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Reviews 175 systematically shunned, even though it is only through such a potential contestation with other voices that any claim for a "heterogeneous discourse" can finally be cashed. ROMAN DE LA CAMPA Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics ofPerception, tr. by Patrick Camiller. London and New York: Verso, 1989. [Originally published in France in 1983] "The Second World War is the largest single event in human history, fought across six of the world's seven continents and all of its oceans. It killed fifty miUion human beings, left hundreds of millions of others wounded in mind or body and materially devastated much of the heartland of civilization.'" Countless millions of words have been written and countless miles of film shot on that war and yet both these books imply that there is much about the experience of World War II, and of war in general in the modern world, which remains very poorly understood, if at all. In Wartime Paul Fussell demonstrates again the meticulous attention to detail, ability to extract significance from minor events and actions, and profound sense of the ways in which British and American culture constructed meanings for the experience of twentiethcentury total war that characterized his now-classic TAe Great War and Modern Memory. In his meditations on understanding and behavior in the Second World War Fussell asks one primary question: why has America not yet understood what the Second World War was like? The corollary question is an obvious one: what was the real war? It is necessary to ask such questions because during "the past fifty years the Allied war has been sanitized and romanticized almost beyond recognition by the sentimental, the loony patriotic, the ignorant , and the bloodthirsty." (ix) Fussell approaches these questions not only with the interpretive skills of the sophisticated cultural critic but also with the personal memories of a combatant. Readers of his book on World War I may recall its dedication to one of Fussell's comrades kiUed next to him in France in 1945. Fussell was a second lieutenant in the U.S. infantry and was badly wounded in the war. This is important, because it is the combat soldier's war, more than any other, which is the real war for Fussell, and it is experience of that war which he seeks to render in his book. This problem—how to shape the experience of war into some meaningful construct—is one which Fussell confronted in The Great War and Modern Memory when he examined the vast literary outpouring which the war generated. In that earlier work he noted "the cruel fact that much of what happens—aU of what happens?—is inherently without 'meaning'."2 This passage's impUcation, that ali writing about war is a construction of meaning for events which in themselves are meaningless, resonates with John Keegan's hope that his own book on World War II will impose "a Uttle order for the reader on the chaos and tragedy of the events I relate." (5) "Chaos" and "tragedy" are words congruent with Fussell's perception of the war and much of his book deals with the variety of ways in which obfuscatory meanings were imposed on the "accidental or demeaning events," the "catastrophic occurrences," the "insensate savagery," the "organized insanity," and "grievous struggles for survival" which constituted the essence ofthe war from his perspective. The book thus seeks both to identify and criticize mistaken interpretations of the experience of World War II as well as to begin to restore the full dimensions of the real war. Fussell is especially acute in uncovering the myriad ways in which "the messy data of actuality" were misconstrued, by civilians and combatants, by the media and by the high commands, in both high and popular culture, and both with and without high moral purpose . For example, when a stray German bomb happened to hit a country house where British 176 the minnesota review soldiers were billeted, Vera Brittain interpreted it as a feat of precision bombing. Fussell, however, sees a "rationalist, complacent folk-teleology with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 175-181
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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