Sunday, June 10, 2012

'Wartime', by Paul Fussell

After the previous post on the subject, I've been making my way through Paul Fussell's book on World War II, 'Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War'.

Like his essay on the same subject, it's very eye-opening.

On the tendency of bomber crews to place enormous importance on medallions and other tokens of luck:
In a world whose behavior seems to define it as nothing but mad, "You cannot call the things that happen to bomber crews superstition." In the midst of calmly committed mass murder, reliance on amulets will seem about the most reasonable thing around. 
On the frequent indignities suffered by soldiers at the hands of their own officers, a concept that Fussell describes as 'chickens***':
'I joined the army to fight facsim', says [a British soldier], 'only to find the army full of fascists.'
On the German understanding of why, just because they were fighting the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, they wanted to invade Europe as well:
Few in Germany had any idea why the Americans had invaded Europe. One German officer could conclude only, as he told his interrogator, that they had attacked the Reich "in order to save Churchill and the Jews". 
On the reputation of the Italian army:
This myth of Italian military haplessness served a useful psychological function in the Second World War, helping secretly to define what Allied soldiers wanted the "enemy" universally to be - pacifists, dandies, sensitive and civilized non-idealogues, even clowns. The antithesis of committed, fanatic National Socialists. At the same time the Italians could serve as the definition of incompetence, fraudulence, and cowardice: no one really wanted to be like them to be sure, but how everyone wished it were possible! The world was laughing at Italy, and yet the Italians were sensibly declining to be murdered. The Allied soldier couldn't help wondering that if contempt and ridicule are the price of staying alive, perhaps the price is worth paying.  
Interesting stuff indeed.

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