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Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War IIby Thomas Childers
Synopses & Reviews
One of our most enduring national myths surrounds the men and women who fought in the so-called "Good War." The Greatest Generation, we're told by Tom Brokaw and others, fought heroically, then returned to America happy, healthy and well-adjusted. They quickly and cheerfully went on with the business of rebuilding their lives.
In this shocking and hauntingly beautiful book, historian Thomas Childers shatters that myth. He interweaves the intimate story of three families—including his own—with a decades' worth of research to paint an entirely new picture of the war's aftermath. Drawing on government documents, interviews, oral histories and diaries, he reveals that 10,000 veterans a month were being diagnosed with psycho-neurotic disorder (now known as PTSD). Alcoholism, homelessness, and unemployment were rampant, leading to a skyrocketing divorce rate. Many veterans bounced back, but their struggle has been lost in a wave of nostalgia that threatens to undermine a new generation of returning soldiers.
Novelistic in its telling and impeccably researched, Childers's book is a stark reminder that the price of war is unimaginably high. The consequences are human, not just political, and the toll can stretch across generations.
"Conventional impressions of WWII's aftermath — wild celebration, triumphal return, ebullient prosperity — hide a grimmer reality, according to this somber history of postwar discontents. University of Pennsylvania historian Childers (In the Shadows of War) uses contemporary statistics and press reports to sketch the hardships returning veterans faced, including unemployment and homelessness; resentment at the years wasted in the war; alienation from family, friends and civilian life in general; and physical and psychological wounds that never healed. He builds his account around biographical narratives of three veterans: an infantryman who lost his legs to an enemy shell; an airman taken prisoner by the Germans; and Childers's father, who spent the war relatively safe in England but whose life and marriage, the author contends, were subtly darkened by the conflict. Childers's beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjects' wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress. His attempt to blame decades of dysfunction on the war sometimes overreaches; his subjects' failed marriages, business reversals and unfulfilling jobs often seem like the ordinary quiet desperation of men's lives. Still, Childers's absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good War's legacy. Photos. (May 13)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
THOMAS CHILDERS is the Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of five previous books on the Third Reich and World War II, most recently, Wings of Morning and In the Shadows of War.
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