This is the first book I've abandoned in quite awhile, and I feel like I should at least share my reasons for dropping it half way through. It has nothing to do with not enjoying it--in fact it has more to do with enjoying it more than I'd like. I read the first 250 pages avidly, never once getting bored, but in the end I did not like the strategy of the book. It hit home as I was reading an interview with Wim Wenders this morning (thanks again, Amanda), in which he talks about his own strategies for film-making, and why the violence and turbulent politics of his time don't appear in his films. It is a discussion of films, and The Naked and the Dead is of course a novel, a completely different form, but I still think his thoughts are helpful when thinking about the portrayal of war, and worth quoting here:
Films are always about what they're about and what they're not about. If there's something missing from a film, that makes it a part of the subject of a film. In my films, you don't get any sex or violence, because I think those are both things that can do a lot of damage. I only really like to show things that I like. I don't like to show something and then say, here is something I hate. The act of film-making, what you put up on a screen, is something you identify with, I think. That's how propaganda works. Because at that moment when you've got people sitting in a cinema and something appears on the big screen, there's automatically a kind of identification that takes place. You can't distance yourself from what you show. What you shoot, by implication is what your support, it expresses what you want. That means that every act of violence, especially in American films that purport to be against violence, or war films that just pretend to be opposed...really every war film is a pro-war film. Every film with violence in it is in favour of violence. As far as politics goes, the most political decision you make is where you direct people's eyes. In other words: what you show people, day in day out, is political. Explicit political content in cinema is about the least political side of it, as for as I'm concerned. Entertainment is the height of politics. The most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show him, every day, that there can be no change. But by showing that something is open to change you keep the idea of change alive. And that for me is the only political act of which cinema is capable: keeping the idea of change going. Not by calling for change. You achieve very little by that, I find. Maybe you need to do that sometimes, to call for change. But the really political act that cinema is capable of is making change possible, by implication, by not gumming up people's brains and eyes.
This is an old debate, and I don't think it's fair to compare the description of violence in a novel to the depiction of violence in a film, but I certainly have begun to feel that this book at least is beginning to "gum up my brains and eyes," something that never happened in other books I've read about war like Heinrich Boell's novels, the non-fiction accounts of Vietnam by African-American soldiers in Bloods, or in Slaughterhouse Five. In the introduction to that novel, the wife of the author's buddy from the war is infuriated by the thought that he is going to write another novel about the war, that will make it seem like they something other than what it was: young boys sent to their death (from this conversation originates the subtitle, The Children's Crusade.) I can't help but think that this was one of those books she had in mind.