I Just Finished… (3)

So before I start on filling in my junior high days, I will digress to discuss…

…Rick Atkinson’s “The Guns at Last Light,” the final volume in his trilogy on World War II, as it was fought in North Africa, Italy, and Western Europe.

Atkinson is a journalistic historian, writing clear, conscise, direct, ground-covering prose, unencumbered by deep thought or theory. He does a fine job caturing the character and personalities of generals and political leaders, especially in this book, Eisenhower and Montgomery. He is a master at the use of numbers to concretize his points, whether he is cataloguing the contents of transport ships, the extent of various diseases striking down troops, or the total of Camels cigarettes Ike smoked in the weeks before D-Day. And je superbly captures the morality murdering misery of infantryman, fighting and dying inch-by-inch across this terrain.

At the end, the sheer horror of war, no matter the nobility or necessity of the cause, is overwhelming. It put me in mind of a position taken by an anti-torture expert in the weeks following the Abu Ghraib story’s breaking. He was asked if it would be proper to torture an individual if that was the only way to find out where terrorists had hidden a nuclear device they were planning to detonate. His answer was, “No.” If you take the position the saving of a few hundred thousand lives does not justify abusing one person, must you not also conclude that perhaps saving a couple million lives does not justify killing several hundred thousand.

I recall that Nicholson Baker wrote a book several years ago which argued that the United States should not have entered World War II. I may take a look at it and report
back further.