THE GOOD WAR by Studs Terkel
Kirkus Star

THE GOOD WAR

An Oral History Of World War Ii

KIRKUS REVIEW

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. 11th, 1984
ISBN: 1565843436
Page count: 612pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1984




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