Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Nation Forged in War Update

The full Spring 2010 University of Tennessee Press catalog is now out. You can download and distribute the pdf from here.

No link yet on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. So here's a preview from the start of chapter 3, "Introduction to the Army":
They came by the millions--men and boys, married and unmarried, fathers and the childless; those who had worked long on professional careers, those who labored in fields and factories, and many who had just finished school. They believed in God, went to church or synagogue, or had little use for religion. The tall and the short came, the skinny and stocky, the strong and the weak, with blond, brown, and red hair, or no hair at all. They were the average American soldier in World War II.

Such a diverse group of people defied generalizations. They could not even agree on whether or how much they wanted to be there. Millions volunteered, but most came by way of the draft. Some resented the call to military service, which had disrupted their family lives or career paths. Others questioned the cause itself. One such man wondered, “Is this really my war? For whose benefit do I suffer? . . . For whom or what are we wasting our lives and bodies?” Then there were those who, for a variety of reasons, could not be more happy to join. The army gave such men the chance to escape their prewar lives. A child of immigrants in the inner city recalled, “When World War II broke out, I was delighted. There was no other word, terrible as it may sound. My country called. I was delivered from my mother, my family, the girl I was loving passionately but did not love. And delivered without guilt. Heroically.” Others looked to military service as a way to put food on the table. A transient during the Depression said, “When the war came, I was so glad when I got into the army. I knew I was safe. I put a uniform on.... I had money comin’, I had food comin’.” For most of the men, though, there was a feeling that they had some sort of duty to serve, yet very few could or would put words to that feeling. Leonard Herb explained that “at twenty one you’re not very up on those things.” Yet something pulled at them. “Everybody had to go,” Herb continued, “and so you could see that it was a necessity, so everybody did it more or less willingly.”

More or less willingly, twelve million of these Americans served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and the diversity of their reactions to the call to service was an indication of just how different they all were. They came from all over the country and from all different economic backgrounds. They represented the full range of the country’s ethnicities and religions, and they harbored the full range of the country’s prejudices and misunderstandings. Yet common threads ran through their experiences in the army because that was what the army did. The army needed, the war required, that soldiers find at some level what united them. So when it came to getting the men to basic training, the army did not care whether they wanted to be there or what sense of duty had delivered them to the service. When it came to making soldiers out of the recruits, the army did not particularly care about the men’s economic, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. And when it came to making an army out of those soldiers, the army certainly did not care about all of the men’s personal anxieties or stories. In World War II, men from a freewheeling diverse society met a rigidly uniform institution. It was a great shock, and it had a profound effect.
UPDATE: Barnes & Noble has it here. Don't order it yet--you should be able to get it for under $30 once they have it in stock.

UPDATE 2: Amazon has it now.

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