09 January 2013


Paul Fussell was a combat veteran of World War II, a historian, university professor, and author whose work has won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award.  He is best known for his writings about World Wars I and II, which explore what he felt was the gap between the romantic myth and reality of war.  He made "a career out of refusing to disguise or elevate it."

Following are several exerpts from his memoir Doing Battle ~ The Making of a Skeptic.

"Life was good and easy, and I called Life 'friend'.  I'd never hidden anything from him, and he'd never hidden anything from me.  Or so I thought.  I knew everything.  He was an awfully intelligent companion ~ we had the same tastes (apparently) and he was awfully fond of me.  And all the time he was plotting up a mass-murder."
      ~ quote from Wyndham Lewis

(After the mass execution of German prisoners of war) ~ "[for many participants] the result was deep satisfaction, and the event was transformed into amusing narrative, told and retold over campfires all that winter.  If it made you sick, you were not supposed to indicate.  I was beginning to understand what a marine sergeant told Philip Caputo during the Vietnam War ~ 'Before you leave here, sir, you're going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American boy'."

"When V-E Day was announced, I did celebrate by consuming a can of warm beer I'd been saving.  But there was no pleasure in it.  The reason is suggested by Kay Summersby, Eisenhower's British girlfriend.  She said of the end of the German war, 'No one laughed.  No one smiled.  It was all over.  We had won, but victory was not anything like what I had thought it would be.  There was a dull bitterness about it.  So many deaths.  So much destruction.  And everybody was very, very tired.' "

"My first year at Pomona [college, following World War II ] confirmed me in a number of attitudes that would remain and intensify.  One was the abandonment forever of the high school and collegiate impulse to be 'popular' by joining, or at least not offending, the herd.  I now became a conspicuous non-joiner, and have never happily joined any group since.  I became obsessed with the imagined obligation to go it alone, absolutely, and teamwork became for me a dirty word.  I became irrationally angry at any attempt to coerce me into group behavior or to treat me as if all human beings are the same.  I developed an indignant suspicion of quantitative ways of describing or measuring human talents and values.  I was now convinced that my duty was criticism, meaning not carping, but the perpetual obligation of evaluation."

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