Tuesday, August 26, 2008

War Stories

August 19, 2006

My visit to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford near Cambridge this summer, combined with a book club choice called Peace by Richard Bausch (Knopf, 2008) inspired me to read or re-read some war memoirs. Both were written as diaries during WWII and both authors were killed before the war ended. Guy Gibson was a bomber pilot who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the famous raid known as ‘the dam busters’ using the bouncing bomb against targets in the Ruhr Valley. (Enemy Coast Ahead, Pan 1955). The other was a fighter pilot called David Crook (Spitfire Pilot, Grub Street, 2008). What struck me in contrast to the extraordinary novel by Bausch was how far from introspective these young airmen seemed to be. They report the deaths of their friends in the same breath as assuring us that this had little or no effect on the morale of the chaps. They talked of air battles as ‘glorious encounters’. They both married during the war and saw their wives infrequently but with much anticipation expressed as affection. They know without any doubt that ‘the Hun’ were evil and needed to be defeated. There was no moral ambiguity about any of it.

This is all quite a contrast to the novel in which there is great introspection and moral ambiguity among fictional American infantrymen in Italy towards the end of the war. I wonder what we will read from those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq in due course.

1 comment:

Jerry Byrd said...

I read Bausch's Peace while on vacation a few weeks ago and liked it very much. I appreciate how it gave me a new way to define peace: peace isn't necessarily the absence of conflict but the holding on to some integrity while taken to battle with others or oneself. I'm planning to put it on the Novel Theology list in 2009-10.