Wartime : understanding and behavior in the Second World War

by Paul Fussell

Hardcover, 1989

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Oxford University Press, 1989.

Description

Winner of both the National Book Award for Arts and Letters and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, Paul Fussell's classic The Great War and Modern Memory remains one of the most original and gripping volumes ever written about the First World War. In its panoramicscope and poetic intensity, it illuminated a war that changed a generation and revolutionized the way we see the world.Now, in Wartime, Paul Fussell turns to the Second World War, the conflict in which he himself fought, to weave a more intensely personal and wide-ranging narrative. Whereas his former book focused primarily on literary figures, here Fussell examines the immediate impact of the war on soldiersand civilians. He compellingly depicts the psychological and emotional atmosphere of World War II by analyzing the wishful thinking and the euphemisms people needed to deal with unacceptable reality; by describing the abnormally intense frustration of desire and some of the means by which desirewas satisfied; and, most importantly, by emphasizing the damage the war did to intellect, discrimination, honesty, individuality, complexity, ambiguity, and wit.Of course, no book of Fussell's would be complete without serious attention to the literature of the time. He 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 otheraspects of the wartime literary world. In this stunning volume, Fussell conveys the essence of that war as no other writer before him has.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member dougwood57
Fussell's work is one of the best I have read on WWII. I've read some of Stephen Amborse's works and enjoyed them as well, but Fussell provides a much needed critical, even cynical - realistic -, antidote to Ambrose's telling of the story. Fussell definitely departs from the mainstream representation the war and that is immensely refreshing.

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.
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LibraryThing member experimentalis
a fine book by a rare species- a literate soldier
LibraryThing member gmicksmith
Fussell is half the literary critic here and half reporting what soldiering meant to the ordinary average soldier. He is particularly equipped for this task as both a scholar and a WW II soldier. The book has its value as both a literary work and a popular culture analysis.
LibraryThing member FKarr
distressing, but informative, view of the unknown and unsuspected effects of wartime, in particular, WW2 -- on sexuality, language, advertising, literature
LibraryThing member MasseyLibrary
Fussell examines 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 "precision bombing," 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. Of course, 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, and how 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.
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.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
For North Americans, WWII took place off-stage. Only Services personnel and a small number of media people actually saw the killing part of it. For many it was related to their first job, and the first period of prosperity since 1929. Paul Fussell tries to share the home front for Americans. I think he succeeds. Also, one should read "Whistle" by James Jones.… (more)
LibraryThing member pajarita
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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."
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