An Intimate History of Killing: Face-To-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare

An Intimate History of Killing: Face-To-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare

An Intimate History of Killing: Face-To-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare

An Intimate History of Killing: Face-To-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare

Synopsis

Presents an unromanticized and chilling look at men at war, and revises many long-held beliefs about the nature of violence and the behavior of soldiers. Asks what kind of men make the best killers, and how soldiers cope with the horrors they witness and the atrocities they are ordered to commit. Material is drawn from letters, diaries, and reports of veterans of the two world wars and the Vietnam War. Combatants in these wars share their experiences of killing and reveal themselves as individuals transformed by conflicting emotions. Includes b&w historical photos.

Excerpt

The characteristic act of men at war is not dying, it is killing. For politicians, military strategists, and many historians, war may be about the conquest of territory or the struggle to recover a sense of national honour but for the man on active service warfare is concerned with the lawful killing of other people. Its peculiar importance derives from the fact that it is not murder, but sanctioned blood-letting, legislated for by the highest civil authorities and obtaining the consent of the vast majority of the population. In the twentieth century, the two world wars and the Vietnam War bloodied the hands and consciences of thousands of British, American, and Australian men and women. In this book, the combatants share their fantasies and experiences of intimate killing and, in the process, reveal themselves as individuals transformed by a range of conflicting emotions—fear as well as empathy, rage as well as exhilaration. These men surrender to irrational although sincere moral outrage, embrace the idea of agency, find relief in agonizing guilt, and attempt to negotiate pleasure within a landscape of extreme violence.

I have chosen to focus on the First World War, the Second World War, and the Vietnam War as three of the most influential conflicts this century. Other wars, of course, have destroyed millions of lives, but none were as terrible and as decisive as these three wars for British, American, and Australian servicemen and civilians alike.

With bitter humour, a military padre in France during the First World War stated the most obvious fact of all: 'The soldier's business is to kill the enemy ...' he preached, 'and he only tries to avoid . . .

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