He experienced the war at Division level

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Commenter Bruce thought that Glenn Gray’s The Warriors quietly disappeared after Paul Fussell tore it apart:

These troops who cried and cheered with relief [at the dropping of the atomic bomb] or who sat stunned by the weight of their experience are very different from the high-minded, guilt- ridden GIs we’re told about by J. Glenn Gray in his sensitive book The Warriors. During the war in Europe Gray was an interrogator in the Army Counterintelligence Corps, and in that capacity he experienced the war at Division level. There’s no denying that Gray’s outlook on everything was admirably noble, elevated, and responsible. After the war he became a much-admired professor of philosophy at Colorado College and an esteemed editor of Heidegger. But The Warriors, his meditation on the moral and psychological dimensions of modern soldiering, gives every sign of error occasioned by remoteness from experience. Division headquarters is miles — miles — behind the line where soldiers experience terror and madness and relieve those pressures by crazy brutality and sadism. Indeed, unless they actually encountered the enemy during the war, most “soldiers” have very little idea what “combat” was like. As William Manchester says, “All who wore uniforms are called veterans, but more than 90 percent of them are as uninformed about the killing zones as those on the home front.” Manchester’s fellow marine E. B. Sledge thoughtfully and responsibly invokes the terms drastically and totally to underline the differences in experience between front and rear, and not even the far rear, but the close rear. “Our code of conduct toward the enemy,” he notes, “differed drastically from that prevailing back at the division CP.” (He’s describing gold-tooth extraction from still-living Japanese.) Again he writes: “We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines…,” even, he would insist, to men as intelligent and sensitive as Glenn Gray, who missed seeing with his own eyes Sledge’s marine friends sliding under fire down a shell-pocked ridge slimy with mud and liquid dysentery shit into the maggoty Japanese and USMC corpses at the bottom, vomiting as the maggots burrowed into their own foul clothing. “We didn’t talk about such things,” says Sledge. “They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans…. Nor do authors normally write about such vileness; unless they have seen it with their own eyes, it is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane.” And Sledge has added a comment on such experience and the insulation provided by even a short distance: “Often people just behind our rifle companies couldn’t understand what we knew.” Glenn Gray was not in a rifle company, or even just behind one. “When the news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came,” he asks us to believe, “many an American soldier felt shocked and ashamed.” Shocked, OK, but why ashamed? Because we’d destroyed civilians? We’d been doing that for years, in raids on Hamburg and Berlin and Cologne and Frankfurt and Mannheim and Dresden, and Tokyo, and besides, the two A-bombs wiped out 10,000 Japanese troops, not often thought of now, John Hersey’s kindly physicians and Jesuit priests being more touching. If around division headquarters some of the people Gray talked to felt ashamed, down in the rifle companies no one did, despite Gray’s assertions. “The combat soldier,” he says,

knew better than did Americans at home what those bombs meant in suffering and injustice. The man of conscience realized intuitively that the vast majority of Japanese in both cities were no more, if no less, guilty of the war than were his own parents, sisters, or brothers.

I find this canting nonsense. The purpose of the bombs was not to “punish” people but to stop the war. To intensify the shame Gray insists we feel, he seems willing to fiddle the facts. The Hiroshima bomb, he says, was dropped “without any warning.” But actually, two days before, 720,000 leaflets were dropped on the city urging everyone to get out and indicating that the place was going to be (as the Potsdam Declaration had promised) obliterated. Of course few left.

Experience whispers that the pity is not that we used the bomb to end the Japanese war but that it wasn’t ready in time to end the German one.


  1. Wan Wei Lin says:

    Gray would be ‘affectionately’ referred referred to as a REMF.

  2. Kirk says:

    I think I need to go back and re-read that book… My memories of it aren’t accurate, it would appear.

    Quoted passages above align with the idea that Gray was indeed a person other than grunt; the idea that anyone would be guilt-stricken over the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially those who were in the units slated to take part in Olympic and Coronet…? Man, that’s just outrageously wrong; even guys who later developed qualms over the whole thing would admit that they thought it was probably more humane than the invasion would have been, and to be quite honest, probably saved more Japanese lives than we know.

    Personally, the way I think it would have gone, without the atom bomb? The invasion would have been a bloodbath, the typhoon that came in after the surrender would have actually hit the fleets taking part, and the resultant cluster-fark would have meant that the first officer suggesting humanitarian relief for the Japanese in the aftermath of all those civilians-attacking-with-improvised-spears incidents, which the Japanese were gearing up for…? With all the casualties resulting on our side? Yeah. My guess is that we’d have happily let 90% or more of the Japanese starve to death in the resulting famine, and then gone home with clear consciences after God-alone-knows-what being done in the aftermath. Maybe we would have turned the wreckage over to the Soviets as a bad job, and then watched them try to make something of the place. Certainly, Japan would have wound up split between blocks, because after the mess of Olympic and Coronet, there wasn’t anyone on the US side who would have said “Keep the Soviets out…”.

    All in all, I think the actual history we have probably represents the best case outcome for the Japanese people–Other than them never starting the war in the first damn place. The other alternatives almost mandate a far worse outcome for them, had we gone down that path. The conventional invasion one is a particularly nasty nightmare.

  3. Bruce says:

    I think a lot of the famine was so many Japanese males returning after the peace, so if the war kept on another year like Allenbrooke expected, no famine. Maybe no live Japanese males returning either.
    If our invasion had gone sour, I could see the Soviets getting all of Korea and the north half of Japan. And Americans looking at all our dead and either going isolationist or raising foreign legions.

  4. Kirk says:

    Mmmmm… I’d have to go digging, but I think the famine was actually due to the destruction of coastal shipping, and the lack of manpower out in the fields. Loss of all the military-age males would have made things far worse, not better.

    The outcome of that invasion is something I’m glad I don’t know for sure.

    Little-known fact: The US military has been issuing the stockpile of Purple Hearts they laid in for dealing with the expected casualties from those battles now for the last seventy years, and I think they still have a bunch on hand… That should give anyone the willies, contemplating that.

  5. Sam J. says:

    “…Little-known fact: The US military has been issuing the stockpile of Purple Hearts they laid in for dealing with the expected casualties from those battles now for the last seventy years, and I think they still have a bunch on hand… That should give anyone the willies, contemplating that….”

    WOW! I never heard that. Someone should chime in with that fact any time they try to shame Americans for dropping the bomb. The Japanese, no matter how we pestered them, didn’t have to attack us.

  6. Kirk says:

    Sam J., that’s an easily verifiable historical fact, one you can get by doing a search on the issue. I think the most they’ve had to do with them is some cleaning and refurbishment in recent times.

    Paragraph from Wikipedia:

    “During World War II, 1,506,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. By the end of the war, even accounting for medals lost, stolen or wasted, nearly 500,000 remained. To the present date, total combined American military casualties of the seventy years following the end of World War II—including the Korean and Vietnam Wars—have not exceeded that number. In 2003, there remained 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock. The existing surplus allowed combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep Purple Hearts on-hand for immediate award to soldiers wounded in the field.[9]“

    Wastage is probably pretty high; I know a bunch of unawarded medals got damaged in storage in Iraq at one of the hospitals, and were subsequently destroyed without being issued. Same thing’s probably happened in all the wars since WWII.

    Japan definitely did not need to do what it did; most of the oil and materials embargo happened because of Japanese actions in China, thanks to the US missionary lobby back here in the US. Had Japan followed the path of peace, they’d have done a hell of a lot better by their nation, and probably retained a bit more of their traditional culture, which we destroyed on the way towards eliminating the militarists. It didn’t have to happen, but they made it inevitable.

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