Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thomas A. Bruscino's "A Nation Forged in War"

Thomas Bruscino is the author of Out of Bounds: Transnational Sanctuary in Irregular Warfare. His work has also been published in Military Review and War & Society. He is assistant professor of history at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Nation Forged in War: How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along, and reported the following:
So imagine my delight at applying the Page 99 Test and finding a full page about vomit and toilet facilities. Among the lovely phrases found on my page 99 are "sick to our stomachs," "nauseating stench," "residue of caustic GI soap lather," "a not too peaceful crap," "vomit covered the floors and fixtures," and "cold sea-water douche." Well.

It could be worse—page 99 might have been one of those blank pages in between chapters. Then I would have had to ramble about the irony of the meaninglessness of war, since my book was an attempt to find a larger meaning in World War II. Instead, I got “a not too peaceful crap.” So let’s talk about what that means.

The reason why everyone is so sick and uncomfortable on page 99 in A Nation Forged in War is because they are soldiers on ships, headed overseas to war. Over 10 million made the trip, most of whom had never been more than 100 miles from home, and the army and navy crammed them in. Page 99 begins with the story of a soldier who won a bet by standing in one place in the hold and touching forty-two individual bunks with his rifle. That would be tough enough, but then seasickness kicked in and the troops started getting ill in those tight spaces, which had a horrible multiplying effect. And the toilet facilities were no help, as they often consisted of long troughs that the men had to straddle in full view of each other, and with their activities occasionally punctuated by splashes of sea water running through the trough. Showers, if the men got a chance to shower at all, also consisted of cold sea water, and were less than refreshing.

The troops could distract themselves by messing with the ship crew, gambling, and reading, but it was a still nasty experience. The only real comfort was that they were in it together. That was a big deal, because they came from widely different ethnic and religious backgrounds in an era when those differences meant they weren’t supposed to get along.

But they suffered together in the service in World War II, and in so doing learned to get along. Then they came home from war and taught the rest of the country to do the same. A Nation Forged in War tells that story—where it went and where it did not go.

Sometimes it got a little disgusting. Like page 99.
Learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue