For most, World War II is nothing but a chapter in history--for most Americans, a rosy and happy one. But Paul Fussell, a novelist and WWII veteran, reminds us that only those who've experienced it can truly understand that war is hell. He writes with bite and humor of the horrors and inequalities of the so-called "Good War," which he says "for the United States, [was] an unintended form of eugenics, clearing the population of the dumbest, the least skilled, the least promising of all Americans." Not exactly the thoughts of a sentimentalist, but the notion that war is horrible should be eternally reinforced, and Fussell does so with a fury and skill few writers can muster.
From Publishers Weekly
War as a crucible of character: that is the theme of this searching, courageous memoir from Fussell, a National Book Award winner for The Great War and Modern Memory. Fussell, who grew up in the "highly privileged suburb" of Pasadena, Calif., was called to active duty in May 1943. Sent later that year to Europe as a 19-year-old Army infantry officer, he engaged in combat numerous times and, in March 1945, suffered shrapnel wounds in southeastern France. War began to change Fussell when, days after his arrival, he saw his first bodies: "My boyish illusions, largely intact to that moment of awakening, fell away all at once, and suddenly I knew that I was not and would never be in a world that was reasonable or just." When Fussell returned home after the war, he resolved "that I was finished with coercion and murder forever." That decision led him to academia, where he could enjoy a relatively unfettered life and independence of mind. Fussell traces the effects of war on his later activities, covering his personal life, his teaching and his writing. Experiences of a half century ago continue to haunt the author: "sometimes," he confesses, "I waste time devising wild schemes of revenge against the Germans." The primary focus here, however, is on those experiences themselves, presented in unflinching prose as Fussell offers a moving testimony to the indelible place of WWII in the life not only of one man, but of a generation. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
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