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In the Neighborhood of Zero

A World War II Memoir

William V. Spanos

Publication Year: 2010

Like so many soldiers of his generation, William V. Spanos was not much more than a boy when he went off to fight in World War II. In the chaos of his first battle, what would later become legendary as the Battle of the Bulge, he was separated from his antitank gun crew and taken prisoner in the Ardennes forest. Along with a procession of other prisoners of war, he was marched and conveyed by freight train to Dresden. Surviving the brutal conditions of the labor camps and the Allies’ devastating firebombing of the city, he escaped as the losing German army retreated. For Spanos, this was never a “war story.” It was the singular, irreducible, unnameable, dreadful experience of war. In the face of the American myth of the greatest generation, this renowned literary scholar looks back at that time and crafts a dissident, dissonant remembrance of the “just war.” Retrieving the singularity of the experience of war from the grip of official American cultural memory, Spanos recaptures something of the boy’s life that he lost. His book is an attempt to rescue some semblance of his awakened being—and that of the multitude of young men who fought—from the oblivion to which they have been relegated under the banalizing memorialization of the “sacrifices of our greatest generation.”

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-9

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-

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Preface

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pp. xi-xviii

In the wake of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration, appealing to the deeply backgrounded American exceptionalist ethos, took advantage of the nationalist fervor precipitated by Al Qaeda’s attack on U.S. soil to launch its global “war on terror,” the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq in the name of (American) civilization. ...

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1. Departure and Border Crossings: Newport, New Hampshire, to Cheltenham, England, Spring 1943–1944

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pp. 1-35

I am a Greek American, the second son of five children born to parents who, in an effort to escape the wretched poverty of the “Old World,” emigrated to the United States—first to Manchester, New Hampshire, the home of the Amosgeag Mills, the largest cotton factory in the world at that time ...

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2. Captivity: Disintegration in the Ardennes Forest, December 10, 1944–c. January 4, 1945

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pp. 36-73

After a rough crossing of the English Channel, the 106th Division arrived at the battered seaport of Le Havre, a city that had been virtually leveled during the Normandy invasion, where a convoy of U.S. Army trucks, “The Red Ball Express,” was waiting to transport us to our destination. ...

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3. Arbeitskommando: Rabenau–Dresden, c. January 5–February 12, 1945

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pp. 74-89

Our snail-paced journey through the center of Dresden brought us eventually to a nondescript suburb named Rabenau. I can’t remember where precisely this suburb was in relation to the fabulous old city through which we had passed, though I think it was at the northwestern edge of Dresden. ...

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4. In the Neighborhood of Zero: Dresden, February 13–14, 1945

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pp. 90-125

On the night of February 13 and the morning of February 14, 1945, the Allied air command undertook an air raid of Dresden, Germany, that utterly destroyed a hitherto unscathed city and killed many thousands of civilians, a huge number of refugees from the Eastern front, and British, American, and Russian prisoners of war. ...

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5. Interlude: Dresden, February 18–c. April 25, 1945

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pp. 126-140

On the morning after our third—or was it the fourth?—excursion into Dresden to search the ruins of the city for the dead, our guards informed us that our assignment had been terminated and that we were to take up our duties where we had left off. I was at first immensely relieved to hear this because the horrors I had experienced those few days exceeded my ability to assimilate them. ...

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6. Persephone and the Beast: Brux, Czechoslovakia, c. April 26–May 1, 1945

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pp. 141-161

As in the case of the destruction of Dresden, I find it impossible to represent the experience I underwent in the closing days of the war and of my captivity in a way that would be adequate to its surreality. But for different reasons. Both experiences were unspeakable in their incommensurability with everything we had been given to understand as civilization. ...

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7. Love in the Ruins: Brux, Czechoslovakia, May 2–13, 1945

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pp. 162-183

The events of my last few days in Brux were devoid of any logic and thus resist being reduced to a story. The city was now in an interregnum, between a world that had been utterly destroyed and one yet to be born. To me its name, Brux, for all practical purposes no longer referred to anything familiar. ...

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8. Return: Camp Lucky Strike, Normandy, to Newport, New Hampshire, May 13–June 1, 1945

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pp. 184-194

The destination of the freight train that carried us out of the void of the Sudetenland, it turned out, was Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, a city about sixty or seventy kilometers south of Brux and west of Prague. It was, if I remember correctly, the official point south of Berlin at which the American army, reluctantly, halted its advance into the East in deference to the demands of the Soviet Union. ...

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Coda: Main Street, Newport, New Hampshire, August 15, 1945

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pp. 195-198

I am on a two-week furlough in Newport, from Camp Oglethorpe in Georgia, where I had been in “rehabilitation” for two months, a process that consisted of eating bland food, occasionally exercising, and above all, drinking a lot of beer with a couple of former prisoners of war in the local, often unfriendly and dangerous, segregated bars. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780803229976
E-ISBN-10: 0803229976
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803226814
Print-ISBN-10: 0803226810

Page Count: 218
Illustrations: 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Biography.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Prisoners and prisons, German.
  • Ardennes, Battle of the, 1944-1945.
  • Dresden (Germany) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945.
  • Spanos, William V.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • Prisoners of war -- Germany -- Biography.
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