G.I.: The American Soldiers in World War II by Lee Kennett

G.I.: The American Soldiers in World War II

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lively, anecdotal overview that tracks America's citizen soldiers from their pre-WW II registration under the Selective Service Act through to occupation duty and discharge. Focusing on the infantry's enlisted ranks, Kennett (history/Georgia) observes that, even though local draft boards ""were constituted with little concern for what today is called minority representation,"" the GI (government issue) Army became (with an assist from the choosier Navy) ""an ethnic and cultural potpourri."" He shows nonetheless that GIs shared many traits (including a mocking mistrust of authority), mainly because they tended to remain civilians at heart. Using military archives, contemporary newspaper accounts (including excerpts from Yank and Stars & Stripes), memoirs, letters home, and related source material, Kennett offers a series of vivid vignettes that bring to life the conscript experience--in training camp, aboard ship, and on foreign battlefields. By the numbers, most GIs had rear-echelon billets; scarcely 750,000 of the 3-million-odd troops shipped to Europe, for example, served in units that saw action for any length of time. Consequently, combat veterans emerged as the elite. Generally speaking, the author reports, GIs did not hold the French and Italians they helped liberate in high regard (owing in part to different standards of personal hygiene). The conquered Germans were quite another story, though, and officialdom achieved only limited success in curbing socioeconomic and sexual relations. (General Patton's Solomonic solution: ""Copulation without conversation is not fraternization."") In the Pacific, where no-quarter campaigns were waged with genuine racial animus, such questions were largely moot. Once the Axis powers were defeated, GIs figured their job was done; few, then, had patience for anything but getting home and out of uniform. Under pressure from the public and its soldiers, the Army permitted point-based demobilization to proceed apace. By mid-1946, barely 2 million men remained on the rolls, about one-quarter the year-earlier force. ""Pentagon planners,"" Kennett recounts, ""shook their heads at the precipitate haste with which the nation was liquidating its military might."" For veterans and others old enough to have lived through WW II, Kennett's fast-paced narrative will revive many memories; for younger readers, the text provides an excellent and evocative introduction to what many doubtless regard as ancient history. There are 16 pages of black-and-white photographs (not seen).

Pub Date: March 30th, 1987
Publisher: Scribners