Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness

Elizabeth D. Samet.. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-21992-5
The popular perception of WWII as the "Good War" hides a darker reality, according to this iconoclastic study by West Point English professor Samet (No Man's Land). Challenging rose-colored takes on the war as the triumph of the democratic common man over fascist tyranny, Samet argues that America's war was a morass of indiscriminate carnage fought by draftees with little ideological motivation—and, in the case of Black soldiers facing racial discrimination, deep ambivalence—amid considerable public disaffection on the home front. Worse, she contends, the retrospective veneration of the war as "a testament to the redemptive capacity of American violence" justified misbegotten military adventures in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere. Concentrating more on critical theory than politics or history, Samet probes interpretations of war in literary and cultural works from Shakespeare's Henry V to 20th-century war novels, Saving Private Ryan, and film noir's jaundiced view of an America coarsened and corrupted by the conflict and the troubled veterans returning from it. Samet's analysis is sometimes incisive but more often rambles through age-old indictments of the glorification of war. Ultimately, this intriguing provocation is too broad and unfocused to reveal much about why America keeps going into battle. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 10/13/2021
Release date: 11/30/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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