Winner of both the National Book Award for Arts and Letters and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory was one of the most original and gripping volumes ever written about the First World War. Frank Kermode, in The New York TimesBook Review, hailed it as "an important contribution to our understanding of how we came to make World War I part of our minds," and Lionel Trilling called it simply "one of the most deeply moving books I have read in a long time." In its panaramic scope and poetic intensity, it illuminated a warthat changed a generation and revolutionized the way we see the world.Now, in Wartime, Fussell turns to the Second World War, the conflict he himself fought in, to weave a narrative that is both more intensely personal and more wide-ranging. Whereas his former book focused primarily on literary figures, on the image of the Great War in literature, here Fussellexamines the immediate impact of the war on common soldiers and civilians. He describes the psychological and emotional atmosphere of World War II. He analyzes the euphemisms people needed to deal with unacceptable reality (the early belief, for instance, that the war could be won by "precisionbombing," that is, by long distance); he describes the abnormally intense frustration of desire and some of the means by which desire was satisfied; and, most important, he emphasizes the damage the war did to intellect, discrimination, honesty, individuality, complexity, ambiguity and wit. Ofcourse, no Fussell book would be complete without some serious discussion of the literature of the time. He examines, for instance, how the great privations of wartime (when oranges would be raffled off as valued prizes) resulted in roccoco prose styles that dwelt longingly on lavish dinners, andhow the "high-mindedness" of the era and the almost pathological need to "accentuate the positive" led to the downfall of the acerbic H.L. Mencken and the ascent of E.B. White. He also offers astute commentary on Edmund Wilson's argument with Archibald MacLeish, Cyril Connolly's Horizon magazine,the war poetry of Randall Jarrell and Louis Simpson, and many other aspects of the wartime literary world.Fussell conveys the essence of that wartime as no other writer before him. For the past fifty years, the Allied War has been sanitized and romanticized almost beyond recognition by "the sentimental, the loony patriotic, the ignorant, and the bloodthirsty." Americans, he says, have neverunderstood what the Second World War was really like. In this stunning volume, he offers such an understanding.
Fussell provides detailed insight into the daily lives of the average soldier, the mundane and the horrific. He tells of many errors (in fact in his view the whole war should be viewed as a series of errors) such as shooting down friendly planes and bombimg of friendly troops. Fussell discloses the tremendous amount of drinking that went on, the physical deprivations, and the cruelty of inept martinets that were officers. To me, the war was a just one, but that's no reason to remain ignorant of just how horrible the war was.
This book is not a telling of whole story of WWII and isn't meant to be, but it's an absolutely necessary complement to the standard histories.
SEE Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory was one of the most original and gripping volumes ever written about the First World War.
This is my second attempt to write a responsible, but emotionally honest review of this powerful and important book.
Paul Fussell was an American Infantry Lieutenant, and a combat veteran of World War II.
This is the book that put Paul Fussel on the map for me. And, although The Great War and Modern Memory is Fussell's most acclaimed work, and is deservedly an excellent book; this book is a far greater work, in my own opinion.
He published this book in 1990 at the beginning of the (too frequently called) “Celebrations” of the 50 year anniversaries of that war in this country, more properly, called “Commemorations” or “Memorials” in other countries. My guess is that the timing of this publication was intentional. Paul Fussell was no fan of World War II, nor America's fatuous glamorization nor sanctification of that war. Paul Fussel, like his fellow writers and WWII combat veterans [author:Kurt Vonnegut|2778055] and [author:Howard Zinn|1899] was not at all impressed with the political piety that has come to represent that war in place of actual, accurate memory
Wartime is his extended analytic essay or collection of essays. These essays bluntly relate the on-the-ground experiences, the grotesque and demeaning experiences of those people (military and civilian) unfortunate enough to find themselves at the physical center of World War II's mass warfare. It is not a picture, which renders that experience as anything but brutal and meat-grinding. It is not a picture to inspire “Celebration”
The word "fatuous" is one that I learned from Paul Fussell. And there is no fatuous flag waving celebration of our "Greatest Generation" in this book..
Fatuous is his description of the arrogant mindless pride of those 95% American veterans who were behind the front lines and therefore ignorant of actual battle conditions. And fatuous are those flippant, self-satisfied Americans who experienced the war in their living rooms during or after the war. Fatuous were those "patriots" who did not see fellow combatants or civilians decapitated by flying body parts nor experience the horror of wading through pools of decaying human flesh saturated with tropical maggots.
Fussell pulls no punches as he deconstructs the experience of World War II as experienced by those who fought it or those who found themselves directly in its path.
This book should be required reading for any "fan" of World War II history.
Quote from the book:
"Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant 'paying off of old scores'; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances....Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war."