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Samuel Hynes - The Soldiers' Tale

This is a book about war narratives - not war as such. Even if Hynes wrote one himself.


Every war seems to have its own mood. Futility, mud and grime of the Great War, with obstinate officers with mindless military orders and men dying in droves in artillery barrages, gas attacks and mowed down by machinegun fire. The Good War of the Second World War, against atrocious Japanese and Germans and nominal alliance of Western Allies and Soviets. Cynicism and bitterness of the Vietnam War brought to people's living rooms with mass media for the first time. This is the War-in-the-mind created by memories and the popular culture. It becomes a kind of "battlefield gothic".

Of course the writers of these narratives were those who were willing (or sometimes compelled) and able to write about their wartime experiences. Most war veterans just want to forget everything and return to peacetime life because they survived.

Hynes wonders about the lack of civilian narratives. In fact, there have been thousands of them but maybe he has nott seen any. Hynes is probably limited to narratives published in the USA or in English. Maybe there has been few in the USA but there has been several elsewhere, including written by women who lived through the war. No doubt he could not ever list, not to mention read, all the war narratives there are.

In fact, it may be that some of the narratives are not published because they are not "gripping" stories of men in action. Non-combat descriptions may interest mainly the historians. Hynes also seems to forget one thing; that publishers effective control what kind of narratives are published. And they have their own intersts to maintain, political or otherwise.

Also, Hynes mentions Japanese atrocities, omits the German ones and seem to think that GIs collecting body parts of Japanese pilots is quaint. Interesting point of view.

He refers to hatred of Japanese in American soldier’s tales and mainly mentions two Japanese narratives but barely references them. Which means I may have read more than Hynes has, including some written by "stragglers" who lost contact to Japanese military after the war and continued to fight. I think at least the memoirs of the fighter ace Saburo Sakai should have been available.

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