Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alan Allport's "Demobbed"

Alan Allport is a postdoctoral lecturer at Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Demobbed: Coming Home After World War Two, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Demobbed is devoted to adultery and murder, and I suppose if that doesn’t grab the reader then nothing will. It’s part of an account of the notorious ‘honour killings’ that took place in Britain in the first months after the Second World War, when returning servicemen who discovered that their wives had been unfaithful to them during their absence killed them, often with extraordinary violence – by stabbing, suffocation, gunfire. These tragic incidents were very small in number – Britain in the 1940s remained by today’s standards a remarkably lawful society – but I think they caught the public imagination because they encapsulated in its most lurid form a widespread anxiety about the state of the postwar nation.

Demobbed is a history of the homecoming experience in 1945 and the ways in which ordinary Britons came to terms with the changes that had taken place in their society and in themselves during half a decade of total war. It examines the release and repatriation of over four million men and women from the armed services, many of whom had been out of contact with their families, friends, and workmates for years. It’s a story about a particular time and place: Britain at the end of the Second World War was exhausted by the long struggle, and the civilian population which had gone through its own fair share of danger and sacrifice was in no great mood to laud the returning troops as homecoming heroes. But it’s also a study of longstanding fears and suspicions about the soldier that have long preoccupied Anglophone culture. The horror stories in ‘Demobbed’ about brutalized ex-servicemen returning from the battlefield to wreak havoc at home aren’t so very different from earnest warnings in today’s American media about disturbed veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s much the same mixture of pity and fear, much the same anxiety about how an overwhelmingly civilian society can hope to reabsorb men who have been through such an alien and traumatic experience as war.
Learn more about Demobbed and the author at the Yale University Press website and Alan Allport's website.

--Marshal Zeringue