The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to a Modern War

The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to a Modern War

by Samuel Hynes
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

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

Overview

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.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Surveying the war writings of 20th-century Britons and Americans, Hynes (The First World War and English Culture) offers a convincing analysis of war narratives as combining elements of travel writing, autobiography and history in a context of experiences that involve exile from the subject's "real" life. Strangeness, he finds, is the principal constant of war narratives. War is alien to everyday experience, for death is war's essential point. At the same time, he finds that memories of war incorporate an affirmation of having been there. War expands the limits of the possible. It offers an intensity unmatched in ordinary life, and its hardships are overshadowed by its drama. Hynes recognizes that his focus on literary sources privileges the middle-class voice. His justification-that the bourgeois experience is the modern focal point of self-analysis and self-recording-isn't entirely persuasive. Many of his conclusions, moreover, replicate those of Glenn Gray's The Warriors. Still, he makes an honorable contribution to the literature on the complex subject of men's motives for accepting war's physical and psychological demands.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Surveying the war writings of 20th-century Britons and Americans, Hynes (The First World War and English Culture) offers a convincing analysis of war narratives as combining elements of travel writing, autobiography and history in a context of experiences that involve exile from the subject's "real" life. Strangeness, he finds, is the principal constant of war narratives. War is alien to everyday experience, for death is war's essential point. At the same time, he finds that memories of war incorporate an affirmation of having been there. War expands the limits of the possible. It offers an intensity unmatched in ordinary life, and its hardships are overshadowed by its drama. Hynes recognizes that his focus on literary sources privileges the middle-class voice. His justification-that the bourgeois experience is the modern focal point of self-analysis and self-recording-isn't entirely persuasive. Many of his conclusions, moreover, replicate those of Glenn Gray's The Warriors. Still, he makes an honorable contribution to the literature on the complex subject of men's motives for accepting war's physical and psychological demands. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Former U.S. Marine aviator Hynes (A War Imagined, Macmillan, 1992) has writen a fascinating book on the evolution of the war narrative. Documenting his study from the combat journals, memoirs, and wartime correspondence of men who participated in World Wars I (e.g., Edmund Blunden's Undertones of War; Robert Graves's Good-bye to All That) and II (D.M. Crook's Spitfire Pilot, Richard Hillary's The Last Enemy) and the Vietnam conflict (Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July, Robert Mason's Chickenhawk), Hynes explores the veterans' front-line experiences and reveals how the conduct of war has changed in the 20th century. As readers are guided through a plethora of soldiers' tales, they are struck by the strangeness of the warriors' existence, especially the ubiquitous presence of death in all of its grotesque and even darkly humorous manifestations. Finally, the author treats the innocents of global and limited war (Robert Searle's To the Kwai and Back, Elie Wiesel's Night). His work is at once terrifying and compelling. Recommended for academic libraries and military collections.-John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
Kirkus Reviews
Powerful meditations on the experience of modern war.

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.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101191729
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/01/1998
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
637,024
File size:
0 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >