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on 26 January 1999
One of your other reviewers suggests that this book nicely complements the film "Saving Private Ryan." I'm sure that its author would take exception to this characterization. What Fussell's book does so brilliantly--and courageously--is to undermine the very ethic of sacrificial heroism by which SPR, for all its lip service to the "horror" of war, is massively informed. If you want to compare Fussell's book to a film, the only appropriate one is "Catch-22," the greatest of modern anti-war films, informed by the kind of irony that Fussell values and in his own work exemplifies. I, in fact, am assigning Fussell's text in my university English course, "Modern War and Modern Irony," reading it along side Heller's novel, Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," and Josef Skovecky's "The Republic of Whores." THAT's the company with which Fussell would be most comfortable, not with Spielberg.
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on 26 August 1999
I want to disagree with the three previous reviews, to defend Fussell's project. One reviewer seems to be confusing "Wartime" with Fussell's memoir "Doing Battle." The former is not intended as a memoir but as an alternate history--an alternative to the kind of history represented by a book recommended by another of the reviewers, i.e.,, Stephen Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers." If Ambrose's book can be seen as a companion to Spielberg's romantic (and therefore disappointing) "Saving Private Ryan," then "Wartime" is parallel to--in fact is clearly inspired by--Heller's satirical "Catch-22." What Fussell and Heller have in common is that they both reject absolutely the work of the apologists of war--a category into which all three of these reviewers probably fit. What the reviewer who labels Fussell's book "unadulterated junk" seems to object to most is that Fussell, by training a literary critic, should have the presumption to write HISTORY. The reviewer suggests that, instead of reading Fussell, one should read anti-war novels, including Heller's "Catch-22." Here's what Heller had to say about Fussell's book: "No novel I have read surpasses its depiction of the awful human costs to all sides of modern warfare. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it is unforgettable" (jacket blurb). What these reviewers find unFORGIVEable is that Mr. Fussell has, in writing this book, stepped outside the established conventions of historiography--that is why a book that to Heller and to me (another of those blasted literary types--YUCK!) is eminently readable appears to them "confused." They haven't yet learned how to read the sort of history Fussell is writing. It is THEY who are confused, not Fussell. I suspect these reviewers would prefer the sort of history written by Kurt Vonnegut's Bertram Copeland Rumfoord. And Rumfoord's attitude toward Billy Pilgrim, whose very existence problematizes Rumfoord's "official" history of the bombing of Dresden, rather nicely parallels that of these three reviewers toward Fussell: "It was difficult for Rumfoord to take Billy seriously, since Rumfoord had so long considered Billy a repulsive non-person who would be better off dead. Now, with Billy speaking clearly and to the point, Rumfoord's ears wanted to treat the words as a foreign language that was not worth learning" ("Slaughterhouse Five"). The language Fussell is speaking is well worth learning. These reviewers should take a lesson.
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on 26 August 1999
I want to disagree with the three previous reviews, to defend Fussell's vision. One reviewer seems to be confusing "Wartime" with Fussell's memoir "Doing Battle." The former is not intended as a memoir but as an alternate history--an alternative to the kind of history represented by a book recommended by another of the reviewers, i.e.,, Stephen Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers." If Ambrose's book can be seen as a companion to Spielberg's romantic (and therefore disappointing) "Saving Private Ryan," then "Wartime" is parallel to--in fact is clearly inspired by--Heller's satirical "Catch-22." What Fussell and Heller have in common is that they both reject absolutely the work of the apologists of war--a category into which all three of these reviewers probably fit. What the reviewer who labels Fussell's book "unadulterated junk" seems to object to most is that Fussell, by training a literary critic, should have the presumption to write HISTORY. The reviewer suggests that, instead of reading Fussell, one should read anti-war novels, including Heller's "Catch-22." Here's what Heller had to say about Fussell's book: "No novel I have read surpasses its depiction of the awful human costs to all sides of modern warfare. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it is unforgettable." What these reviewers find unFORGIVEable is that Mr. Fussell has, in writing this book, stepped outside the established conventions of historiography--that is why a book that to Heller and to me (another of those blasted literary types--YUCK!) is eminently readable appears to them "confused." They haven't yet learned how to read the sort of history Fussell is writing. THEY are confused, not Fussell. I suspect these reviewers would prefer the sort of history written by Kurt Vonnegut's Bertram Copeland Rumfoord. And Rumfoord's attitude toward Billy Pilgrim, whose very existence problematizes Rumfoord's "official" history of the bombing of Dresden, rather nicely parallels that of these three reviewers toward Fussell: "It was difficult for Rumfoord to take Billy seriously, since Rumfoord had so long considered Billy a repulsive non-person who would be better off dead. Now, with Billy speaking clearly and to the point, Rumfoord's ears wanted to treat the words as a foreign language that was not worth learning" ("Slaughterhouse Five", pp. 191-92). The language Fussell is speaking is well worth learning. These reviewers should take a lesson.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 18 September 2015
Paul Fussell's 'The Great War and Modern Memory' is a classic and a seminal work in the history of WW1, so I was keen to read his take on WW2, a war he himself participated in as a young soldier. This book doesn't take the same approach - whereas 'Modern Memory' focused on how we have to come to remember WW1 through the prism of its literature, this book looks at the impact of WW2 on soldiers and civilians and how it shaped their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and actions.

Through chapters on rumours, rules and regulations, dehumanisation of the enemy, rationing and deprivation, censorship and deliberate sentimentalism, he largely undermines the myth of the 'Good War'. We have come to remember WW2 as in some ways as opposite to the earlier WW1 - where that was a pointless slaughter, WW2 was supposedly a war with purpose, a war for a cause, in which everyone participated whole-heartedly, no-one complained or grumbled, and everyone exhibited to varying degrees the 'Blitz Spirit'. Not so, Fussell argues - there was every bit as much fear and cowardice and chickenshit regulations and petty-minded bureaucracy and boredom as any war in history, perhaps even more so.

Whilst not having perhaps the same impact as 'Modern Memory', this book is as important to the history of WW2 as that book was to the first. It serves as the flipside to almost all of those WW2 histories that rarely mention the individual soldier as anything more than an anonymous number, where armies and divisions and battalions move almost without any human intervention, and lives are just numbers on a page. An excellent book.
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on 15 December 1998
I began this book not having any previous knowledge of Paul Fussell, save one essay of his that I had read for an English class, and was immediately astounded by the detail and accuracy with which he made his case. His anger and sarcasm towards the government and their stupidity and even towards the American public who, removed from the war, had the wool draw over their eyes completely. Fussell really makes the reader see his point and the complete effect is disturbing and heartwrenching.
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on 23 August 1998
Perfect accessory to Saving Private Ryan. This is a compelling story of the stupidity and violence of war (by someone who was there, in very much the same position as Captain Miller in SPR) as well as intelligent insight into the politics, brainwashing, and marketing that go into any nation's attempt to keep the population positively motivated toward the war effort. I read this book first just as the Gulf War was starting, and was reminded of its value by Speilberg's movie. The best book on war I've ever read.
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on 27 July 1996
The book did what I want a book to do. It made sense; It was funny, readable, troubling and it sent me back to the drawing board. Fussell, a witness to the war from the blunt end, undid my thinking about WWII and presented a recognizable alternative: insensate, incommunicable savagery and disaster. These essays rank with the best parts of William Manchester's Goodbye Darkness. I'm left doubting anything good came from the war, except perhaps these writers' thoughts.
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on 29 July 1998
I first encountered Fussell as the author of CLASS, one of my favorite books. I wondered, though, if Fussell was simply a detached, cynical observer of humanity, too removed from it for his observations to have any import apart from their entertainment value. Reading WARTIME relieved me of such doubts. WARTIME is a fiercely personal, engaged and engaging book. One feels priveleged to encounter such thoughts as Fussell's on WWII.
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on 12 June 1998
Fussell has given us a breath of fresh air in the plethora of World War II literature. Anyone seeking a balanced view of that most important period would be well served by reading this book, which, inter alia, emphasizes the horrors not just of war itself, but of the ineptitude at all levels of society. A good tonic for the all the "feel good" writing about the era.
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on 17 June 1999
Fussell's at it again; full of spleen and sarcasm and rarin' to bash holes in the soggiest paper bag he can find. This time he's going to "balance the scales" against the "sanitized" and "romanticized" Allied effort in WWII. It'll take a massive dose of literary Viagra to keep you up for this one.
For grins, this book takes up 330 pages to inform us that war is, uh, "hell." Thanks, Dr. Fussell. We all see much more clearly now. And guess what? The US government spewed out lots of propaganda. Gee. Really? And they lied about the efficacy of their weapons? No way! And thousands of people were killed by "friendly fire"? Get outta here! And America's intellectual life suffered, too (Europeans don't laugh!).
Fussy Fussell's commentary would have been fresh in, say, 1946. But anyone who has read even the sanitized versions of D-Day, of Guadalcanal, of Okinawa, of the Battle of the Bulge, not to mention the death camps, POW camps, the war between Japan and China, etc., etc. knows that it was not an exercise in rational behavior and that soldiers frequently returned with a part or two missing, a screw or four loose, or not at all. With a good half century of scholarship, of memoirs, of literature, of film between the war and this book, it assumes proportions of indescribable irrelevance; forgivable (almost) if not for the good doctor's unsufferable arrogance. The Good Soldier Svejk, All Quiet, Catch .22 and Slaughterhouse 5 exceed anything Fussell can even begin to attempt in terms of reducing wartime in the flesh to peacetime on paper.
But it gets better: the book's main argument is that war is unjustifiably, irrationally insane. No argument there, Doc. This doesn't quite mesh, though, with a previous essay of Fussell's, "Thank God for the Atom Bomb," in which he describes as rational and defensible the very logic he deplores as senseless in "Wartime." In the essay, the bomb was justified because it ended the war and got American soldiers safely back home. In the book, fighting a war for this purpose is described as nonsense. In debate we used to call this a contradiction. I wonder what Fussell calls it?
The book contains odd chapters: one details the lack of a coherent ideology (are ideologies ever coherent?), another details the obsession with "high mindedness," which, as you read, you discover is another word for "ideology." Huh?
Chapter 15 is a barbarically dull condensation of a British literary magazine published during the war. This technique surfaces throughout: lengthy plot treatments of other works to fill pages that, if left to Fussell's insights and experiences, would remain blank. A particular favorite is Eugene Sledge's book about Marine Corps actions in Pelelieu and Okinawa. In addition to using some of the same passages in both "Wartime" and "Thank God for the A-Bomb," Fussell waxes poetic: this book is "one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war." Snag a copy of that book and have a read; it'll tell you all you need to know about Fussell's criteria for good writing.
And of course nowhere does Fussell discuss any of the rational, intellectual alternatives facing the US after Pearl Harbor. Nor does he take his "scathing critique" to its logical conclusion: that in the face of war's insanity, we should have shrugged off Hitler and Tojo, and played Quaker. Most hypocritical of all, he pretends that he and his class (whitey, Harvard snots) have not benefitted directly from the war. Royalties of the book are not being donated to German or Japanese war victims, we can be sure.
The "crazy war" argument doesn't wash abroad, either. Ask the Normans how they felt about D-Day; it's still the only area in France where you can say "American" and not be automatically held in contempt. Ask the Japanese, who now live under institutions much more democratic than the serfdom of the early Showa era. And finally, of course, ask Fussell: when, as a literary expert, are you going to give us some literature?
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