Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE SOLDIERS' TALE by Samuel Hynes


Bearing Witness to Modern War

by Samuel Hynes

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-86585-0
Publisher: Viking

Powerful meditations on the experience of modern war. Hynes, a Marine pilot in WW II, now professor emeritus at Princeton (A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture, 1991, etc.) uses primary sources, including the letters, memoirs, and diaries of soldiers, to identify what the experience of war is for those who actually fight it and how modern warfare has evolved. "It's easy," Hynes says, "to see why men remember their wars. For most men who fight, war is their one contact with the world of great doings." Despite war's horrors, the prospect of excitement and great danger have always driven young men to volunteer. The romance, however, has been considerably diminished in this century. Some 25 million soldiers are believed to have died in the two world wars. It wasn't only the scale of the slaughter that made modern war seem a very grim business. War has come to depend heavily on massive, lethal technology: Beginning in WW I, men were maimed or killed in shocking numbers without ever seeing an enemy. The scale of bloodshed bred disillusionment with war. And while WW II was the "Good War," in which the fighting men were united in a crusade to destroy the evil Axis, it still seemed to most soldiers a sad, wasteful thing. Drawing on interviews and memoirs, Hynes stresses the ways in which the experience of soldiers in Vietnam marked a further departure born the image of war as adventure. Ill-trained draftees, drawn largely from the working class, served one-year tours. Unlike soldiers in previous wars, those in Vietnam felt particularly isolated: Their goals were unclear, their officers, they believed, misled them, and some Americans vilified them. The result, Hynes writes, was "a national postwar hangover" that "is not cured yet." A potent book with insights into human behavior under the severe stress of battle, which historians, politicians, and rear-echelon staff officers often ignore or misread.