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The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to a Modern War Paperback – April 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (April 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140261540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140261547
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #732,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Surveying the war writings of 20th-century Britons and Americans, Hynes (The First World War and English Culture) offers a convincing analysis of war narratives as combining elements of travel writing, autobiography and history in a context of experiences that involve exile from the subject's "real" life. Strangeness, he finds, is the principal constant of war narratives. War is alien to everyday experience, for death is war's essential point. At the same time, he finds that memories of war incorporate an affirmation of having been there. War expands the limits of the possible. It offers an intensity unmatched in ordinary life, and its hardships are overshadowed by its drama. Hynes recognizes that his focus on literary sources privileges the middle-class voice. His justification?that the bourgeois experience is the modern focal point of self-analysis and self-recording?isn't entirely persuasive. Many of his conclusions, moreover, replicate those of Glenn Gray's The Warriors. Still, he makes an honorable contribution to the literature on the complex subject of men's motives for accepting war's physical and psychological demands.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Former U.S. Marine aviator Hynes (A War Imagined, Macmillan, 1992) has writen a fascinating book on the evolution of the war narrative. Documenting his study from the combat journals, memoirs, and wartime correspondence of men who participated in World Wars I (e.g., Edmund Blunden's Undertones of War; Robert Graves's Good-bye to All That) and II (D.M. Crook's Spitfire Pilot, Richard Hillary's The Last Enemy) and the Vietnam conflict (Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July, Robert Mason's Chickenhawk), Hynes explores the veterans' front-line experiences and reveals how the conduct of war has changed in the 20th century. As readers are guided through a plethora of soldiers' tales, they are struck by the strangeness of the warriors' existence, especially the ubiquitous presence of death in all of its grotesque and even darkly humorous manifestations. Finally, the author treats the innocents of global and limited war (Robert Searle's To the Kwai and Back, Elie Wiesel's Night). His work is at once terrifying and compelling. Recommended for academic libraries and military collections.
John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Doug Briggs on January 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Who best can describe war but the men who fought them? True, all personal accounts of war are highly focused, confined as they are to the tight little theater of each writer's involvement. Or involvements as in the case of that German officer's memorable account of his entire career, "Soldat."
Here, Hynes zooms out, assembling with great skill personal micro-views that together are a broad picture of war. His narrative weaves the recollections into a whole fabric.
Some sage once observed that old men start wars and young men fight them. Old men write glorious and expansive military histories, the young men who fought the battles write about the miseries of the battlefields -- and, occasionally the humor -- and the miseries of captivity. Soldiers who were unlucky enough to be prisoners of the Japanese became the real experts on the miseries of captivity.
This excellent book is marred at the end by an almost apologetic discussion of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That kind of warfare was unique, says Hynes, and so it was, being the only uses of nuclear bombs in world history. But what was the alternative? An invasion of a nation that had demonstrated repeatedly that every soldier would fight to the death? And at what cost, another several hundred thousand allied dead? Hynes writes:
"And although [the bombing] was an attack not on a specific military target but on a city, that was not new in August 1945; many cities were in ashes by then.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Scott VINE VOICE on February 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Samuel Hynes background as a Marine bomber pilot in World war II helped intensify his focus in bringing "Soldier's Tale" to life. His keen eye for detail and brilliant anaylsis of human experiecnce makes this a fascinating read.
The accounts bear witness to the difficulties men faced in World War II and Vietnam and is a discovery of mankind and how they act and react during times of intense struggle.
The accounts, filled with fear, anger, frustration and courage must be remembered and not just stored away on some dusty shelf. Within these pages you stare face to face into the brutal reality of survival versus death, and walk away with a glimpse into what it was like for those who were there.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By El Cutachero on December 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Having looked at this book with my primary interest in the experiences of the common soldier in mind, I am struck with the many interesting personal narratives herein. That said, I was disappointed to some extent that there were not any narratives from opponents or from other allies whose native tongue is not English. Perhaps this was the author's purpose, perhaps he did not have source permissions, or perhaps the publisher did not want to acquire rights to other stories.
That said, although this is therefore a one sided view, it has much literary merit and deserves a place in the personal narrative collection.
I would also recommend the author's own personal narrative of service as an aviator. Flights of Passage (c.f.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Frances Q. Rasmussen on March 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bought this for my boss, a Marine Vietnam vet, who much enjoys reading. However, he is picky about what he reads and is a bit hard to buy for. After reading reviews, I took a chance on this book and another Samuel Hynes book, Flights of Passage, and bought them both for him for Christmas. He tells me truly enjoyed both.
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Format: Paperback
Samuel Hynes read extensively in the "personal" literature of war - memoirs, contemporary descriptions, published letters. He lists about 50 reference works for the First World War, nearly a hundred for WWII, about twenty for Vietnam, also for the Holocaust, five for the atom bomb. From these he teased out many common elements - some to do with the war's impact on individuals, some on social changes partly brought about by wars, some on male psychology (there are few female voices here). So it is a sort of extended thesis with many interwoven strands, but peppered with fascinating quotes - usually a paragraph or two, from those actual voices of the time. (Though as he notes, very often the words were written several years or even decades after the events.)

Although the book's chosen title is all-encompassing, it really focuses most intently on World War 1 and World War 2, especially the former. Also, it draws most heavily on English language sources, especially British. Another emphasis to be noted is on the PBI ("poor bloody infantry!") and also on the air forces - not very much on the navies. Of course, to cover personal narratives from all the forces of all the nations in the same depth would have given rise to a whole shelf of books, not just one - still, it is a limitation.

His major success is in showing how much changed during the 20th century, and how much stayed the same. The British 1912 criteria for recruiting young officers included "1. That we can draw on a class who have not been used to much brain work. 2. That the young officer should be for choice country bred, fond of sport, a 'trier', and must have some private income.
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