Sunday, March 14, 2010

War Novels, etc.

Another sidetrack from western writing, although it's somewhat similar, are war novels, and in high school after WWII, I was introduced to All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a novel of WWI, by an English teacher who had a leaning toward non-violence and anti-war politics. All Quiet was the "epic" war novel of anti-war people as she explained it to us and we should read it to gain knowledge of what war is really like, i.e., death and destruction. She could have taught us about the American Civil War, but she chose this book for some reason. I thought at the time there were plenty of examples of anti-war literature having just gone through WWII fighting the Germans and the Japs, and she chose a novel by a German to explain the terror of war. Were we being brainwashed, or what? Well, I don't think so. I think it was just the publicity about his book, Arch of Triumph, in 1945 and all the recognition it received and the teacher latched on to him as an author to proclaim her dislike of WAR. I never read either book while I was in high school, although I began reading All Quiet, but never finished it. I read Arch later on.

Leon Uris wrote Battle Cry, a novel of the U. S.Marines in the Pacific in WWII, which I read and enjoyed, and could have been used by the teacher if it had been available. It wasn't published until the 50's and made into an entertaining movie for which Uris wrote the screenplay. He also wrote Trinity and Exodus, all three best-sellers. Uris enlised in the Marines and was on Guadalcanal and Tarawa, both bloody battles, and in New Zealand serving as a radioman. I wonder if he talked much with the Navajo Code Talkers.

Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was another good or even great novel of WWII, listed on the hundred great novels list of the Modern Library. I think I was still in high school when I read this and didn't understand all the military terminology and stuff that went on in his descriptions, but it was a great intro to his writing. Wikipedia said Mailer was in the Army in the Philippines during the war, but didn't see much combat.
Whatever, the book is a good read.

From Here to Eternity, by James Jones, was a long, great story of a few soldiers in Pearl Harbor before the war started and was made into a good movie as about everyone knows by now. He also wrote The Thin Red Line about his Guadalcanal experience. I read Eternity while I was stationed at Pearl in '50-'52 and thoroughly enjoyed it, since I was well acquainted with Oahu and was familiar with the locations he wrote about when the book came out. He was also in the battle for Guadalcanal in the Army.

The "etc." in the Title heading is for Guadalcanal Diary a non-fiction book by Richard Tregaskis. This is his memoir of his months as a journalist with the Marines on Guadalcanal during WWII. It is so realistic an account of modern warfare in the jungles that it it is still required reading for USMC officer candidates (according to Wikipedia). It was made into a movie starring William Bendix, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, and John Archer. The movie was widely used for propaganda against the Japanese as I remember since it came out in 1943.

If you are interested in war stories, these are some of the best. (More info can be found on Wikipedia regarding the authors and books.)


  1. All very fine novels. I just finished A FAREWELL TO ARMS, which I would (if you don't mind:) add to your list. Damn, THE NAKED AND THE DEAD. Now that's some powerful writing.

  2. FAREWELL, about WWI by Hemingway, is a great addition to the list. Mailer's book was written with a three-letter word instead of the usual four, e.g, fug, because of the threat of censorship as I recall. Times have changed.