“In our imaginations, war is the name we give to the extremes of violence in our lives, the dark dividing opposite of the connecting myth, which we call love. War enacts the great antagonisms of history, the agonies of nations; but it also offers metaphors for those other antagonisms, the private battles of our private lives, our conflicts with one another and with the world, and with ourselves.”
Samuel Hynes knows war personally: he served as a Marine Corps pilot in the Pacific Theater during World War II, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. He has spent his life balancing two careers: pilot and professor of literature. Hynes has written a number of major works of literary criticism, as well as a war-memoir, Flights of Passage, and several books about the World Wars. His writing is sharp, lucid, and has provided some of the most expert, detailed, and empathetic accounts of a disappearing generation of fighters and writers.
On War and Writing offers for the first time a selection of Hynes’s essays and introductions that explore the traditions of war writing from the twentieth century to the present. Hynes takes as a given that war itself—the battlefield uproar of actual combat—is unimaginable for those who weren’t there, yet we have never been able to turn away from it. We want to know what war is really like: for a soldier on the Somme; a submariner in the Pacific; a bomber pilot over Germany; a tank commander in the Libyan desert. To learn, we turn again and again to the memories of those who were there, and to the imaginations of those who weren’t, but are poets, or filmmakers, or painters, who give us a sense of these experiences that we can’t possibly know.
The essays in this book range from the personal (Hynes’s experience working with documentary master Ken Burns, his recollections of his own days as a combat pilot) to the critical (explorations of the works of writers and artists such as Thomas Hardy, E. E. Cummings, and Cecil Day-Lewis). What we ultimately see in On War and Writing is not military history, not the plans of generals, but the feelings of war, as young men expressed them in journals and poems, and old men remembered them in later years—men like Samuel Hynes.