Note: I've always been fond of reading. First it triggered my imagination and then it enlightened me. Rarely do I read fiction now, but not because I don't like fiction. It's just that there's so much to learn from non-fiction. As one who writes for a living, I find that reading many authors helps sharpen my writing skills. So does forcing myself to write. Now I'm combining those two practices to bring occasional reviews of the books that have populated my reading list on the sidebar. Maybe you'll find something to add to your reading list. (Or something to remove from your list.)
Fussell uses this book to take a much different look at World War II. A World War II vet, his focus is on "the psychological and emotional culture of Americans and Britons during the Second World War." The book is easy to read, with very skillful transitions from one chapter to the next. The book's focus shatters notions of a valiant war effort at home and it strips away the romance associated with war and its heros.
One critical emotional factor during the war was morale. Fussell claims that soldiers' writings can't be relied on for historical purposes in regards to emotions and attitudes, since they were writing to sustain morale at home. Euphemisms overlooked the grim aspects of war for morale's sake.
Fussell also shows how advertisers leveraged morale to push their products. V is for Victory became nearly ubiquitous for morale purposes. It was tied to everything from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (V), to gardens (victory gardens), cabs (Victory taxi companies), cigarettes, and so on. Says Fussell, "Without Victory, advertising could hardly have survived."
In essence, Fussell argues, the war effort became one of public relations.
Another focus in the book is on literature. Some turned to literary pursuits to deal with the war and the stresses it brought. Many writers turned their skills to patriotic duties. But one of Fussell's most interesting points was a look at the shift in culture from World War I to World War II. In the first World War, Pilgrim's Progress was widely known and referred to by many soldiers. By the time of the second World War, few soldiers would have understood references to the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Pilgrim's Progress, or Psalms?), the City of Destruction and the Celestial City.
In all, Wartime brings home how horrible war is. On that level, the book is useful; it presents World War II with less patriotism and more skepticism. That's a useful perspective, but we have to remember the sacrifices of the brave men who fought in the war. Their service needs to be remembered and we need to thank the veterans who are all-to-quickly leaving this earth.
War isn't as glamorous as little boys playing army might think. It may be necessary, but it's not to be desired. And while sin reigns on earth, war and all the atrocities associated with it will be present.
Caveat reader: (Let the reader beware.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Fussell's focus on the emotional culture of Americans during the war draws him into an entire chapter devoted to soldiers' profanities. Another chapter looks at the less-than-savory ways that soldiers got their minds off the pressures of war. Fussell also delves into some of the off-color jokes that the soldiers enjoyed.
I recognize that what Fussell covers probably did happen, and I realize that such things come from sin-corrupted hearts. But Fussell's presentation is graphic and seems to glorify--or rationalize, at least--instead of condemn much of the behavior. If you're like me, you probably want to focus on more edifying themes.Posted by JRC at April 29, 2005 05:09 PM | TrackBack