In This Review

War Isn’t the Only Hell: A New Reading of World War I American Literature
War Isn’t the Only Hell: A New Reading of World War I American Literature
By Keith Gandal
Johns Hopkins University, 2018, 288 pp

Contrary to what is often assumed, the American literature generated by World War I was not based on the trauma of combat. As Gandal points out, battle was far from the typical experience. Many would-be conscripts were deemed unfit for service, most of those who passed their physical exams were given jobs away from the frontlines, and many of those assigned combat roles never saw any fighting. A lot of young men, therefore, came away with a sense of personal failure. And since the selection of officers was based on merit rather than social class or ethnicity (except for African Americans, who were excluded as a group), many men resented watching those they considered their social inferiors giving orders. Much of the postwar literature, Gandal argues, was therefore about emasculation more than danger. He shows how unsatisfactory wartime experiences informed the fiction of a range of writers, including William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, both of whom lied about their military roles in later years.