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

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.

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.

Anyone telling about his travels must be a liar... for if a traveler doesn't visit his narrative with the spirit and techniques of fiction, no one will want to hear it.

It's hard to imagine people living for years in the middle of that smell. That's what they had to endure. For the most part there were no bunks, no places to lie down when you weren't on duty; so you lay in the mud, in a hole cut in the side of the trench, or in a dugout if you were an officer or an NCO.

As a former soldier, what struck me is the absolutely heartless way that war was being pursued by the Americans, partly I think because of the race problem. The Vietnamese to us were not merely communists, they were nasty little yellow people without souls. It didn't matter how we blew them up or how we bombed them or how we burned their villages and so on. I was very struck by that. And one thing I was trying to do in The Great War and Modern Memory was to awaken a sort of civilian sympathy for the people who suffer on the ground in wartime, and that's really an act that I've been performing, oh, ever since 1945, I suppose.

Many people think that the great flu epidemic of 1919, which affected the United States, had something to do with bubonic plague, which was being carried by these trench rats. Actually, more American troops died of flu than of bullets and shell fragments in the war.

Bad language is so much the norm these days that there's virtually nothing said in public that if speaker and listener, writer and reader were honest and socially secure, couldn't be moved downwards towards a modest simplicity. The simple is carefully shunned by those who labor to seem what they would be.

My problem is the United States' defending the interests of the Union Oil Company or the United Fruit Company. Those are not American interests. They're private-money interests, and that bothers me a great deal.

Both the Germans and the British were troubled with rats. The rats ate corpses, then they came in and snuggled next to you while you were sleeping. And they ate your own food, and they were filthy creatures. They also carried disease ? bubonic plague primarily.

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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