Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War.

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Fussell, Paul. Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. p. 330.

Summary by Lisa Harry, Spring 2007

With his book Fussell attempts to give readers some description of "the psychological and emotional culture of Americans and Britons" in World War II.(p.ix) He states that his book is "about the rationalizations and euphemisms people needed to deal with an unacceptable actuality."(p.ix) For Fussell this is important because "the allied war has been sanitized and romanticized almost beyond recognition."(p.ix) By writing this book he is hoping to provide readers with the truth about the war. This truth he speaks of has a great deal to do with the horrors that accompanied combat. He asserts that war was often portrayed at home much differently then it actually was. War not a pretty picture. Instead it was one filled with screams from young men and blood. These horrific descriptions of the war he provides come from first hand experiences. When he was twenty-years old Fussell was a lieutenant in World War II and led a rifle platoon in the 103rd Infantry Division in Europe until he was severely wounded in 1945.

Fussell looks at the war's impact on those who fought. He is concerned with much more than the actual fighting. Fussell spends a great deal of time looking at the other things that had a major impact on the lives of the soldiers. His chapters cover a wide array of topics. The first chapter "From Light to Heavy Duty" deals with the idea that in the beginning of the war the American people believed it would be a "fast moving, mechanized, easy" one to win.(p.6) Of course this way of thinking changed as the war progressed. The way the war was to be fought changed as well. Fussell states that "abetted by engineering and applied science the war by its end bore little resemblance to the war at its beginning. It had begun with concern about the bombing of civilians and it ended with not just Hamsburg and Dresden but Hiroshima and Nagasaki."(p.9) His second chapter "Precision Bombing Will Win the War?" describes how grossly inaccurate bombings on both sides were. In order to hit anywhere near the intended target planes were forced to fly well within anti-aircraft range, which resulted in the deaths of many pilots and civilians. With "Someone had Blundered" Fussell looks at the blunders, errors, and accidents that plagued the war. He attempts to look at the role fear on the part of individual soldiers played in these errors. "Rumors of War" looks at the role of rumors in war, the needs they filled and the harm they did. Many rumors were started as morale boosters, such as one surrounding Ford giving away cars to soldiers. Other rumors were planted by the enemy as "skirmishes in the psychological warfare battle."(p.47) "School of the Soldier" deals with how military life was much like school for many of the soldiers and it was "natural to import academic expectations and idiom into combat."(p.63) In "Unread Books on a Shelf" Fussell looks at how soldiers in WWII were constantly fighting anonymity because in WWII they were 1 in 16 million. He talks about the "faceless dead" - replacements that got killed often before anyone could even know their names. "Chickenshit, An Anatomy" gives some insight into what it was like to be a soldier among your other fellow soldiers. According to Fussell, Chickenshit is "behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant paying off of old scores...and it can be recognized easily because it never has anything to do with winning the war."(p.80) With his chapter "Drinking Far Too Much, Copulating Too Little" Fussell discusses the fact that drinking was an issue for many soldiers during the war. Drinking was in many ways a way for a soldier to overcome his fear of combat. Fussell asserts that many men found it much easier to kill or face their own deaths if they had liquor in them. He also places the blame outside of combat situations. He believes that " contempt and damage to his selfhood, from absurdity and boredom and chickenshit," caused American soldiers to drink.(p.96) Some of his other chapters cover topics such as racial stereotypes present during the war, morale of the troops, efforts on the home front to help bolster morale, rationing, desertion rates, importance of music and literature to the troops, sex. the idea of putting the war in terms of good vs. evil, and the censorship of literature, news reels, and movies.

A major focus of Fussell's is to drive home the point that "real war" stories will never get into the books. This is because the soldiers' experiences were "systematically sanitized, Norman Rockwellized, and Disneyfied."(267) Fussell argues that the troops were upset by the "conviction that optimistic publicity and euphemism had rendered their experience so falsely it would never be readily communicable."(p.268) The Norman Rockwellization of the war meant that no one on the home front would ever be able to fully understand what the soldiers had experienced. For Fussell this meant that the "soldiers' suffering was wasted and meaningless."(p.268) He wants readers to understand that war was messy and at times very cruel. It was not the "best war ever" as people want it remembered as. It was just a war. While it might have been a necessary one it was by no means a good thing at all - it was just a war.

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