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2 Accounts of World War 2

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Essay title: 2 Accounts of World War 2

Matthew Terhune



Fussell believes that the soldier of world war two, "suffers so deeply from contempt and damage to his selfhood, from absurdity and boredom and chickenshit, that some anodyne is necessary", and that the anodyne of choice was alcohol. I would argue that Fussell is correct, especially regarding the connection between the absurdity of the war and the associated damage to soldiers image of themselves as good and patriotic, and the use of alcohol to block out the reality of the war. I think this connection is evident in the interviews presented in Terkel's "The Good War", especially those of John Garcia and Eddie Costello.

John Garcia's sense of the absurdity of the war is particularly keen. It is first evident to him in a request to board a battleship with fires near the ammunition. He refuses, but escapes punishment because of his role in rescuing people from the water. This same value for human life and knowledge of the futility with which it was often lost in the war pervades his story. He recounts a man being killed by friendly fire after lighting a cigarette, the death of his girlfriend from American artillery shells fired at planes, and the Japanese woman and child he shot in the pacific. John is eager to fight in the war at first, taking a cut in wages and even petitioning the president to be allowed to serve. This patriotism is replaced by a sense of guilt and fear once he must actually kill people. He thinks he committed murder when he shot the Japanese woman and child, and is haunted by the grief of the families of the soldiers he kills. He says he drank because it was the only way he could overcome the guilt and kill someone. Once the war was over he no longer needed alcohol and stopped drinking, but a permanent change in his view of himself and warfare is evident. He is still continually troubled in his dreams by the woman and child he shot, and while he was initially eager to join the war, he refused to use violence as a policeman afterwards and thinks that if countries are going to war they ought to send the politicians to fight.


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