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The Good War: An Oral History of World War…

"The Good War": An Oral History of World War II (1984)

by Studs Terkel

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This is the World War II info that you won't find in the history books. If you've read any of Terkel's books, you know what to expect: an expansive cross-section of people giving their perspectives on the topic at hand. It sounds so simple, but it isn't. I wish our military and civilian leaders would read a book like this before they get us into any more messes. (Note: I'm NOT saying that WW II wasn't worth fighting; it absolutely was.)

Just one little story by way of illustrating the value of Terkel's approach. I had no idea that young women of that era were pressured into marrying the soldiers and sailors that were leaving for combat, some of them they barely knew. You know, the whole "send them off with a smile" thing, but writ large. When these men returned home, the couple had to learn to live together somehow, with the added complication of PTSD in many cases. I wonder what the ramifications of this phenomenon were, and whether it contributed to the rise in divorce down the road. I've never seen this covered in another WW II work, let alone the stories of the others in this book.

This is an amazing achievement, and I strongly recommend it for everyone. ( )
  Pat_F. | Nov 19, 2014 |
121 interviews from Americans about many facets of WWII. It's a good book for those looking for colour about "America's War." Being transcripts of oral interviews there has been some editing. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 10, 2013 |
  cavlibrary | May 28, 2013 |
Studs Terkel produced this work of "oral history" by interviewing persons with personal knowledge of the events of World War II. For historians, this is one of the great documents of the War. It begins with Hawaiian John Garcia's description of the attack on Pearl Harbor when he was 16 years old, and ends with Chicago street boys and girls talking about their future, as the children of the baby boomers. In between, the fighters, generals, the "enemies", the opportunists, and families. Racism, melting pot ironies, the "girls" at home, a few of the top writers and journalists (Ciardi, Miura, Galbraith, Page, Houseman, Mauldin, Leacock, Rosenblum), and the Jews, Germans, Japanese, and Americans from every State. Witnesses to extermination and slave labor camps, to the making of a large bomb, and to its survivors, the hibakusha. The 400,000 Americans who did not come back, and all the "missing" in war, in a sense, they are vividly remembered. This is their story too. ( )
  keylawk | Feb 19, 2012 |
Studs Terkel passed away on October 31, 2008 at the age of 96. In 1985, he won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for "the Good War."

Studs Terkel's specialty was oral history. To write "The Good War," he interviewed people from all walks of life and from nearly every group of people involved in World War II. Here are first person accounts from 120 of those people, discussing everything from being a prisoner of war to reproting and filming the war, from running the war to fighting the war, from working through the war to growing up during the war. Altogether, 22 aspects of the war are covered from several viewpoints of each aspect (the bombers and the bombed of Hiroshima, for example). The result is a comprehensive overview of the war giving voice to viewpoints not often heard.

Another dimension of recording so many viewpoints is the diversity of voices, from barely literate to highly educated. Terkel took out any "umm's" or other vocal tics, but otherwise transcribed the accounts as spoken. Occasionally he includes the questons he asked, but for the most part, just records the account given with only a few preparatory remarks to give the background of the speaker or to "set the state" of the interview. A few of those interviewed were still clearly angry about what had happened to them 20-40 years earlier (the interviews were recorded from the early 1960's through the early 1980's), but most were matter-of-fact and reflective.

A result of the comprehensiveness of this book is that it is long. However, it is well worth reading. It can be read in short sections, as many of the accounts recorded are only a couple of pages long (a few are around 10 pages long).

Studs Terkel's first book was "Giants of Jazz," published in 1956. Other books include "Hard Times" (an oral history of the Depression), "Division Street: America," "Race," "Working,"
"Talking to Myself," "American Dreams: Lost and Found," and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith." He also had several radio shows on WFMT in Chicago, beginning in 1952.
  Deb85 | Mar 13, 2011 |
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In memory, we find the most complete release from the narrowness of presented time and place. ... The picture is one of human beings confronted by a world in which they can be masters only as they ... discover ways of escape from the complete sway of immediate circumstances. -- F.C. Bartlett, Remembering
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?
I learned that war is not so bad
I learned about the great ones we have had
We fought in Germany and in France
And I am someday to get my chance
That's what I learned in school today
That's what I learned in school.
-- A song by Tom Paxton
For James Cameron, master of his trade
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"I was in combat for six weeks, forty-two days."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345325680, Mass Market Paperback)

Studs Terkel, the noted Chicago-based journalist, gathers the reminiscences of 121 participants in World War II (called "the good war" because, in the words of one soldier, "to see fascism defeated, nothing better could have happened to a human being"). These participants, men and women, famous and ordinary, tell stories that add immeasurably to our understanding of that cataclysmic time. One Soviet soldier recounts that, surrounded by the Germans, his comrades tapped the powder from their last cartridges and inserted notes to their families inside the casings; Russian children, he goes on, still turn these up every now and again and deliver the notes to the soldiers' families. Terkel touches on many themes along the way, including institutionalized racism in the United States military, the birth of the military-industrial complex, and the origins of the Cold War.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:43 -0400)

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Oral history evokes the innocent idealism, as well as the terror and horror, of ordinary Americans at home and abroad during World War II.

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