I really didn't know how to review Lee Sandlin's essay "Losing the war" until I found how he describes his own writing on his official web site, "I write historical essays, based on events that I or people I know are familiar with -- the sort of thing that used be called 'belles lettres.' My mother-in-law called it lyrical history. It's also sometimes been called 'the poetry of fact.'"
Lee Sandlin talks about the war in Korea, wars among the Greek nations of Homer's time, and World War Two. I think it is too bad that Lee Sandlin didn't interview an amateur history buff like my own father or myself. I could have, and still could today, tell Mr. Sandlin hours and hours of details about World War Two.
For example, my own father was in only one battle, really a minor skirmish, in Germany in February of 1945. My Dad was on foot patrol in a German forest when a German sniper, hidden in a big evergreen tree had opened fire on his patrol and injured one of his buddies. My Dad was the first to realize where the German sniper was hiding and fired one round with his rifle into the tree. After my Dad fired his weapon, two Germans began to curse loudly, and then the sniper and another soldier climbed out of the tree and fled deeper into the forest.
I am thankful that my father's army division had the second shortest days of combat of any American army division during the war. The army division that had the fewest combat days had one day of actual combat.
My dad told me that he was disappointed that he never found out any details about the skirmish, such as if he had even hit the sniper. I suppose that is one reason why vets don't like to talk about their battles, because they really know very little about these battles themselves. You fight a battle then move on, having little time to collect memories or battle trophies.
On page 317, I wonder where did Sandlin find the fact that there were just three suburban shopping centers before World War Two?
A good example of narrative journalism happens on page 319, when he describes the memories of World War two, "like a wrecked landscape smoothed by a blizzard."
On page 320, the description of a woman rushing around her apartment hall asking people if they were listening to the radio reminds me of another "defining moment" that happened on 9/11 when everyone, including the people working at the local post office was watching the events happen on portable television or listening to reports on radios. On page 324, I liked his phrase of introducing Pearl Harbor as "a knock on the door, that weekend day in December."
On page 321, Mr. Sandlin uses descriptive phrases such as "orthodox history" and "standard autopsy." Of course, Mr. Sandlin could not include many major factors as to why many American World War Two vets don't like to talk about their involvement in the war. Most of these young men had grown up believing that their fathers had fought World War One that was named as "The War to End all Wars." Consequently, these young men thought that American would not fight another major war and thus it came as a deep shock that their generation was fighting Germans again, on some of the same battlefields that their fathers before them had fought years before.
On page 345, there is an example of Eugene Sledge's self-cleansing of the marines' speech like "all fouled up" and "when the stuff hits the fan." In the 1980, in the PG movie Airplane, the character Ted Striker says the earthlier version of that quote, while in the next shot is of the "stuff "flying into an office fan.
"She's got that fey look as though she's had breakfast with a leprechaun."
- Dorothy Burnham.
Starting on page 351, Lee Sandlin talks about Feyness and that was one of the most original takes that I have read about World War Two. This was a very cool way to start the last act of the chapter.
P.S.: In 2010, American is now fighting two wars. But, unless you personally have some direct or indirect connection to someone who is serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, these two wars have a surreal aspect to them, like watching an episode of LOST.