Fussell believes that the soldier of world war two, “suffers so deeply from contempt and damage to his selfhood, from absurdity and boredom and chickenshit, that some anodyne is necessary”, and that the anodyne of choice was alcohol. I would argue that Fussell is correct, especially regarding the connection between the absurdity of the war and the associated damage to soldiers image of themselves as good and patriotic, and the use of alcohol to block out the reality of the war.
I think this connection is evident in the interviews presented in Terkels “The Good War”, especially those of John Garcia and Eddie Costello. John Garcias sense of the absurdity of the war is particularly keen. It is first evident to him in a request to board a battleship with fires near the ammunition. He refuses, but escapes punishment because of his role in rescuing people from the water. This same value for human life and knowledge of the futility with which it was often lost in the war pervades his story.
He recounts a man being killed by friendly fire after lighting a cigarette, the death of his girlfriend from American artillery shells fired at planes, and the Japanese woman and child he shot in the pacific. John is eager to fight in the war at first, taking a cut in wages and even petitioning the president to be allowed to serve. This patriotism is replaced by a sense of guilt and fear once he must actually kill people. He thinks he committed murder when he shot the Japanese woman and child, and is haunted by the grief of the families of the soldiers he kills.
He says he drank because it was the only way he could overcome the guilt and kill someone. Once the war was over he no longer needed alcohol and stopped drinking, but a permanent change in his view of himself and warfare is evident. He is still continually troubled in his dreams by the woman and child he shot, and while he was initially eager to join the war, he refused to use violence as a policeman afterwards and thinks that if countries are going to war they ought to send the politicians to fight.
Eddie Costellos current view of the war is as a “sore asshole”, but he says he started out as a “seventeen year old adolescent patriot”. Eddies experience is similar to Johns in that he initially went to great lengths to participate in the war, lying about his age to get a munitions factory job at only 14. After he goes through actual combat, the same absurdity becomes evident. He bombs Frankfurt as second pilot since the actual second pilot is too hung over to do it, even though he was also drinking frequently and had no idea what was going on.
When he returned later to the sight, he found it haunting, and later learned he was bombing it while a German woman who would later become his friend was present. He doesnt give many specific details about his experience, stating, “Id rather forget about the war, except when Im at a cocktail party”, but a change in his is evident. He describes himself at 18, “When I was 18 I was gung-ho, completely a creature of my countries propaganda machine. There was right and there was wrong, and I wore the white hat. ” He makes it through the experience with the aid of drink, but comes out bitter and Jaded.