Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War

By Paul Fussell | Go to book overview

Circulated to units. So at least that ills-omened flight was part of the Allied war effort, and on the credit side-- except for those poor buggers who just stood there and died.22


4
Rumors of War

A world in which such blunders are more common than usual will require large amounts of artful narrative to confer purpose, meaning, and dignity on events actually discrete and contingent. During moments when clear explanations of purpose and significance seem especially unavailable--as in "What did the pilot think he was doing?" or "What are we doing here?"--demotic social narrative and prophecy flourish as compensations. During wartime there seems less need for high narrative, like sophisticated romance or novel, than low. Folk-narrative (or officially generated pseudo-folk-narrative) blossoms on all sides. The most common form of folk-narrative is the dirty joke. It survives abundantly in war- time, but it is joined by such psychologically useful forms as the myth of military heroism and the compensatory rumor.

Widely believed in the dark days of 1942, when America required relief after all the narratives about surrenders and sinkings and retreats, was the story of Air Corps Captain Colin P. Kelly. He is said to have immolated himself in the early days of the war by dropping a bomb, with the customary early-in-the-war precision, down the main stack of the Japanese battleship Haruna, and then, after ordering his crew to bail out, crashing his bomber into the foundering warship. (By the time of the kamikazes, this myth had to be forgotten, lest the kamikaze pilots be considered heroes rather than madmen.) Actually, what Kelly damaged was not a battleship but a barely armed troop transport which did not sink, and he was killed not then but later, when a Japanese fighter jumped his

-35-

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Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Other Books by Paul Fussell *
  • Title Page iii
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xi
  • 1: From Light to Heavy Duty 3
  • 2: "Precision Bombing Will Win the War" 13
  • 3: Someone Had Blundered 19
  • 4 - Rumors of Wa 35
  • 5 - School of the Soldier 52
  • 6 - Unread Books on a Shelf 66
  • 7 - Chickenshit, an Anatomy 79
  • 8 - Drinking Far Too Much, Copulating Too Little 96
  • 9 - Type-Casting 115
  • 10: The Ideological Vacuum 129
  • 11: Accentuate the Positive 143
  • 12: High-mindedness 164
  • 13: With One Voice 180
  • 14 - Deprivation 195
  • 15 - Compensation 207
  • 16 - Reading in Wartime 228
  • 17 - Fresh Idiom 251
  • 18: The Real War Will Never Get in the Books" 267
  • Notes 299
  • Index 321
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