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.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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
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.