Doing Battle

When he got out of the Army, Paul Fussell finished up his education at Pomona College. The war had changed him, however, and he was unhappy with the optimistic and leisurely Californian life. Fussell also suffered from symptoms of what’s now diagnosed as PTSD. After Pomona he went to Harvard (with the G.I. Bill paying for him), intending to become an English professor, as he felt, like many other veterans, that literature would save to world. He was bitter and hostile at Harvard, and the faculty was snotty, acting much like senior officers acted towards their junior officers. Fussell married Betty Harper in 1949, and they eventually had two children.

After getting his Ph.D. he taught at Connecticut College for Women, a job which he found below himself. Fussell was annoyed by the shallowness and high-mindedness of post-war America, and the women’s college represented this perfectly. He accepted a job at Rutgers in 1955, which he much preferred over the women’s college. Fussell grew tired of America, as it “seemed more than ever bellicose, ignorant, selfish, and greedy, shot through with quasi-religious fraud and hypocrisy (229).” He got a teaching job in Heidelberg, Germany for a time. Heidelberg had a European sophistication that Fussell admired. In spite of war guilt and a preoccupation with the idea of inherent goodness in human beings, Fussell felt that postwar Germany was on its way to an ideal republic, one that he wished for in America. He returned to America, and with the assassination of JFK and later Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, he lost the little bit of optimism (mostly the hope that literature could fix the world) that he had left.

Fussell eventually left Rutgers and taught at Penn, finally an international school. He was considered a troublemaker of sorts, as he had been at the other schools, mostly for speaking his mind (often in as rude a way as possible). He wrote essays and books supporting the atomic bomb droppings and argued against claims that the war wasn’t so bad. Boy Fussell had long been dead, ever since a piece of metal tore into his leg in the woods of southeastern France.

I found Fussell’s book to be an interesting read and very insightful. Unfortunately, I’m not as well versed in literature as I’d like to be, so some of the authors and works he mentioned threw me off. His pessimism was also disconcerting for me, as I’m generally as optimistic person. Of course, if I had seen the worse of humanity and then come home to a superficial and increasingly crazy and out of control America, I’d probably be a pessimist too. His general enjoyment of post-war Germany was slightly surprising, but it’s good to know he didn’t maintain a grudge. Also, Fussell’s feelings about the atomic bomb droppings made me consider my own thoughts about it. It’s something of a moral dilemma for me. I consider weapons in general to be horrible, especially of the atomic variety. I feel that we shouldn’t have had to resort to using them, but there really was no other choice. Thousands of lives were extinguished, but millions more, both American and Japanese, were saved.

One Response to “Doing Battle

  1. jmcclurken Says:

    His take on the Atomic Bomb is probably the most prominent view among WWII veterans, though it’s based in a pretty cynical/realistic view of war itself.