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The Good War's Greatest Hits: World War II and American Remembering Hardcover – July 1, 1998
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
The Good War's Greatest Hits is a fascinating production. It is a book that can make us see the cultural significance of WWII in the way Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory opened our eyes to WWI. (Joseph T. Cox author of The Written Wars)
This book is superbly written. It's fast-paced and was a pleasure to read.(Townsend Ludington author of Twentieth-Century Odyssey)
From the Back Cover
The glow of 1945 persists as a kind of beacon for American society, symbolic of an era when good and evil were easily defined. This image is at the center of Philip D. Beidler's entertaining look at the way World War II reshaped American popular culture. Beidler captures the aura of the times as he chronicles the production histories of more than a dozen projects with wartime themes, examining how books and plays evolved into films, how stars were considered and selected, technical problems and personality conflicts during production, and the public's reactions. From the upbeat tempo of the musical South Pacific to the weary disillusionment of The Best Years of Our Lives, from the patriotic nostalgia of Life's Picture History of World War II to the moral ambiguity of From Here to Eternity, a powerful mythology of the war developed. As a consequence, the line between fact and fiction has blurred for the war generation and its inheritors, and Hollywood's version of the Good War has become enshrined as historical fact in the nation's collective memory.
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I only give it four stars because of its treatment of Catch-22. The author is correct that the grim anti-war message of that work deepened and enriched the country's memory of the experience of the war, but on another level, Catch-22 played an important role in increasing the nation's amnesia. The moral center of the book is an old Italian peasant who tells Yossarian and his friends that it doesn't matter who wins the war, that he will still be sitting in the door of his house. Nately makes a fool of himself trying to refute the peasant, but the peasant's viewpoint is the viewpoint of Joseph Heller. Indeed, the peasant is about the only character who keeps his dignity in the book. Biedler deals with this matter only in a footnote, calling the peasant "cynical," but Joseph Heller would not have called him that and indeed, when we read Catch-22 in the '60s, all of us knew that the peasant was speaking for Heller (Heller himself admitted that in some of his campus lectures as I recall). The problem with that viewpoint, of course, was that the Italian peasant was not Jewish. If he were, he would not remain sitting on his doorstep when the Nazis marched through. Heller never admitted that sometimes there are things worth fighting for. Indeed, he couldn't have if he wasn't going to write a different book than the one he did. What makes the book courageous is that he wrote an anti-war novel about a war that everybody except Pat Buchanan used to agree was worth fighting. What makes the book cowardly is that Heller finessed the point. In doing so and in writng such a powerful classic, Heller was greatly contributing to "American forgetting." A direct line can be drawn between Catch-22 and those fools who think the Holocaust never happened. That Joseph Heller was a Jew does not excuse him; in fact, it makes his error worse. Biedler should have addressed this very central theme to the way America has treated World War II.
That criticism aside, this is a book which is fascinating to read and thoughtful to boot.