during the First World War and describes a man’s struggles with two experiences that altered his existence in one way or another: the experience of war and that of love.

But war offers fake hopes of glory and is a lover that does not accept sharing – only by turning into a deserter can the hero hope to find true love.

It is a manifesto against the absurdity called war; it is the story of an logical man who understands that his fulfillment as a human being stands above the ambitions of those who incite towards unnecessary battles, a fulfillment that can be achieved peacefully, without weapons and without sacrificing human lives.

4 – King Rat by James Clavell

7 War Books You Must Read, James Clavell, King Rat, WWII, Singapore death camp

Believe it or not, this was the author’s literary debut. Set during World War II, the novel describes the struggle for survival of American, Australian, British, Dutch, and New Zealander prisoners of war in a Japanese death camp in Singapore. Clavell himself was a prisoner in the notorious Changi Prison camp, where the novel is set. One of the three major characters, Peter Marlowe, is based upon Clavell.

Clavell’s King Rat is a story about the struggle for survival, about friendship and hatred, in an extremely harsh, dehumanized world, in which only the strongest resist.

5 – Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell

7 War Books You Must Read, A Bridge of Spies, Giles Whittell

This is actually a 2010 nonfiction book documenting the spy prisoner exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tom Hanks does a magnificent job as James B. Donovan under Spielberg’s direction in the 2015 movie with the same title.

Bridge of Spies, remarkably researched, tells the true story of three incredible characters and those who cross their paths: William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot captured during a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified by Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, as spy, arrested and held without charge. 

Bridge of Spies is a lesson on humanity tinged by the sour taste of pathological mistrust that fuels the arms race and the political espionage.

6 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, Russia invadin Afghanistan, 1979

This contemporary novel exploring the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the years-long struggle the Afghan people was faced with, resulting in the flight of refugees to Pakistan, Iran or America. Told through the voices of two mercenaries, the book demonstrates that although conflicts and wars change over time, carnage and destruction always remain the same.

7 – Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for by Patricia Furstenberg

7 War Books You Must Read, Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for Patricia Furstenberg

Silent Heroes looks at the War in Afghanistan through the eyes of those caught in it: US Marines, local population, and even the Taliban.

If in other novels that talk about war the collective drama is the main focus, which seems to crush the small pains of the individual, Furstenberg focuses on human interactions, placing great emphasis on the turmoil the heroes go through, be it US Marines or the Afghan populace. Silent Heroes underlines how family ties and love are the reality that will never be obliterated by war and it will always stand, no mater what forces will try to overpower life on earth.

A book not to be missed, Silent Heroes is masterfully researched and punctuated with epic description that offer a respire from the harsh realities of war. A story about humans, but about dogs too, especially the military dogs taking part in wars.

Chose as one of the 5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.

5 books everyone should read in their lifetime
5 books everyone should read in their lifetime, Jodi Picoult, Ken Follett, Patricia Furstenberg, Victor Hugo, Shantaram

Subscribe to my e-Newsletter for fun and informative content on dogs, books, history, folklore and a castle or two: