This article provides a sobering account by a military historian Paul Fussell—who served in WW2 as an infantry officer—of what war is really like.



Written on the 50th anniversary of WW2, Paul Fussell makes the following points:

  • The amount of optimistic, sanitised publicity about the war didn't match the reality making it difficult to talk about the real hardships of those who did the fighting.

  • Despite what the US government told them, US soldiers knew that the Germans had better equipment, including automatic rifles, light machine guns, tanks, anti-tank mines, and the excellent German 88-mm flat-trajectory gun.

  • The troops became disillusioned, knowing those back home had no idea of what the war was really like.

  • As the war was fought against evil and was regarded as a moral triumph, there has been a reluctance to look too deeply at 'its murderous requirements'.

  • Modern warfare has terrible effects on the human body.

  • In war photography and art, dead bodies are shown intact, whereas the horrific reality was that bodies were often dismembered.

  • The extremely popular magazine Life Goes to War sanitised much of the war for those at home.

  • In the face of such horror, the distinction between friend and enemy vanishes as the combat troops on both sides suffered unimaginable hardships.

  • German U-boats carried animal intestines to shoot to the surface to convince Allied forces that depth charges had worked.

  • There are many instances of personnel going mad with the distress of seeing the horrific reality of what war can do to the human body.

  • Fear of depth charges in a submarine or the constant threat of attack on the Murmansk run caused many to go insane.

  • The years of the bombing of Berlin had a huge psychological long term impact on the population.

  • There is  "command" solution to the infantry fear felt by soldiers when under bombardment; keep moving forward. The troops knew it might be better to move back!

  • The hundreds of thousands trained at US Army Replacement Training Centers raised the obvious question of why the US Army needed so many replacements.

  • In the Pacific, malaria, dengue, blackwater fever, dysentery, pneumonia, and trench foot added to the stress of those doing the fighting.

  • Unconditional surrender meant those in the front lines had to slog it out, kill or be killed until the enemy surrendered unconditionally.

  • News correspondents largely kept silent about these horrors, which meant the vast majority of the population had no idea what conditions at the front were really like.

  • Considering that they were running the war, it is surprising how little government officials knew about the real war.

  • All combat troops began to suspect that they were expendable.