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At Ease: Navy Men of World War II Hardcover – June 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Books such as The Greatest Generation have eloquently argued that the men and women who survived World War II played a crucial role in determining America’s national culture; to some extent, Bachner agrees with this thesis. "Our current image of American masculinity was formed at that particular moment in time," he writes in the introduction to this moving book of duotone photos. But the image that was passed down most often suggested that Real Men were loners, rugged individuals who relied on no one. According to Bachner, however, the photographic record "flatly contradicts that notion." During his six years of research in the Still Pictures Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration, he unearthed a trove of Navy photos that "display a tender regard and closeness among men largely alien to our contemporary culture." Most of these images were taken by the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, which was commanded by the famous photographer Edward J. Steichen for most of WWII. Many have never been published. Why were these servicemen able to form such affectionate friendships? In answer, Bachner quotes John D’Emilio: "Living in close quarters, not knowing whether they would make it through the war, and depending on one another for survival, men of whatever sexual persuasion formed intense emotional attachments." Whatever the reason, these gorgeously composed, evocative images suggest that men then, as now, could let down the John Wayne stance to share a cigarette, laugh over a joke and do a little roughhousing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In the brief, cogent introduction to this remarkable photo album, Bachner posits that these images of young sailors and marines shaped the ideal of manhood prevalent in American culture since World War II. The men depicted by the members of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit (all professionals before the war) are preponderantly in their late teens and early twenties, and whether on or off duty, at ease in that they aren't in combat. It's hot where they are in the Pacific or Mediterranean sun, and they're commonly shirtless, in shorts, or both; when bathing, infrequently when sunning, and in one striking image of a gunner returned to his post after a rescue, they're naked (no explanation survives for the gunner's nudity, but he is wet as from swimming). Youthfully slender, toned from training, unselfconscious in their leisure or work, they seem, given the military context, effortlessly heroic. Exhibited singly, if at all, the pictures were available to magazines, newspapers, and advertisers to use as is or as models throughout and a little after the war. They look, as Bachner says, as if they'd been taken this morning, except for the physical contact, often obviously affectionate, that the men often and innocently make with one another. It was a different time, eh? Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810948052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810948051
  • Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 0.8 x 11.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael R. Mccall on July 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I absolutely "loved" this book from the first moment I picked it up and opened its first page. The photographs captivate a time when men could show affection without the worry of not being masculine enough. Thank you Evan Bachner for sharing your vision and putting together these marvellous photographs of this celebrated time in History. My dad was in the Navy during World War II and lived on a destroyer, and he has just recently started telling me some of "his" stories of being out at sea, sometimes for months at a time. I came across photographs years ago when I was just a young man of my dad and his ship-mates, and his photographs could easily been a part of this beautiful collection that Evan Bachner has displayed in "At Ease". I look forward to "At Ease,part Two."
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By ch0pper on October 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Too often, when modern schoolchildren consider WW2, they see the parades of elderly veterans, stooped, wrinkled, bemedaled, but essentally OLD.

What the compiler of this book has managed to do is to collect a wide range of photo material, much of it of very high quality, which shows the young men who fought WW2 as they were then. That is, as young men. Slim, upright, happy, fit. Often little more than schoolboys themselves. In that regard, this book is reminiscent of Herbert List's book "Junge Manner".

I was so impressed with my book that I've ordered a second copy to be put into the library of the secondary school at which I'm a governor. WW2 seems to be popular in history lessons. Let the children of today see the youths of yesteday as they were at their prime.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dewey on July 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As an historical reenactor, and daughter of a WWII Navy veteran, I am constantly on the outlook for books and information on the lesser known ideas and culture surrounding WWII. This book was a real eye opener! While the author is open about his sexuality and the pictures were no doubt hand picked with a certain agenda, they show a world of innocence that was unconcerned with homophobic ideas of how a man should or should not act. Being together for long periods of time in uncertain circumstances, deep friendships definitely form. Your buddy could be the one to save your life during an attack, or you might loose him in a split second from a torpedo. As a woman, I can imagine the close friendships that would form today under similar circumstances among women, and I imagine men during that time were not held back by all the macho ideas of today. A beautiful book with striking photography, this stands as an important contribution to understanding our father's and grandfather's lives during WWII.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Without a doubt this book will touch the memories and hearts of everyone who pauses to slowly peruse these casual photographs of men at sea in World War II. Without the overtones of trying to make a statement about the camaraderie that accompanies men off at war, these photographs simply follow a healthy group of sailors resting on board ship, working at their tasks, bonding in the bunk rooms and in play on the decks and the foc'sle. There is an obvious physical relationship that is transmitted in the gentlest ways, further proof that men together find the emotional and physical support so needed in the time of isolation from the world.

It is to Evan Bachner's credit that he shares this truly sensitive body of work with the public at a time when we all need to understand not only the plight of the men away at war today, but of the common threads of pansexuality that have never been a threat but only a solace in a world infected with prejudice. Grady Harp, December 2004
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Evan Bachner's very imformative introduction to this extraordinary book, he tells of how a photograph of a soldier from World War II caught his eye in the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1997. The photographer was someone he had never heard of before, Horace Bristol. Mr. Bachner in his dogged research discovered that the great photographer Edward J. Steichen had created the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit and then had assembled professional photographers in addition to Mr. Bristol who had made World War II photographs and ultimately printed over 15,000 images by the end of the war. Now seven years after Mr. Bachner's initial discovery, we have this stunning collection of over 150 beautifully composed, exposed and printed photographs by no less than the publisher of fine art books, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Although there are a few photos of sailors working, for the most part these men are truly "at ease" as they sun themselves, exercise, swim, read, play games, write letters, horse around or just relax. Had Walt Whitman been alive during this era, he would have written paens to these men and their "love of comrades." There is a wonderful innocence about these photographs of men among friends. And we can all be glad that because of the order of President Truman a little later, that no photographer would ever again shoot black sailors in segregated sleeping quarters. (There are a few photographs here of black sailors relaxing together and only one shot of a black sailor and white sailor together.)

Surely this book will be on everyone's short list of best photography books of 2004. It's destined to become a classic.
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