“‘The Good War'” by Studs Terkel

This is a collection of oral histories from those who fought in or lived through World War II.

Some common themes:

  • The feeling that the war was justified; they contributed to something great – although it was a destruction of something negative rather than the building up of something positive.
  • In the beginning the war felt like a great adventure but then innocence was lost as the horrors of war became evident.
  • “The war was fun for America.”  – quote from the book.  Also: “Never in the history of human conflict has there been so much talk of sacrifice and so little <actual> sacrifice.” – John Kenneth Galbraith, in charge of price controls.  Consumption of consumer goods doubled during the war.  It really brought the country out of the Depression, and made many people wealthy.

I understand better some of the dangers of drawing conclusions from oral histories.  The interviewees most definitely relate their WWII experiences through the lens of many years and in light of other historical events.  Specifically, (this book came out in the early 1980’s) they are influenced by Vietnam (many comparisons to WWII and Vietnam) and also the Cold War (many remark on how quickly the Russians went from being our “friends” to our “enemies”, at least according to the government.)

Something learned: PAFs (Pre-mature Anti-Fascists) and the Lincoln Brigade – Americans fighting in the Spanish civil War.

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2 responses

  1. Sounds interesting. I remember hearing excerpts from an old Studs Terkel interview on NPR and ever since I’ve wanted to hear more. You might find this site interesting: http://www.studsterkel.org/gwar.php

  2. […] book’s format is inspired by and identical to Studs Terkel’s “The Good War” – a collection of oral histories of soldiers and others involved in World War 2 – only […]

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