A tale that redefines the ordinary soldier in the Second World War, The Deserters is a breathtaking work of historical reportage, weaving together the lives of forgotten servicemen even as it overturns the assumptions and prejudices of an era. The Deserters reveals that ordinary soldiers viewed "desertion" as a natural part of conflict, as unexpected and inexplicable as bravery. Men who had fought fearlessly in the mountains of Italy were cowering wrecks a year later in the mountains of France; a man who fled from tanks in the desert showed superior courage in the D-Day amphibious landings. Many frontline soldiers saw no shame in these contradictory reactions and sought ways to comfort their comrades to fight another day.
The Deserters moves beyond the false extremes of courage and cowardice to reveal the true experience of the Allied soldier. This is the story of men such as Private Alfred Whitehead, a Tennessee farm boy who earned Silver and Bronze Stars for bravery in Normandy - yet became a gangster in postliberation Paris. It is the story of British soldiers such as Private John Bain, who deserted three times but fought well in North Africa and northern France until German machine-gun fire cut his legs from under him. The core of The Deserters resides with men such as Private Stephen Weiss, an idealistic boy from Brooklyn who enlisted at 17. On the Anzio beachhead and in the Ardennes forest, as an ordinary infantryman and an accidental partisan in the French Resistance, Weiss shed his illusions about the nobility of conflict and the infallibility of the American military.
Meticulously researched and deeply revelatory, The Deserters remains at its heart an unforgettable war story that, like the very best of the genre, deals with ordinary men struggling to fulfill the vast and contradictory expectations imposed upon them.
©2013 Charles Glass (P)2013 AudioGO
I think the title overstates what this book accomplishes. I can't credit the book as being a comprehensive look at Deserters of the Second World War. First, because this books only looks at British and American deserters, so no German, Russian, Italian, Finnish, et al. The author does weave in a good deal of context, including extended quotations from "Psychology of the Fighting Man" which helps put more perspective on the experience of these men. It's possible that this story is more comprehensive since statistics are interwoven with the larger narrative. I did find the men whom he chose to focus, all interesting. The scale and variety of the problem of desertion, and the attempts to deal with the problem are an important story to be told. I found this a worthy story.
I love books!
First time author, 150,000 British and American servicemen deserted in World War II, not something most of read/hear about when discussing this war. The author follows several soldiers through their military and WWII experiences outlining what lead up to their desertions. What you learn is that soldiers deserted for every reason there is, the full spectrum; some just decided they didn't want to fight in a war, some experienced the war and decided it sucked and decided they would take prison over the grave, while many fought in the front lines for months on end with death staring at them daily and they just cracked, they couldn't take it anymore. The story follows the campaigns and describes the situations that led to some of the desertions, why and how they happened, what happened after the desertions, and how they ended up in the end. Many of them didn't regret what they did but they were haunted by those that didn't desert and paid the ultimate price. Being a vet myself from the Vietnam era although I didn't serve in Vietnam, you wonder how you would handle the heat of battle, you hope you would be OK but unless you do it, you never really know. Out of all I have heard and read about any war is that "War is Hell".
I think the author did a great job helping the reader to understand or empathize with SOME desertion circumstances while not trying to downplay the negative ethical or military impacts of the deserters. It's a pretty level-headed look, leaving the reader up to developing his own opinion while presenting facts in an interesting way. I had no idea desertion was such a huge phenomenon.
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