The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to a Modern Warby Samuel Hynes
The story of modern wars as told by the men who did the actual fighting. Hynes examines the journals, memoirs, and letters of men who fought in the two World Wars and in Vietnam, and also the wars fought against the weak and helpless in concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps, and bombed cities. Interweaving his own reflections on war with brilliantly chosen… See more details below
The story of modern wars as told by the men who did the actual fighting. Hynes examines the journals, memoirs, and letters of men who fought in the two World Wars and in Vietnam, and also the wars fought against the weak and helpless in concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps, and bombed cities. Interweaving his own reflections on war with brilliantly chosen passages from soldiers? accounts, he offers vivid answers to the question we all ask of men who have fought: What was it like? In these powerful pages the experiences of modern war, which seem unimaginable to those who weren?t there, become comprehensible and real. The wide range of writers examined includes both famous literary memoirists like Robert Graves, Tim O?Brien, and Elie Wiesel, and unknown soldiers who wrote only their war stories. Using these testimonies, Hynes considers each war in terms of its special circumstances and its effects on men who fought. His understanding of the psychology of warfare--and of each war?s role in history--gives this study its intellectual authority; the voices of the men who were there, and wrote about what they saw and felt, give it its powerful dramatic impact.
Hynes, a Marine pilot in WW II, now professor emeritus at Princeton (A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture, 1991, etc.) uses primary sources, including the letters, memoirs, and diaries of soldiers, to identify what the experience of war is for those who actually fight it and how modern warfare has evolved. "It's easy," Hynes says, "to see why men remember their wars. For most men who fight, war is their one contact with the world of great doings." Despite war's horrors, the prospect of excitement and great danger have always driven young men to volunteer. The romance, however, has been considerably diminished in this century. Some 25 million soldiers are believed to have died in the two world wars. It wasn't only the scale of the slaughter that made modern war seem a very grim business. War has come to depend heavily on massive, lethal technology: Beginning in WW I, men were maimed or killed in shocking numbers without ever seeing an enemy. The scale of bloodshed bred disillusionment with war. And while WW II was the "Good War," in which the fighting men were united in a crusade to destroy the evil Axis, it still seemed to most soldiers a sad, wasteful thing. Drawing on interviews and memoirs, Hynes stresses the ways in which the experience of soldiers in Vietnam marked a further departure from the image of war as adventure. Ill-trained draftees, drawn largely from the working class, served one-year tours. Unlike soldiers in previous wars, those in Vietnam felt particularly isolated: Their goals were unclear, their officers, they believed, misled them, and some Americans vilified them. The result, Hynes writes, was "a national postwar hangover" that "is not cured yet."
A potent book with insights into human behavior under the severe stress of battle, which historians, politicians, and rear- echelon staff officers often ignore or misread.
- Penguin Publishing Group
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- 18 Years
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