I mentioned a memoir of the Great War (later renamed World War I) by David Jones: In Parenthesis. That appeared quite late, in 1937. Robert Graves wrote Good-Bye to All That in 1929, the same year in which Erich Maria Remarque published All Quiet on the Western Front. Arnold Zweig wrote six novels about the conflict, collectively known as Der große Krieg der weißen Männer (The Great War of the White Men); of that collection I’ve only read The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927). My own reading took place in my youth, thus in the 1950s. A little later I also read some of the World War II books, thus Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948) James Jones’ From Here to Eternity (1953), and Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1954). Even later I tried to read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), but it just didn’t hold me. And after that? Korea, Vietnam, the current era? Nothing. I’d passed beyond “all that.”
Which made me wonder this morning if, say in the 1940s and 1950s, people who were then well into their sixties and beyond had bothered reading the Great War memoirs and novels? Is the reading of such books part of a person’s relatively early orientation of what this realm is all about? And once that’s known revulsion sort of gets the upper hand? Another book produced in 1974, Joe Haldeman’s science fiction work, The Forever War, succeeds in producing the perfect title for this genre. I was just 38 when it appeared—but it already failed to tempt me. Or was Joe’s book, as it were, an introduction to something altogether new? Has war—no longer the collective effort of the entire citizenry—sunk below the radar? Surfacing only when some unfortunate specialist, on a third or fourth deployment, goes altogether mad and lashes out insanely against innocent civilians? And the literature of war has consequently sunk to mere shock journalism?