Kirkus Reviews QR Code
BEHIND THE LINES by Andrew Carroll


Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters--And One Man’s Search to Find Them

edited by Andrew Carroll

Pub Date: May 10th, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-5616-6
Publisher: Scribner

An epistolary collection by warriors and civilians involved in America’s declared and undeclared wars—from the Revolution to Iraq.

Carroll (War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, 2001) returns with another assortment of letters, e-mails and other documents, a project that sent him around the globe, from Auschwitz to the Philippines. He groups the letters thematically (Love, Combat, Humor, Civilians, Aftermath) and includes here and there what he calls a “Featured Series” on selected subtopics. Interspersed are his informative if sometimes superfluous annotations that identify the writer, supply the contexts (so many wars! so many motives for mayhem!) and, of great interest, the fates of those who composed or received the messages. His research is prodigious. Each section is generally chronological, and so we read a Dear John letter to a British soldier in WWI and, later, a poignant letter found on a fallen Iraqi soldier in Desert Storm, a letter expressing the writer’s immense love for his mother. Categorizing experiences is always somewhat arbitrary, so the grimness of combat leeches into letters of all types. Some of the details are horrifying—a dead child propped in a window as a warning, a brother re-burying his fallen sibling in 1919 and sending home a detailed description of the condition of the body. The famous are here as well as the anonymous. Mosby complains about Custer. Eddie Slovick writes to General Eisenhower to ask for clemency. Douglas MacArthur writes about a WWI memory. The vast horrors also appear—the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, 9/11, etc. Although Carroll claims to have no political agenda, he does emphasize military and civilian heroism (the quiet and the loud versions), and he does highlight religious views—and ends with a post-9/11 exchange between an Arab and a Christian that begins in acrimony and ends in harmony.

War’s horrors in the words of plain people whose lives are ever grist for the military mill. (Illustrations throughout)