Dear Reader Letter and Excerpt from An Officer's Duty,
by Jean Johnson
I was born at the end of the Vietnam War. Long before the Memorial in Washington, D.C. became an idea, never mind a powerful reality, I knew it was unfair that so many people blamed the American soldiers for losing a fight which, to be frank, they could not win. They lacked knowledge of the terrain, the training to counter the tactics being used by their foes, the free rein for initiative to adapt their battleplans to the actual circumstances they faced, and so much more. Yet, still they tried. Many strove to do the right thing, trying their hardest, while the average American citizen saw scenes on their television sets from the first openly broadcast war that made them lose faith in those soldiers’ abilities. And when those soldiers came home...they were insulted, spat upon, turned down for good jobs, and their sacrifices, injuries, and troubles all but thrown in the trash and forgotten.
We have learned from the mistakes of how we treated our Vietnam veterans. However, we have once again found ourselves embroiled in costly overseas wars. Our soldiers may have better gear, but once again they are fighting in land they do not know, among people they do not fully understand, and with limited input into their orders. We now have entire generations of soldiers out there who know how brutal war can be, thanks to television and movies and the internet...so while I am asked the question, why do I write military stories, the real question is, why do these soldiers go forth to fight anyway?
The name for my series, “Theirs Not to Reason Why,” is a line taken from the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which is about a group of light cavalry riders sent to fight against a Russian artillery battery. The Light Brigade were originally supposed to go up against a retreating artillery force which they should have been able to take out fairly easily, but due to a miscommunication, went up against an entrenched position instead, sustaining heavy losses despite their clear bravery under heavy fire. To this day, it is used by military historians as a classroom example of what can go wrong in war when accurate battlefield intelligence is incomplete and orders are unclear.
As well as being an example of why accurate information is so crucial in battle, it was the feel of those lines from the poem that inspired this series. Whether or not a soldier knows he or she will die when carrying out the orders they are given, that soldier puts their trust in their commanders’ ability to plan, and each one will do his or her best to carry out those orders. But knowingly or not, soldiers fight for a common reason.
In the second book of the series, An Officer’s Duty, we once again see that the main character, Ia, has foreknowledge of what may, should, could, and probably will or won’t happen, thanks to her psychic ability to foresee the twists and turns of time in all its varieties. But because of these multiple possibilities, she doesn’t always know what will actually happen until events are upon her, nor always which path is the best, particularly when there are several choices. Worse, her own gift betrays her by refusing to show any past or future knowledge of her naval academy roommate, Cadet Meyun Harper, the one man whose existence can derail everything if she isn’t careful.
Some of the information she needs, she has in advance. Other bits of information, she does not. Still, Ia struggles onward to complete the task she has set for herself. Why? Because deep down inside, she knows she must charge at the enemy, and hope that all her battle plans will carry through to achieve the ultimate goal: Peace. Like so many soldiers out there, Ia knows that if she does not stop her enemies, they will harm the innocent civilians who do not know how to fight, and who would not survive a confrontation with a merciless foe. Whether it’s aliens intent on galactic conquest and lunch, or terrorists who refuse to differentiate between innocent people and whatever flavor of enemy they hate, good soldiers go into battle because they believe they can and must stop the depredations of their enemies.
This is a mindset that most civilians do not have. It is, however, shared not only by the common soldiers around the world, but by firefighters, the police, even emergency medical workers. When I realized what kind of story I had on my hands with this series, I knew I had an opportunity to help my fellow civilians get inside the heads of the men and women in uniform who serve and protect them.
After doing some preliminary research, I realized that there are several different kinds of military structures and methods out there. I then set out to interview as many soldiers and civilian aides as I could, researching military histories, books on military psychology, strategies and tactics. The military structure I use, the Terran United Planets Space Force and its four Branches, are not meant to represent any particular military institution currently in existence. For one, the story is set several centuries into the future, and all military institutions change over time. For another, I wanted to break down the barriers currently still in place, not just between genders and whether or not women as well as men can serve on a battlefield, but also the barriers between nations.
In the future, the story is told from the viewpoint that we are all Terran Humans, so it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, yellow, red, or purple with pink polkadots...which would be one heck of a tattoo job, but which would be as irrelevant as gender, religion, race, or creed. So a number of the changes I made were based on non-American military training and combat techniques as well as the American institutions, even though I myself come from an American background.
I also wanted to show that, futuristic or not, military or not, the men and women who serve as soldiers are still human beings. In my story, my soldiers might live in the late 25th century, but they still joke about “the inevitable zombie apocalypse,” they play card games when they’re off-duty, they try to win the lottery, they watch the Winter Olympics, and more. Even in the face of great danger and adversity, these men and women are still willing to throw themselves into the enemy’s path in the hopes that their efforts will stop the fighting and bring back the peace which their fellow citizens often take for granted.
We need to remember that the soldiers who are out there right now, in this day and age, are doing their best with what they’ve been given, whether it’s weapons, gear, or tactical information. And when they come home...those that do make it home alive...we need to remember why they rode out there in the first place, and welcome them home with honors for being willing to try to make the world a safer, more peaceful place, so that those of us who do not know how to fight will never have to learn how.
Hopefully, you’ll understand a little more once you’ve read both A Soldier’s Duty and An Officer’s Duty. And hopefully, when the next batch of soldiers come back from fighting, you’ll welcome them home with open arms, giving them the honor they are due for trying to do the right thing, for putting their lives on the line for the sake of others, whether or not they succeeded. They may have their duties as soldiers and officers, but that, my dear readers, is our duty as civilians.
P.S. Look for the third novel in this four-book series, Theirs Not To Reason Why: HELLFIRE, August 2013 from Ace Books. As always, I can be reached via my website at http://www.jeanjohnson.net/. Enjoy!