A Review of Letters from the Good War

Hugh Aaron, with this collection of letters, has made a praiseworthy contribution to World War II literature. Aaron, a young Navy Seabee during the Second World War, wrote home that he hoped to become a writer after the war -- and he would indeed become a writer in the future -- a novelist, a short story writer, and an essayist.

These letters provide numerous peepholes into everyday life during a major historic watershed. Aaron listened to people and wrote home about what he heard. He recorded virtues and prejudices: "There was a discussion about Jews today during the dinner hour. No one knew that I'm Jewish. Until today, I never realized how much anti-Semitism existed. Of course, I kept my mouth shut. The men believe that Jews control all the capital and moneyed interests in the nation. It's the one point they all agree on."

Aaron's letters personalize the war. From his first overseas assignment in New Guinea, he reported on a new American invention, the Jeep: "I say in all truthfulness that we passed through mud up to the hood. That jeep is a miracle machine." The letter writer also examines institutions. He captures the nondemocratic nature of the military. He labels it a caste system that he detests and explains to his family that, "civilians can't appreciate the mental anguish that free, democratic men must experience at the hands of appointed superiors who are no better than they are."

Aaron's short but insightful preface and afterword enhance the book's value. In these two sections of the collection, the author, a half century later, reflectively examines the young man he used to be. He found himself, as he put this collection together, "feeling like a father to that lad who was, incredibly, myself." The honesty in Aaron's introduction and closing statement is refreshing. He can even admit to being shocked to see how "blatantly Freudian" his ties with his mother had been. One does not have to be a World War II buff to enjoy this book. If one is interested in interesting people, then this book is highly recommended.
Rod Farmer, Reviewer for Maine in Print.

(Rod Farmer has recently had poetry published in Art World Quarterly and history published in the New England Journal of History. He wishes his letters home from Vietnam were as interesting as the letters in this book.)

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