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chapter two SOLDIERS WRITE THE WAR q Q Some soldiers started to fashion memories of the war soon after it ended by writing extensive accounts of what they saw and felt. Less accepting of Roosevelt ’s optimism about creating a better world, and deeply suspicious of the sentimental language of the war years that characterized the motivations and attitudes of men like themselves, these literary-minded veterans were ultimately responsible for producing the most critical remembrance of the American experience in World War II ever o=ered to the public. The writings and recollections of these soldiers were not always explicit antiwar statements, and at times they supported traditional perspectives on the conflict. Overall, however, they provided substantial testimony that was designed to refute the widespread layer of patriotic virtue that had marked their times—or what soldier/author Paul Fussell called “moral simplification”—and insisted that many of the men who served their nation now felt more like victims than heroes.1 Like literary-minded veterans from other nations who served in the wars of the twentieth century, these writers were generally disillusioned by their encounters with military authority and mechanized warfare and troubled by a moral outlook that sanctioned indiscriminate killing. The most successful of them also recognized that there was a market for their views. After analyzing novels authored by soldiers from both world wars, a critic like Malcolm Cowley noticed that both generations provided accounts that were “painfully honest.” He thought he noticed, however, that men writing after 1945 were also “more disheartened.” That is to say, they expressed little hope that the problem of war and violence would ever go away and that people would su;ciently question mythical images of national innocence that helped to sustain a martial spirit. Thus, the stories they told—in novels, memoirs, and fact-based reports—not only stressed the tragic costs of the war more than the gains but to a surprising extent rendered a harsh judgment on the character of the Americans themselves and their political s o l d i e r s w r i t e t h e w a r 35 and military leadership. Their version of the war seemed haunted more by dark forces in the veterans’ homeland than in evil regimes abroad. With many public spaces resistant to such an ironic version of the war, these veterans turned to the relatively open terrain of literature to fashion stories that were more pessimistic than cheerful.2 Certainly, there were books and articles that took pride in the war e=ort and that praised the extensive military planning and civilian production that went into the victory—books such as Dwight Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe and Henry Luce’s Life’s Picture History of World War II, which referred to the American victory as a “tremendous feat.” Such writings tended to o=er what James Dawes has referred to as a “therapeutic narration” of the event and served to expunge from public memory the convoluted and idiosyncratic nature of personal experience. The e=orts of these soldiers turned authors, however, did what modern literature has done best—probe the twisted reality of individual experience in ways that subverted attempts to mythologize it. The fact that their subjects tended to be GIs plagued by feelings of confusion, anger, bitterness, and hatred was no invention. They carried to the public the real feelings of millions of enlisted men who had found military life repressive and demeaning. Most of the characters fashioned by literary veterans emerged from the war with an uneasy feeling that the future would be driven not by individuals in charge of their own destiny but by large-scale organizations and massive bureaucracies—much like the military organizations they had just served. Seldom did the figures in these stories think about grand political ideas or national destiny. Their public role was centered more on the critical e=ort to insist that the war be recalled less as an American victory and more as a warning that hopes for a more democratic America and for a better world for all men and women everywhere were fragile at best.3 THE ASSAULT ON VIRTUE Just three years after the surrender of Japan, Norman Mailer published his probing novel of the American personality, The Naked and the Dead. A veteran of the Pacific war who felt a tremendous sense of relief when he heard the news of the atomic bombings and realized...


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