Paul Fussell


American Cultural and Literary Historian, Author and University Professor, Winner of National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, Awarded Bronze Star and Purple Heart

Author Quotes

Well, I'm a pacifist about certain things. I'm a pacifist in the way I define national interest. I use this example frequently: If the Mexicans decided to cross the Texas border with firearms, I would be down there in a moment with a rifle and a whistle to direct the troops to repel them. If the United States is attacked, I will defend it.

When... asked what I am writing, I have answered, A book about social class in America, ... It is if I had said, I am working on a book urging the beating to death of baby whales using the dead bodies of baby seals.

When it was fully light, and it was clear that no attack was going to happen that morning, you stood down and had breakfast. Eating it on the firing trench, which was like a building bench in the trench you were occupying.

You also have the advantage of a full day in which you can prosecute the development of the attack before it gets dark again. Both the Germans and the British had morning stand-to, which is short for stand-to-arms.

The more violent the body contact of the sports you watch, the lower the class.

You never see the enemy except when he's attacking, or you're attacking and you get close to him. So it's a curious, almost studious isolation that the troops are in. They're isolated from the setting and they're isolated, of course, from home, from normal pursuits, and so on. You could read in the trenches sometimes, but it was pretty hard to do with all the explosions going off all the time.

The object of each side was to try to put mortar shells into the enemy trench and blow it up, or kill the people in it. So there's constant noise and bombardment all day long. Now one couldn't stay forever in the trenches. You stayed usually about a week. Then you were rotated back with another unit, and a fresh unit came up for its week of trench duty.

You never see your enemy and the only thing you can see is the sky up above. You look at the sky constantly from the opening of the trench, because you can't look out to the side. All of your view is vertical. You consequently get very interested in birds for the first time, because those are the only animated things you can see, except for rats and lice, or other human beings.

The plunge of civilization into this abyss of blood and darkness... is a thing that so gives away the whole long age during which we have supposed the world to be, with whatever abatement, gradually bettering, that to have to take it all now for what the treacherous years were all the while really making for and meaning is too tragic for any words.

The worst thing about war was the sitting around and wondering what you were doing morally.

Then there's nothing to do all day, except listen to the bangs as the shells went off everywhere.

There were rats the size of cats.

They have experienced secretly and privately their natural human impulse toward sadism and brutality. As I say in this new book of mine, not merely did I learn to kill with a noose of piano wire put around somebody's neck from behind, but I learned to enjoy the prospect of killing that way. It's those things that you learn about yourself that you never forget. You learn that you have much wider dimensions than you had imagined before you had to fight a war. That's salutary. It's well to know exactly who you are so you can conduct the rest of your life properly.

Those whose goal it is to sell domestic dwellings hope to persuade their patsies that a house and a home are identical, and thus advertise ?a lovely quarter-of-a-million-dollar home.? But since a house-wrecker differs significantly from a home-wrecker, the inference is clear that house and home mean different things, although the new gentility and sentimentality, issuing in the new euphemism, labor constantly to efface the difference. The Philadelphia Inquirer has spoken recently of boarding homes, and it will probably not be long before we hear of whore-homes, homes of prostitution, and bawdy homes.

Today the Somme is a peaceful but sullen place, unforgetting and unforgiving... To wander now over the fields destined to extrude their rusty metal fragments for centuries is to appreciate in the most intimate way the permanent reverberations of July, 1916. When the air is damp you can smell rusted iron everywhere, even though you see only wheat and barley.

Understanding the past requires pretending that you don't know the present.

Wars damage the civilian society as much as they damage the enemy. Soldiers never get over it.

We were going to live. We were going to grow up to adulthood after all.

Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war.

The automobile, like the all-important domestic fa‡ade, is another mechanism for outdoor class display. Or class lack of display we'd have to say, if we focus on the usages of the upper class, who, on the principle of archaism, affect to regard the automobile as very nouveau and underplay it consistently. Class understatement describes the technique: if your money and freedom and carelessness of censure allow you to buy any kind of car, you provide yourself with the meanest and most common to indicate that you're not taking seriously so easily purchasable and thus vulgar a class totem. You have a Chevy, Ford, Plymouth, or Dodge, and in the least interesting style and color. It may be clean, although slightly dirty is best. But it should be boring. The next best thing is to have a good car, like a Jaguar or BMW, but to be sure it's old and beat-up. You may not have a Rolls, a Cadillac, or a Mercedes. Especially a Mercedes, a car, Joseph Epstein reports in The American Scholar (Winter 1981-82), which the intelligent young in West Germany regard, quite correctly, as a sign of vulgarity, a car of the kind owned by Beverly Hills dentists or African cabinet ministers.

Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant 'paying off of old scores'; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.

The best time for attacking is in the early morning; partly because you have the advantage of darkness in forming the troops up.

Exploration belongs to the Renaissance, travel to the bourgeois age, tourism to our proletarian moment... The explorer seeks the undiscovered, the traveler that which has been discovered by the mind working in history, the tourist that which has been discovered by entrepreneurship and prepared for him by the arts of mass publicity... If the explorer moves toward the risks of the formless and the unknown, the tourist moves toward the security of pure clich‚. It is between these two poles that the traveler mediates.

The day after the British entered the war Henry James wrote a friend:

I find nothing more depressing than optimism.

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American Cultural and Literary Historian, Author and University Professor, Winner of National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, Awarded Bronze Star and Purple Heart