Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II

Overview

One of our most enduring national myths surrounds the men and women who fought in the so-called "Good War." The Greatest Generation, we're told by Tom Brokaw and others, fought heroically, then returned to America happy, healthy and well-adjusted. They quickly and cheerfully went on with the business of rebuilding their lives.

In this shocking and hauntingly beautiful book, historian Thomas Childers shatters that myth. He interweaves the intimate story of three ...

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Overview

One of our most enduring national myths surrounds the men and women who fought in the so-called "Good War." The Greatest Generation, we're told by Tom Brokaw and others, fought heroically, then returned to America happy, healthy and well-adjusted. They quickly and cheerfully went on with the business of rebuilding their lives.

In this shocking and hauntingly beautiful book, historian Thomas Childers shatters that myth. He interweaves the intimate story of three families—including his own—with a decades' worth of research to paint an entirely new picture of the war's aftermath. Drawing on government documents, interviews, oral histories and diaries, he reveals that 10,000 veterans a month were being diagnosed with psycho-neurotic disorder (now known as PTSD). Alcoholism, homelessness, and unemployment were rampant, leading to a skyrocketing divorce rate. Many veterans bounced back, but their struggle has been lost in a wave of nostalgia that threatens to undermine a new generation of returning soldiers.

Novelistic in its telling and impeccably researched, Childers's book is a stark reminder that the price of war is unimaginably high. The consequences are human, not just political, and the toll can stretch across generations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[T]his somber book is a sharp reminder, as the Greatest Generation passes into history, that war is the most powerful of defining moments.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[C]ompelling, nuanced…With his meticulous reporting and sensitive yet dispassionate writing, Childers pays the highest honor to the complete story of the Greatest Generation.”
St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Thomas Childers' heartbreaking book makes palpable the human cost of a conflict too often sanitized as 'the good war.' No war is good for those who fight it, he reminds us in scarifying descriptions of his three protagonists' travails.”
Chicago Tribune

“Childers's beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjects' wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress....Childers's absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good War's legacy.”
Publishers Weekly

“A sympathetic, wide-ranging look at unseen casualties of World War II—those psychologically damaged by battle....A lucid study of a well-remembered war’s forgotten soldiers.”
Kirkus

“In this provocative and eloquent book, Thomas Childers breaks significant new ground by chronicling the hidden history of the emotional toll that World War II exacted on those who fought it, and on those who loved them. I did not think there was anything fresh to say about the defining conflict of the modern world. Childers has proven me wrong—very wrong indeed. This is an important and engaging work.”
Jon Meacham , author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston

“Thomas Childers has made a brave and honest inquiry into a darker side of the Greatest Generation, the aftershock World War II inflicted on millions of veterans and their families. This haunting book penetrates the fog of myth surrounding ‘The Last Good War.’ It offers a fine homage to countless acts of heart breaking sacrifice.”
Tom Mathews , author of Our Fathers’ War

“With Soldier From the War Returning, Thomas Childers has exposed the post-war trauma of three WWII veterans. They symbolize the struggle that many of our fathers and grandfathers experienced when the cheering stopped and the haunting by the war’s long shadow remained. A compelling read for all generations.”
David P. Colley , author of Safely Rest and Blood for Dignity

“Sublime, cathartic, the ‘Truth’s own self,’ Childers’ memorial to the emotionally damaged is a precious gift to World War II veterans, their baby-boom children, and all future generations scarred by wars whose wounds last far more than a lifetime.”
Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Vietnam veteran, and author of Throes of Democracy: The American Civil Era 1829-1877


“Childers’s beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjects’ wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress....Childers’s absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good War’s legacy.” —Publishers Weekly

“More emotionally telling than most histories and more historically revealing than many memoirs. This is a collective biography of casualties - visible and invisible - not only the men who lost limbs or minds, but also their wives and, inevitably, their children. It should be required reading for everyone in Washington who has the authority to send other people into war.” —Washington Times

Publishers Weekly

Conventional impressions of WWII's aftermath-wild celebration, triumphal return, ebullient prosperity-hide a grimmer reality, according to this somber history of postwar discontents. University of Pennsylvania historian Childers (In the Shadows of War) uses contemporary statistics and press reports to sketch the hardships returning veterans faced, including unemployment and homelessness; resentment at the years wasted in the war; alienation from family, friends and civilian life in general; and physical and psychological wounds that never healed. He builds his account around biographical narratives of three veterans: an infantryman who lost his legs to an enemy shell; an airman taken prisoner by the Germans; and Childers's father, who spent the war relatively safe in England but whose life and marriage, the author contends, were subtly darkened by the conflict. Childers's beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjects' wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress. His attempt to blame decades of dysfunction on the war sometimes overreaches; his subjects' failed marriages, business reversals and unfulfilling jobs often seem like the ordinary quiet desperation of men's lives. Still, Childers's absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good War's legacy. Photos. (May 13)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A sympathetic, wide-ranging look at unseen casualties of World War II-those psychologically damaged by battle. The last battle of the men and women traumatized by combat was fought, writes Childers (History/Univ. of Pennsylvania; In the Shadows of War: An American Pilot's Odyssey Through Occupied France and the Camps of Nazi Germany, 2003, etc.), not "on the fields of Europe or on the jungle islands and coral atolls of the South Pacific, but on the main streets of American towns." Hundreds of thousands of soldiers came back shattered, suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and all that malady can bring, from difficulties holding jobs and maintaining relationships to substance abuse, mental illness and criminal behavior. None of this is news, of course; the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives limns the larger outlines of that story. Childers digs deep into the historical data, however, to show how widespread the alienation of the much-heralded Greatest Generation was after the war had ended, when more than two million veterans found themselves at home but out of work and without much to do. They had given the best years of their lives to their country, but now felt more than a little disgruntled about the experience. The passage of the GI Bill helped, as did a reviving economy that put veterans back to work. But the more seriously damaged soldiers, including one from Childers's hometown to whom he pays touching homage, remained outsiders forevermore-and, as he notes, some are only now being diagnosed with PTSD, 65 years after the war's end. Hardest of all for many, he writes, was the shame of having survived under terrible conditions to return to safety, "surrounded by theomnipresent family, stumbling over one another, everyone striving to behave well."A lucid study of a well-remembered war's forgotten soldiers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547336923
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/12/2010
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 438,823
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

THOMAS CHILDERS is the Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of five previous books on the Third Reich and World War II, most recently, Wings of Morning and In the Shadows of War .

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I “When This Bloody War Is Over” 15

1 Anticipation 17

2 Shock 45

3 Anxiety 75

Part II “Soldier from the Wars Returning” 103

4 As If Nothing Had Ever Happened 105

5 Open Wounds 137

6 “It's Been a Long, Long Time” 171

Part III Echoes of War 203

7 “The War's Over, Soldier” 205

8 Aftershocks 237

9 Picking Up the Pieces 263

Author's Note 291

Acknowledgments 295

Selected Primary Sources 257

Notes 301

Index 327

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Simply put, an AWESOME book and great completion to Childer's WW2 volumes

    I first read Wings of Morning several years ago and simply devoured the second book, In the Shadows of War, in no time. I have been waiting for the third book of stories about the world war two generation from professor Childers for some time. I must say THE WAIT WAS WORTH IT. Simply an awesome book from a very good researcher and writer. In SOLDIER, Childers weaves the story of three returning soldiers and three families. It is a hard story that is multi-layered and is not always easy to read. Having that said, however, I understand my grandfathers a lot more from reading the book. I can empathize with some of their actions after the war. This book would be a great campanion juxtaposition to the Brokaw books. As a teacher, I plan to use both books to help students really see the costs of war. Both are needed. Childers fills his book with some incredibly useful and understandable statistics that amazed me. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in what things were really like during the years after WW2.
    If you like Thomas Childers, you must check out his teaching company course that is a military and social history of the war. Especially the last lecture which tells more about the air crew and family of the Black Cat bomber. That lecture is a lot like the three books - informative, professional, personal, and thoughtful. It will leave you with questions and a deep appreciation of the American warrior and their families - who perhaps suffer the most of all. Thank you professor Childers for all of your hard work and for helping the rest of us understand the history of a very important time period.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Thomas Childers

    Outstanding read and unbelieveable what servicemen and women endure for our freedoms and our country. The youth of today have no clue what war really is all about, and the problem is they don't give a damn either. God bless our troups, past and present!

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  • Posted June 30, 2009

    Recommended for all WW II History students

    This book fills a giant hole in our understanding of WW II and its soldiers. We have all read about the men who did such heroic things in binging about the end of the war. But, we never think about what happened when they came home.
    I remember the guilt my father had because he never served. He was older, born in 1911, and had a family. He was eventually drafted to report on January 1, 1946. Nearly all his contemporaries had served in the war and he carried this "survivor/draft dodger" guilt for much of his life. I well remember his poker nights where he had a group of veterans over to play cards. He would talk about all that they had done and had sacrificed; one was a paraplegic B-29 crewman. My father suffered a very mild and different form of what these men, Childers, Allen and Gold, suffered. But even without being a veteran, his psychological problems impacted his children.
    I remember many of my friends having had problems with their fathers and having had very difficult family problems. Now, I hope I understand better what was going on.
    This book is very well written and is absolutely gripping. We all should be aware of the problems that combat veterans suffered. And we should all be aware of the problems of the veterans of our volunteer Army that serve multiple tours overseas. What aggavated problems will they experience arising from modern pre-emptive and other wars?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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