Government Issue and the Face of War: The Representation of Servicemen in American Literary and Visual Culture of the Second World War
Riley, Kristin N.
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Throughout the Second World War, a gulf existed between the experience of American civilians and that of the American combat soldier. Official propaganda posters sanctioned by the Office of War Information argued that the war was being fought in accordance to higher principles. Yet, for a large number of servicemen overseas, the war was a never-ending, unpleasant job far removed from the comforts of home. Many men were eager for their service to end and did not know precisely what the war was about. The decades following World War II mark a significant transition for American war literature as soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines returned home to write about how the war affected individuals—not tools of war, but people at times trapped between their own personal identities and the military’s construction of their obscurity. In ten important American novels, published between 1942 and 1969, the authors draw upon their own war experience to counteract the iconic status of the WWII victory within cultural memory. Like the photographs taken by embedded reporters, these novels focus on the human face as the most revealing detail of war. In doing so, they deal with questions of availability and accessibility. They navigate between myth and reality, between combat serviceman and civilian, and between individuals and themselves. Within the literary, visual, and memorial culture of the Second World War, the face exhibits authentic truths about war and becomes a hub through which a myriad of issues like division, absurdity, and sensual onslaught are revealed. In the twenty-first century, when war continues to define global perspective, war studies have become integral to an inter-disciplinary approach to Humanities. The representations of individual servicemen thus refute the concept of “Government Issue” and instead stand like monuments to the true price of war.