A Patriot’s Game

Here’s yet another interesting interview from the archives of the Paris Review (and yes, we do seem to be a bit obsessed with that journal…). Leon Edel is probably best known for his biography of Henry James, and in this interview he tells the story of how he became interested in James and why he chose to be a journalist and a biographer.

But beyond the interview there’s something else worth remembering about Edel. He was born in 1907, so he was 35 years old when he joined the Army during the early days of World War II. He served for three years, soldiering under General Patton in Europe. By the time the war was over, Edel was twice the age of the draftee replacements joining the Third Army.

I suppose we all think of war as being a young man’s game, but in fact we should all adjust our thinking to understand that both men and women are going to and coming home from war, and not every soldier deploying is twenty-something. I was in the middle of five different wars between 1996 and 2006: in Zaire, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Darfur. I was 38 years old in 1996. I was a 44-year-old reservist when I arrived in Afghanistan. Most of my peers were in their early 30s.

Mark Benjamin wrote a piece for TIME Magazine taking note that three soldiers killed in July 2011 in Afghanistan were all from a Pennsylvania National Guard unit, and that one of them, Sgt Brian K. Mowery, at age 49 could easily have been a grandfather. Lots of Guard and Reserve soldiers are older than their active component counterparts. While a 49-year-old sergeant would be unheard of in the regular Army, it’s not even really an oddity in the Guard. And while war usually is a young man person’s game–it’s hard and dangerous work–Sergeant Mowery’s and Leon Edel’s ages are relevant to the larger story, one we’ll call A Patriot’s Game.