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The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II Paperback – May 27, 2014
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“Powerful and often startling…The Deserters offers a provokingly fresh angle on this most studied of conflicts… This is a stripped down, unromanticized, intimate history of battle in all of its confusion, chaos, terror, and moral ambiguity. Intricately structured — the author deftly juggles three narrative strands — and beautifully paced to build suspense, this tightly focused account, which draws on memoirs, archives, police files, psychiatric records, is neither reverent nor disapproving.” --The Boston Globe
"Glass is to be commended for his take on WWII through the eyes of those who ran away from it... Glass's history might be one of the best ways of relaying the experience of war: through the eyes of the young men who charged into the line of fire, gave up the ghost, and whose only reward was living to tell the tale." --Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)
“The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II, by the historian and former ABC News foreign correspondent Charles Glass, thus performs a service. It’s the first book to examine at length the sensitive topic of desertions during this war, and the facts it presents are frequently revealing and heartbreaking… The Deserters has much to say about soldiers' hearts. It underscores the truth of the following observation, made by a World War II infantry captain named Charles B. MacDonald: 'It is always an enriching experience to write about the American soldier in adversity no less than in glittering triumph.'" --Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“A veteran correspondent in war zones, Glass is richly credentialed to write The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II. He is qualified by talent, by the good fortune of finding surviving veterans, and by exploring their lives with diligence and, most crucially, a deep compassion… Glass tells the soldiers' stories with novelistic vividness and a good historian's grasp of research detail." --San Francisco Chronicle
"Glass brings something new to the table by going deep with desertion, an overlooked aspect of the wartime experience. The result is an impressive achievement: a boot-level take on the conflict that is fresh without being cynically revisionist... [Glass] pulled off something special here: showing respect to what the deserters endured while acknowledging that the war—gruesome and unfair and nonsensical though it was—had to be won, and that this happened because enough men somehow found the will to keep going." --The New Republic
"[Q]uite provocative... A well-written, fast-moving treatment of an issue still relevant today." --Kirkus
"Sensitive and thought-provoking … As this compelling and well-researched book shows, the battlefield was not a place for heroes, but a place where young men were dehumanised and killed … Given such conditions who among us would not also have considered walking away?" --Sunday Telegraph (UK)
"[These] stories of individual human beings who eventually cracked under the strain of hardly imaginable fear and misery – are wonderful, unforgettable acts of witness, something salvaged from a time already sinking into the black mud of the past." --The Guardian (UK)
"Gripping … painstaking … sympathetic … Glass reveals just how inglorious war really is." --Times (UK)
About the Author
Charles Glass was the chief Middle East correspondent for ABC News from 1983 to 1993 and has covered wars in the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. He is the author of Americans in Paris, Tribes with Flags, The Tribes Triumphant, Money for Old Rope, and The Northern Front. His writing has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The Independent, and The Spectator. Born in Los Angeles, Glass divides his time among Paris, Tuscany, and London.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book occasionally looks at the broader context and makes some good points. Despite all the "The Greatest Generation Ever" propaganda not every GI and Tommy was a hero and a relatively small number of men were asked to go back into combat again and again while millions of others never had to serve. The execution of Eddie Slovik seems particular unjust.
In the case of the US army, desertion was more of problem in the ETO than in the Pacific, since there was no place to desert to.
If you want to read about the personal stories of 3 Allied deserters this book is a good one, if you wish a broader scope look elsewhere.
I come from a religious tradition of pacifism and grew up surrounded by men who either violated their faith and fought in WWII or who became COs. Both groups had lifelong conflicts about their decisions. I saw a lot of similarities to theirs explored in this book.
This book is meticulously researched; I especially liked the use of primary sources and oral histories. It made the topic feel intimate and alive. I found the book balanced and instructive as to the conditions and class pressures on these three soldiers.
I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for a balanced history of WWII. I feel far better educated about this period of time. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's style and skill at making this period breathe.
Beyond the definitive narrative of World War II that has been told, as veterans are quickly passing on, their stories are now being recalled that do not debunk the myths and legends and heroism that has come to define the era and its participants as Tom Brokaw has suggested The Greatest Generation. Glass rather adds to the historical narrative of the events and incidents that were not initially or immediately taken to account amidst the parade of larger than life figures that led the world towards peace within the full scope of the war of western and eastern fronts. But slowly the stories of individuals that did not quite fall within that category began to be told about ten or twenty years after the war during the height of the Cold Wars, Korea and Vietnam; add 20 years after that when it became evident with oral historians such as Studs Terkel and his thought provoking book The Good War: An Oral History of War II that further revealed the antithesis of the homecoming events of 1945. Weiss, Whitehead, and Bain's story falls into Terkels' Good War sentiment as well as another key figure of the topic of desertion, Eddie Slovik. The last 200 pages or so of the book gets to the heart of the matter of Weiss, Whitehead, and Bain's predicaments during the war. If one were to summarize Slovik and the three men's circumstances and the conditions in which they fought within the battlefronts, having to see their fellow comrades fall and torrential terrain and climate eventually led to each man considering the modes of fight or flight - this tested the men's mental, physical, and psychological dexterity; and Glass interprets each man's story within the literary lines that resonates with World War I overtones of a Farewell to Arms meets All Quiet on the Western Front and the effects of war trauma.
But in essence, Glass paints a picture of the humanity of war from three perspectives that centers upon the controversial issue of desertion. And that the fate of each man did not necessarily end similar to Eddie Slovik but of heroism of simply surviving and attempting to maintain their role, camaraderie, and duty to serve their country as well while maintaining their sanity. The Deserted offers insight to the other side of the second World War and is recommended for readers of this part of twentieth century history and factors that affected the individuals that fought the war.