Instead of the camaraderie, courage and respect emphasized by Stephen Ambrose and Tom Brokaw, Fussell focuses on the dark side of combat -- the absurdity, tragedy and horror. With considerable insight, he stresses the many costly foul-ups ("snafus"), the failures of training, communication and supply, the casualties from "friendly" as well as enemy fire, the desertion and self-inflicted wounds, and the meaning of the "deterioration" of units eroded by continuous service on the front lines.
John Whiteclay Chambers II
This short study of the U. S. Army's most burdened branch in the final campaign against Germany does not represent its National Book Award-winning author at his highest level. It focuses on the 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds who were the backbone of the infantry. They were also frequently thrust into combat after no more than four months' training, led by officers as green as themselves; Fussell himself was one of them. If wounded, they were returned to some other unit through the infamous Replacement Depot system, and altogether not treated much better than the trench fodder of WWI. Thorough research has not prevented some questionable pieces of historiography, such as leaving out the resistance the American army eventually generated in the Battle of the Bulge. Fussell also tends toward space-consuming jabs at rival schools of interpretations and even journalists as distinguished as Ernie Pyle. The focus bounces around, with mini-essays covering such non-infantry affairs as the Allied deception operation for D-Day, at the expense of material on the infantry as other than victim. For a minihistory or minibiography of the same subject, readers should stick with Stephen Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers. (On sale Sept. 9) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Have you ever noticed how war veterans--survivors of actual combat--are generally silent about their experiences? Mostly it's the peacetime soldiers and the support troops who tell the funny stories, but the guys who saw "real" combat are generally quiet about that part of their lives. There are good reasons, of course: deadly combat is gruesome and terrifying, and few want to relate experiences that would horrify the home folks. Mostly, though, it is a case of not being able to explain the unexplainable. Combat is a totally unique paradigm, and those who face their own annihilation in the jungle, the air, or far at sea simply have no language to express it. Most don't even try. Perhaps it takes someone like Paul Fussell, a poet and a literary historian and--not incidentally--a combat infantryman, to peer into the minds of those who have lived through the ultimate experiences of their lives before the age of 21. He accomplishes this simply by leading the reader through all of their defining experiences: the bewilderment of boot camp, uncertainty about their dangerous new skills, the strangeness of deployment into a combat zone, and even interacting with the first foreign citizens they have ever seen. The operative term here is new and unfamiliar situations. While this particular book keys in on the troops who fought from Normandy to the Elbe, the same factors hold true for any newly minted infantry grunt, squid, zoomie or jarhead, from any country in any war. The "fresh fish" with a rifle never really accepts that his enemy probably feels just the same. It is far too easy to pen a searing indictment of war per se, and to moralize about its harmful effects on all concerned.Showing just why this is so is quite another thing and Fussell does this superbly, without pity and without cant. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Random House, Modern Library, 184p. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
Raymond Puffer, Ph.D.
Readers should be forewarned that this book is not your normal, garden-variety memoir of World War II. In a series of essays dealing with strategy, tactics, and leadership from the landings at Normandy to the fall of Berlin, Fussell (The Great War and Human Memory), a decorated infantry officer of the European campaigns of 1944-45, comes as close to the unvarnished truth as is ever likely to see print. Beginning with a chapter titled "Boy Crusaders," Fussell describes the typical GI as 18 to 20 years old, from all types of social and educational backgrounds, taken from minimal training and thrown into ground combat of the fiercest kind. Other essays discuss the relationship and attitudes toward the French (which were not always rosy), the lost opportunity at the Falaise Gap, the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest (perhaps the western front's worst), replacements and infantry morale, the treatment of the dead and wounded, and the discovery of the concentration camps and how that changed attitudes toward the Germans. As with his longer Wartime, this work is aimed at correcting the sanitized works of "sentimental" history the war has inspired. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03]-David Lee Poremba, Detroit P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Brief, wholly memorable essays-sometimes little more than vignettes-on a season in hell. Not for literary historian and combat veteran Fussell (Veterans, 2002, etc.) all this talk of "the greatest generation" and the mawkish military romanticism that has settled on WWII: the young men, many scarcely more than boys, who fought against the formidable German enemy in places like Normandy and the Hürtgen Forest were a "reluctant draftee army," their deeds usually less heroic than desperate. Building on his fine memoir Doing Battle (1996), Fussell explores the lives and actions of those boys, "who bitched freely, but seldom cried, even when wounded." Among the themes he explores, at the length of a few pages or paragraphs, are the widespread dislike for the young Americans among British civilians, who famously complained that they were "overpaid, oversexed, and over here," and even among the liberated French, "who didn't at all appreciate the immense black market in Paris run by over two thousand American deserters"; the extraordinary, and underreported, rate of desertion among those boys, traumatized by battle settings straight out of the Grimm Brothers and the constant presence of ignoble death; the carnage of battle in places like the Falaise Pocket, where, Dwight Eisenhower recalled, "It was literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh" (to which Fussell, ever the curmudgeon, adds, "And Eisenhower is gentleman enough not to offend . . . by dwelling on the smell"); and the general insanity of war and its fighters, torn between the "quite contradictory operations" of trying to kill some people with the greatest efficiency while trying tosave others to the same high standards. Throughout, Fussell writes vividly and sardonically, sounding like the spiritual twin of Kurt Vonnegut at some points and an aggrieved Julius Caesar at others, and painting extraordinary scenes at every turn. A bracing corrective for a literature recently dominated by Ambrose, Brokaw, and other cheerleaders, and just right for a new season of war.
“This is a former warrior’s haunting meditation on the terrible, yet often necessary, destructiveness of total warfare. Written with passion and fidelity, The Boys’ Crusade is a book that will not leave you after you have put it down. If there is a more powerful personal account of the ground war in Western Europe I have yet to encounter it.” —Donald L. Miller, author of The Story of World War II
“No one writes about war with greater authenticity and eloquence than Paul Fussell. The Boys’ Crusade is an extraordinarily powerful account that is at once poignant and searing. It is a truth-telling of a very high order from one of our finest men of letters.” —Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of An Army at Dawn
“Fussell writes vividly and sardonically . . . painting extraordinary scenes at every turn. . . . A bracing corrective . . . and just right for a new season of war.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)