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 familiesand#151;including his ownand#151;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.)
andldquo;[T]his somber book is a sharp reminder, as the Greatest Generation passes into history, that war is the most powerful of defining moments.andrdquo;
andmdash;Minneapolis Star Tribune
andldquo;[C]ompelling, nuancedandhellip;With his meticulous reporting and sensitive yet dispassionate writing, Childers pays the highest honor to the complete story of the Greatest Generation.andrdquo;
andmdash;St. Louis Post Dispatch
andldquo;Thomas Childers' heartbreaking book makes palpable the human cost of a conflict too often sanitized as 'the good war.' No war is good for those who fight it, he reminds us in scarifying descriptions of his three protagonists' travails.andrdquo;
andldquo;Childers's beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjects' wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress....Childers's absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good War's legacy.andrdquo;
andldquo;A sympathetic, wide-ranging look at unseen casualties of World War IIandmdash;those psychologically damaged by battle....A lucid study of a well-remembered warandrsquo;s forgotten soldiers.andrdquo;
andldquo;In this provocative and eloquent book, Thomas Childers breaks significant new ground by chronicling the hidden history of the emotional toll that World War II exacted on those who fought it, and on those who loved them. I did not think there was anything fresh to say about the defining conflict of the modern world. Childers has proven me wrongandmdash;very wrong indeed. This is an important and engaging work.andrdquo;
andmdash;Jon Meacham, author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston
andldquo;Thomas Childers has made a brave and honest inquiry into a darker side of the Greatest Generation, the aftershock World War II inflicted on millions of veterans and their families. This haunting book penetrates the fog of myth surrounding andlsquo;The Last Good War.andrsquo; It offers a fine homage to countless acts of heart breaking sacrifice.andrdquo;
andmdash;Tom Mathews, author of Our Fathersandrsquo; War
andldquo;With Soldier From the War Returning, Thomas Childers has exposed the post-war trauma of three WWII veterans. They symbolize the struggle that many of our fathers and grandfathers experienced when the cheering stopped and the haunting by the warandrsquo;s long shadow remained. A compelling read for all generations.andrdquo;
andmdash;David P. Colley, author of Safely Rest and Blood for Dignity
andldquo;Sublime, cathartic, the andlsquo;Truthandrsquo;s own self,andrsquo; Childersandrsquo; memorial to the emotionally damaged is a precious gift to World War II veterans, their baby-boom children, and all future generations scarred by wars whose wounds last far more than a lifetime.andrdquo;
andmdash;Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Vietnam veteran, and author of Throes of Democracy: The American Civil Era 1829-1877
andldquo;Childersandrsquo;s beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjectsandrsquo; wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress....Childersandrsquo;s absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good Warandrsquo;s legacy.andrdquo; andmdash;Publishers Weekly
andldquo;More emotionally telling than most histories and more historically revealing than many memoirs. This is a collective biography of casualties - visible and invisible - not only the men who lost limbs or minds, but also their wives and, inevitably, their children. It should be required reading for everyone in Washington who has the authority to send other people into war.andrdquo; andmdash;Washington Times
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.