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Axis/Axes to GrindPolitical Slants in American World War II Novels, 1945-1975$
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Milton A. Cohen

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781949979749

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781949979749.001.0001

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The Soldier1 and the System

The Soldier1 and the System

Three War Novels of the 1950s Era

Chapter:
(p.101) Chapter Three The Soldier1 and the System
Source:
Axis/Axes to Grind
Author(s):

Milton A. Cohen

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.3828/liverpool/9781949979749.003.0004

A distinctive theme in the culture of the 1950s was conformity to the “system” versus rebellion against it. This chapter studies three quintessentially “50s” war novels that feature this theme: Jones’s From Here to Eternity, Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (published in 1961, but essentially a “50s” novel). As with novels about Black-White conflicts, the authors’ perspectives of these individual-vs.-system theme vary markedly. Jones sympathetically depicts an outsider’s rebellion by Private Prewitt against unjust treatment and an insider’s one by Sergeant Warden. Both characters reflect Jones’s own ambivalence about the Army. Wouk’s lower-level officers mutiny against the incompetent and paranoid Captain Queeg during a killer typhoon when their ship’s survival is at stake. Though the evidence supports the mutineers, Wouk seems to side with naval authority which punishes them. Heller depicts a self-serving power elite that profits from the war and avoids danger versus the lower-level officers, emblemized by Yossarian, who must fly an ever-increasing number of missions. The chapter clarifies misconceptions about the number of missions and about whether the “enemy” is an impersonal system or particular people. Heller’s complete sympathy for his belated rebel, Yossarian, anticipates (but differs from) anti-war themes of the later 1960s.

Keywords:   military as system, military rebels: Prewitt, Warden, Maryk, Yossarian, From Here to Eternity, The Caine Mutiny, Catch-22, 1950s ethos of conformity vs. rebellion

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