Pritzker PrizeU.S. author Tim O’Brien has become the first fiction writer to win the six-year-old Pritzker Military Library Literature Award, netting a $100,000 honorarium for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing.

According to Wikipedia, the Pritzker currently ranks 28th in the list of the world’s richest literary awards, level-pegging with, for instance, the Wallace Stevens Award, but well ahead of the Man Booker International Prize or the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award. And I don’t see one literary award in that Wikipedia ranking that specifically mentions peace, brotherhood, or any such wishy-washy concepts in its title.

Pritzker PrizeMe, I object to any outsize literary prize offered as a reward for glorifying war. Does the Pritzker Award do this?

First off, I’m objecting to the award, not the writer. O’Brien has said enough to show he is no gung-ho militarist, and has won enough to testify that his achievement is about far more than just war.

Second, I am not objecting to writing about war per se. I’m Brit enough, and armchair militarist enough, to be proud that Sir Max Hastings, the venerable British military historian, was the recipient of last year’s Award.

All the same, to my mind, the Pritzker Award and its sponsoring institution goes too far in the wrong direction towards the veneration of the military and war, rather than of individual fighting men and women–far more so than O’Brien himself. And its status argues for an equivalent, counterbalancing award that right now just doesn’t exist. Read on below, and judge for yourselves.

The Pritzker Military Library is supported, and the Award is sponsored, by the Tawani Foundation, a Chicago-based non-profit institution “founded by COL (IL) J. N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired).”

According to the Foundation’s website, the Library “evolved from Pritzker’s personal and family holdings of books and artifacts,” and its mission includes the development of “appropriate programs focusing on the Citizen Soldier in the preservation of democracy.” (The same webpage also gives details of Pritzker’s long, albeit mostly peacetime, military service record.)

“The Pritzkers are Chicago’s wealthiest family,” laconically notes a Chicago Tribune obituary notice for Robert “Bob” Pritzker, father of Colonel Pritzker, who is also commemorated on the Foundation’s homepage.

All this talk of the Citizen Soldier sounds like an agenda to me. And the Library’s visuals, while commemorating the citizen soldiers themselves, to my mind shade over into glorifying the institution of service and combat, to say nothing of the institution’s mission statement.

The Citizen Soldier as a concept has a nasty tendency to get twinned in reality with others like the Civilian Casualty or the Atrocity Victim. But I see no comparable award right now commemorating and honoring, for instance, puddles of melted fat and bone ash in Dachau or Dresden.

“Moral and social issues are at stake, far more important than any narrow military judgement,” writes Max Hastings in his sobering introduction to “Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945,” a compassionate and profoundly researched chronicle of the deficiencies and all-too-human limitations of the citizen-soldier in actual combat. “Few sane people like war.”

The Pritzker Military Library could do most for citizen soldiers, American or otherwise, by deploying its money where it could give its Award candidates less to write about in future. Right now, going by the Wikipedia rankings, it’s millions for defense but not one cent for peace.


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