Paul Fussell died a week or so ago and I didn’t know until Michele read his obit in Time late last night. Fussell was a writer who I very much admired. Not so much for how he wrote – although he was a very good writer winning a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award – but for what he wrote about. At a time when most writers glorified war with books like A Band of Brothers, he wrote – in Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War and The Boys’ Crusade – about the horror of war, about how people die in war in agony, mutilated, and disfigured. Fussell wrote about a war that was not honorable, a war that is is gruesome.
He knew first hand, having been a front line infantry officer in Europe when the turn over in junior officers was 100% every six months. One story that is burned into my psyche is how his platoon slaughtered a group of trapped Germans. And that was not the gruesome part, the gruesome part was that the story of the slaughter became a joke told to cheer people up when they were down, Remember the turkeyshoot? when we killed all those Germans trapped in the basement?
Fussell also wrote about Class in America, a topic I know by personal experience to be taboo. His book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System is a classic and, even twenty years after it was written, still dead on.
I won’t say that I will miss him – like I miss David Foster Wallace – but I am saddened that he is no longer with us.