Bottom Line Thank God for the Atom Bomb is my second collection of Paul Fussell essays. The first was The Great War and Modern Memory . Of the two the first was a tighter and better book. Having read the two I count myself a fan of Paul Fussell. This book is recommend to any fan of the essay. Do not let the title or the first few selections lead you to believe that this is only about war. This is a collection, some of it published elsewhere and as it covers several topics. It can feel thrown together.
Paul Fussel served his nation as a combat officer on the ground in the European theater during WWII. Had the Japanese not been speed to the surrender tables, he would have been among those sent fight them on the Japanese home Islands. Some would say that this fact is all he has to offer when in the opening essay he is certain that dropping those nuclear bombs was correct. Further, those who think otherwise lack the war time experience to have credibility. His argument is far more than selfish. In pointing out the average number of people who were dying every day in the Pacific, and counting out how many would have died had the war continued for even a few days more it is clear that waiting would not have saved lives. Ours or theirs.
It is to his credit that the next essay is a scholarly disagreement to his case and ending this section is a discussion of American actions that a more peaceful world would consider atrocities. His point was that the War in the Pacific included in its costs, American soldiers who felt it ok to participate in collecting, even gifting the skulls of Japanese dead. Humans in any war do terrible things, this is almost without parallel in American history.
After this much intensity it is almost jarring as Fussell writes about topics like George Orwell, nudist beaches in the Balkans, several more discussions of the impact of modern war on modem literature, ultimately ending with another near non sequitur, the Indianapolis 500.
All of these essays are intelligent and insightful. I will be reading more Gorge Orwell because of Paul Fussell. Also in this book is a passage that has changed my outlook on many issues.
It is the habit of many to believe that their side of any topic is where virtue is to be found. That especially in wartime, but just as passionately in politics the choices are only between the good and the bad. Fussell, quoting others argues that in most cases the choice is between the bad and the worse.
There are essays, or themes included in this book that are too close to ones included in The Great War and Modern Memory. These essays tended to feel like fillers and should have been excluded or placed earlier in this collection following his thoughts on WWII.
I will be reading more books by Paul Fussell. His opinions on matters cultural or more practical are the opinions of a writer with important experience and an insightful command of his topics. I want his opinion on topics about warriors and warriors who are also writers.