The Military Uses of Literature: Fiction and the Armed Forces in the Soviet Union

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Mark T. Hooker. The Military Uses of Literature: Fiction and the Armed Forces in the Soviet Union. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996. x, 242 pp. Annotated Bibliography and Anthologies. Index. $59.95, cloth..

Soviet military fiction in many ways showed a world in black and white with clearly defined enemies and heroes. Mark Hooker's The Military Uses of Literature analyses how that world came into being and how it later tried to deal with real problems by offering socialist realist solutions. It appears that every turn any impulse to write the "truth from the trenches" was seen as unacceptable and ideologically damaging to recruits and potential recruits. Instead, military literature was needed to reassure readers in the face of change and hardship.

Apparently, it was quite difficult to write military fiction that satisfied the leaders of the armed forces. Hooker's book is filled with examples of works that somehow did not measure up to the exacting standards set by the central authorities. It seemed particularly taxing to produce literature about the peace-time military so the genre was frequently criticized for dwelling on past conflicts and not providing positive heroes who are capable of managing the technology of today. The only way to make peace-time service heroic was to include traffic accidents, fire-fighting, rescuing drowning people, and bad weather part of the narrative. Hooker illustrates his points so well with examples drawn from the texts that he persuasively demonstrates how formulaic such devices became. In the end, the various accidents became as cliched as the treatment of combat in the Civil War and World War II.

The socialist realist solutions that were adopted to address very real problems are most effectively described in Hooker's section on spousal relations. Marriage was supposed to make soldiers of all ranks more stable. But with remote postings and rudimentary housing, it was hardly an ideal situation. Military fiction responded by presenting a host of positive heroines who were socially active and obtained jobs in the surrounding area whenever possible. In instances where wives were not quite so cheerful, political officers were encouraged to intervene when a disgruntled wife's behaviour affected her husband's performance at work. …