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John Steinbeck - Once There Was a War

By Clara Ramos,2014-04-25 06:48
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John Steinbeck - Once There Was a War

    THE WAY

    IT WAS

    “THE LIEUTENANT WALKED SLOWLY

    up the hill toward the German positions. He carried his white flag over his head,

    and his white flag was a bath towel.

    Last night when he had argued for the

    privilege of going up and trying to kid the Jerry into surrender he hadn’t known it

    would be like this. He hadn’t known

    how lonely and exposed he would be. The lieutenant knew that if he were hit and

    not killed he would hear the shot after

    he was hit, but if he were hit in the

    head he wouldn’t hear or feel

    anything. He hoped, if it happened, it

    would happen that way ...”

    One of the Unforgettable Stories John Steinbeck Tells inOnce There Was a War

Books by John Steinbeck

    CUP OF GOLD

    THE PASTURES OF HEAVEN TO A GOD UNKNOWN

    TORTILLA FLAT

    OF MICE AND MEN

    THE RED PONY

    THE GRAPES OF WRATH

    CANNERY ROW

    THE WAYWARD BUS

    THE PEARL

    BURNING BRIGHT

    EAST OF EDEN

    SWEET THURSDAY

    THE SHORT REIGN OF PIPPIN IV

    Published by Bantam Books

    ONCE THERE WAS A WAR

    by

    JOHN STEINBECK

    Bantam Books • New York

    THIS LOW-PRICED BANTAM BOOK

    printed in completely new type, especially designed for easy reading, contains the complete text of the original, hard-cover edition. NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED.

    ONCE THERE WAS A WAR

    A Bantam Book / published by arrangement with

    The Viking Press, Inc.

    PRINTING HISTORY

    Viking edition published September 1958

    Books Abridged edition published March 1959 Serialized theNEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNESyndicate

    June-December 1943

    Bantam edition published January 1960

    All rights reserved

    Copyright ? 1943, 1958, by John Steinbeck Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

    Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, Inc. Its trade-mark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a bantam, is registered in the U. S. Patent Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Printed in the United States of America. Bantam Books, Inc., 25 West 45th St., New York 36, N. Y.

    Contents Contents

    Introduction

    ONCE THERE WAS A WAR: AN INTRODUCTION

    England

    TROOPSHIP

    A PLANE’S NAME

    NEWS FROM HOME

    SUPERSTITION

    PREPARATION FOR A RAID THE GROUND CREW

    WAITING

    DAY OF MEMORIES

    THE PEOPLE OF DOVER MINESWEEPER

    COAST BATTERY

    ALCOHOLIC GOAT

    STORIES OF THE BLITZ LILLI MARLENE

    WAR TALK

    THE COTTAGE THAT WASN’T THERE

    GROWING VEGETABLES THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD THEATER PARTY

    DIRECTED UNDERSTANDING BIG TRAIN

BOB HOPE

    A COZY CASTLE

    THE YANKS ARRIVE A HAND

    THE CAREER OF BIG TRAIN MULLIGAN

    CHEWING GUM

    MUSSOLINI

    CRAPS

    Africa

    PLANE FOR AFRICA ALGIERS

    A WATCH CHISELER OVER THE HILL

    THE SHORT SNORTER WAR MENACE

    THE BONE YARD

    Italy

    REHEARSAL

    INVASION

    PALERMO

    SOUVENIR

    WELCOME

    THE LADY PACKS CAPRI

    SEA WARFARE

    THE WORRIED BARTENDER THE CAMERA MAKES SOLDIERS

    THE STORY OF AN ELF MAGIC PIECES

    SYMPTOMS

    THE PLYWOOD NAVY A DESTROYER

    A RAGGED CREW VENTOTENE

Introduction

    ONCE THERE WAS A WAR: AN INTRODUCTION

    ONCE UPON A TIME there was a war, but so long ago and so shouldered out of the way by other wars and other kinds of wars that even people who were there are apt to forget. This war that I speak of came after the plate armor and longbows of Crécy and Agincourt and just before the little spitting experimental atom bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I attended a part of that war, you might say visited it, since I went in the costume of a war correspondent and certainly did not fight, and it is interesting to me that I do not remember very much about it. Reading these old re?ports sent in with excitement at the time brings back im?ages and emotions completely lost.

    Perhaps it is right or even necessary to forget accidents, and wars are surely accidents to which our species seems prone. If we could learn from our accidents it might be well to keep the memories alive, but we do not learn. In ancient Greece it was said that there had to be a war at least every twenty years because every generation of men had to know what it was like. With us, we must forget, or we could never indulge in the murderous nonsense again. The war I speak of, however, may be memorable be?cause it was the last of its kind. Our Civil War has been called the last of the “gentlemen’s wars,” and the so-called Second World War

    was surely the last of the long global wars. The next war, if we are so stupid as to let it happen, will be the last of any kind. There will be no one left to remember anything. And if that is how stupid we are, we do not, in a biologic sense, deserve survival. Many other species have disappeared from the earth through errors in mutational judgment. There is no reason to suppose that we are immune from the immutable law of nature which says that over-armament, over-ornamentation, and, in most cases, over-integration are symptoms of coming extinction. Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee uses the horrifying and possible paradox of the

    victor’s being killed by the weight of the vanquished dead.

    But all this is conjecture, no matter how possible it may be. The strange thing is that my dim-remembered war has become as hazy as conjecture. My friend Jack Wagner was in the First World War. His brother Max was in the Second World War. Jack, in possessive defense of the war he knew, always referred to it as the Big War, to his brother’s disgust. And of course the Big War is the war you knew.

    But do you know it, do you remember it, the drives, the attitudes, the terrors, and, yes, the joys? I wonder how many men who were there remember very much.

    I have not seen these accounts and stories since they were written in haste and telephoned across the sea to appear as immediacies in the New York Herald Tribune and a great many

    other papers. That was the day of the Book by the War Correspondent, but I resisted that impulse, believing or saying I believed that unless the stories had validity twenty years in the future they should stay on the yellowing pages of dead newspaper files. That I have got them out now is not for my first reason given at all. Read?ing them over after all these years, I realize not only how much I have forgotten but that they are period pieces, the attitudes archaic, the

    impulses romantic, and, in the light of everything that has happened since, perhaps the whole body of work untrue and warped and one-sided.

    The events set down here did happen. But on reread?ing this reportage, my memory becomes alive to the other things, which also did happen and were not reported. That they were not reported was partly a matter of orders, partly traditional, and largely because there was a huge and gassy thing called the War Effort. Anything which interfered with or ran counter to the War Effort was auto?matically bad. To a large extent judgment about this was in the hands of the correspondent himself, but if he forgot himself and broke any of the rules, there were the Cen?sors, the Military Command, the Newspapers, and finally, most strong of all in discipline, there were the war-minded civilians, the Noncombatant Commandos of the Stork Club, of Time

    Magazine and The New Yorker, to jerk a correspondent into line or suggest that he be

    re?moved from the area as a danger to the War Effort. There were citizens’ groups helping with tactics and logis?tics; there were organizations of mothers to oversee mo?rals, and by morals I mean not only sexual morals but also such things as gambling and helling around in gen?eral. Secrecy was a whole field in itself. Perhaps our whole miasmic hysteria about secrecy for the last twenty years had its birth during this period. Our obsession with secrecy had a perfectly legitimate beginning in a fear that knowledge of troop-ship sailings would and often did attract the wolf packs of submarines. But from there it got out of hand until finally facts available in any library in the world came to be carefully guarded secrets, and the most carefully guarded secrets were known by everyone.

    I do not mean to indicate that the correspondent was harried and pushed into these rules of conduct. Most often he carried his rule book in his head and even invented restrictions for himself in the interest of the War Effort. When The Viking Press decided to print these reports in book form, it was suggested that, now that all restrictions were off, I should take out the “Somewhere in So-and-So” dateline and put in the places where the events occurred. This is impossible. I was so secret that I don’t remember where they happened.

    The rules, some imposed and some self-imposed, are amusing twenty years later. I shall try to remember a few of them. There were no cowards in the American Army, and of all the brave men the private in the infantry was the bravest and noblest. The reason for this in terms of the War Effort is obvious. The infantry private had the dirtiest, weariest, least rewarding job in the whole war. In addition to being dangerous and dirty, a great many of the things he had to do were stupid. He must therefore be reassured that these things he knew to be stupid were actually necessary and wise, and that he was a hero for doing them. Of course no one even casually inspected the fact that the infantry private had no choice. If he exercised a choice, he was either executed immediately or sent to prison for life.

    A second convention was that we had no cruel or ambi?tious or ignorant commanders. If the disorganized in?sanity we were a part of came a cropper, it was not only foreseen but a part of a grander strategy out of which victory would emerge.

    A third sternly held rule was that five million perfectly normal, young, energetic, and concupiscent men and boys had for the period of the War Effort put aside their ha?bitual preoccupation with girls. The fact that they carried pictures of nude girls, called pin-ups, did not occur to anyone as a paradox. The convention was the law. When Army Supply ordered X millions of rubber contraceptive and disease-preventing items, it had to be explained that they were used to keep moisture out of machine-gun bar?relsand perhaps they did.

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