Thank God for Paul Fussell and Other Blogposts

I’m seriously contemplating making a regular thing out of the New Republic‘s suspicious silence on Paul Fussell. Granted, events can and do catch editors flatfooted and unprepared. But at this point I fear something worse must be at work.

Fussell died Wednesday. Slate took its time and published a decent essay of Fussell’s literary impact on Friday. There, Fussell admirer Stephen Metcalf wrote that Fussell “was at his best, was most himself, when writing about organized killing,” but judged his influence to be portable to peacetime settings as well. It was a good essay leading up to Memorial Day. I led with it on Real Clear Books this weekend (along with this stinging dissent about Fussell’s book Class). So, eventually, did Arts & Letters Daily.

But from the New Republic, still, crickets.

Thank God for the Atom Bomb

TNR‘s The Book page reposted this “classic” piece by George Kennan on Americans and Russians rather than repost the very famous essay that became the basis for Fussell’s Thank God for the Atom Bomb and other Essays. The front page called out a review by scholar and failed Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff on a book of hand-wringing about free markets with the headline “The Skyboxification of American Life.” TNR’s aggregator The Reader, which at this point specializes in warmed over Arts & Letters Daily links, can’t even bring itself to reheat the Slate link.

Again, as I have said, this is extra odd, because the New Republic published one of Fussell’s most important essays. Now, in the wake of his death, it is proceeding as if that essay never existed at a time when its republication would get actual traffic. Why wouldn’t it want those hits? A few friends have speculated to me that TNR is staffed with a bunch of younger staffers who don’t remember such things, but that can’t be it. Grand culture editor Leon Wieseltier has weathered several regime changes at the magazine, including a recent handover in ownership. The Fussell essay appeared two years before his appointment in 1983 but he must remember it.

So why ignore it? Embarrassment? It’s possible. In the famous essay, Fussell set himself up as the sworn enemy of moral reasoning that is too abstract, too removed from what, these days, we would call the “boots on the ground.”

Fussell responded to liberal moral hand-wringing about Hiroshima on one of its many anniversaries by saying, OK, let’s see what the troops who would have invaded Japan have to say on the subject. He consulted the writings of the grunts and found in them a plausible argument for why one might say “Thank God for the atom bomb.” They argued Japanese society had been driven collectively so war mad that the distinctions we normally make between soldiers and civilians no longer made sense.

Soldiers in the Pacific theater (Fussell got his “ass shot off” in Europe) viewed the entire island chain as one long meat grinder that would kill at least American soldiers who were already pretty chewed up on the eve an armed invasion that didn’t have to happen because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You don’t have to agree with their point of view but it might be worth considering at greater length. You can find that here on this day of memorial, but not on the website of the New Republic.

Officer, I’d Like to Report a… Bookjacking

Let me preface this story by saying it has a happy but puzzling ending.

I got bookjacked last night. It was about 9 o’clock in the parking lot of Bellis Fair Mall. The book was Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. I had just bought it at the local Barnes & Noble along with another Fussell book, then stopped into the mall to get the food court Indian restaurant’s spinach dish.

The Great War

The book was with me because I usually bring a book when I dine alone. After, when I got out to the mall parking lot, it seemed a good idea to walk around a bit before going home. A corner of the parking lot was hosting one of those movable mini fairs. This particular mini fair had a booth featuring the quarter/token game, where you aim the coin down a long chute and try to place it expertly enough to push the mass of coins and prizes toward you and over the edge when the sweeper comes forward.

One pair of fuzzy handcuffs was precariously perched, so I got $5 in tokens and circled the games to see if that was the best bet. I was half-way around the booth when someone snatched the book out of my hand and took off running.

Now, take a moment to savor my utter confusion here. Some guy had just stolen a book, from my hand, and taken off with it.

My first thought was, roughly, “Did that just happen?” Then: “I can’t believe that just happened!” Then: “Is this part of some elaborate scheme to steal something other than my book, because… who does that?” Then: “How would I feel about a society in which people cared enough about books that they went around snatching them out of people’s hands?” Then: “I just bought that book! He’s not making off with $20.”

All of these notions flashed before my mind in less than a second. I yelled “Give it back!” and started to make chase. He doubled back toward me and it was at the point, when the normal fight-or-flight reaction was about to kick in, that I recognized the thief — and his wife.

It was my friend, the very mischievous local radio station manager and talk show host Dillon Honcoop and his wife Tiffany. She had been standing next to me the whole time but my attention was diverted. Dillon told me he had seen some guy walking around a fair with a book on World War I in his hand, saw that it was me, and just couldn’t resist. Tiffany told me I should have seen the shocked/puzzled/angry look on my own face when he made off with it. I’ll bet.

Oh, and I did win that pair of fuzzy handcuffs.

Fuzzy handcuffs

Hey New Republic, Get Your Act Together

The great critic and historian Paul Fussell died yesterday. Real Clear Books linked to three Fussell-related items today and our competition, Arts & Letters Daily, linked to an obituary. What has the New Republic done? Certainly nothing that I can find. Nothing so far on the front page. TNR‘s books page, which often republishes old essays, is silent. How about its new literary aggregation page? Crickets.

This is extra odd because TNR published what is probably Fussell’s most famous essay, in 1981, about the morality of going nuclear on Japan. Originally published with the humdrum title “Hiroshima: A Soldier’s View,” it served as the hook for Fussell’s famous collection Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays. I went to TNR‘s website to try to reread the original essay and especially the awesome back-and-forth between Fussell and his critics. Couldn’t find it. I finally found a copy and am going through it now. This round goes, deservedly, to Google.