THE GOOD WAR

AN ORAL HISTORY OF WORLD WAR II

In World War II memories, Terkel has found a great, untold story—with fore-shadowings of Vietnam and aftershocks of atomic warfare. Terkel explains the title, matter-of-factly, as the Vietnam, nuclear-war contrast; the testimony—even from those whose lives peaked in WW II—exposes the irony of the phrase. First witness is "Hawaiian"-Californian John Garcia: in December 1941, as a pipefitter apprentice at Pearl Harbor, he retrieved live and dead bodies from the water and hulls; his girlfriend was killed by misfired American shells, he petitioned FDR to get into service, then was asked his race (great-grandparents?) and, as "Caucasian," separated from "the other Hawaiians"; on Okinawa, "I'd get up each day and start drinking. . . . They would show us movies. Japanese women didn't cry. They accepted the ashes stoically. I knew different. They went home and cried." In that same lead-off section appear the Nisei, uprooted and interned; a child-witness to, and a-participant in, the hysteria; an American-born Japanese, trapped in Japan on a visit. One of the last sections has to do with the Bomb. In an Indiana farm kitchen, Terkel talks with Bill Harney, radar operator on the plane that bombed Nagasaki. In a New York hotel lobby, he talks to Marnie Seymour who, with her husband, worked at Oak Ridge. "Out of the eighteen couples at the motel we lived in, most have never been able to have children. We are rather fortunate. We have four children. Two have birth defects." (Later, living in "very swish" New Canaan, she'd see the Hiroshima Maidens, brought over by Norman Cousins, at the supermarket.) There are several things to be said about Terkel, and his material. He has sought out people with real, unpredictable, history-brushing (sometimes history-revising) stories—but also persons whose experiences could be called typical, who become archetypal (like Chicago business executive Robert Ramos, "the skinny nineteen-year-old kid who's gonna prove that he can measure up"). He has a light intermix, too, of onlookers and leaders—yielding comments from both Pauline Kael and a retired admiral on the vacuousness of WW II films (but contrast, as well, between Kael's approval of The Clock and a war bride's contempt). He doesn't, however, construct his groupings mechanically, to make obvious points: blacks, for instance, turn up everywhere; under the rubric "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" we hear only from Marine Andrews; pronouncements on Vietnam differ, one after another Pacific veteran attests to gratitude for the Bomb. What is inescapable, though, is the recognition of war as brutal, and brutalizing; the reservations about "the Good War" utterable only in Vietnam-and-after retrospect.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 1984

ISBN: 1565843436

Page Count: 612

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1984

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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