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G.I.-the American soldier in World War II.

G.I.--The American Soldier in World War II.

Lee Kennet.Scribners, $20.95. G.I. centers on the lowest possible denominator in warfare: the common soldier. I was one of those soldiers, an infantryman in Italy. The book begins with the drafting of the American G.I. in World War II and his basic training, which was often unrealistic and was related only marginally to later battle experience, and goes on to the problems of adapting individualistic Americans to military norms, the lunatic randomness of actual battle, the anticlimax of occupational duty, and the unseemly hastly dissolution of the U.S. Army shortly after the war. There is no flag waving or patriotism in G.I.; Kennet recognizes, as do most combat soldiers, that motivation has nothing to do with such vacuous notions. Instead, troops fought for each other, their small unit.

Those who actually fought,about 10 percent of an army of more than eight million by 1945, were for most of the war the "dregs' of the draft; the upper classes did not see combat until very late in the war, when those sent to colleges and universities for special training were finally pressganged into the infantry to replace unexpectedly heavy losses.

Kennet rightly decries theAmerican replacement system that kept divisions in combat for protracted periods during which they were ground up by attrition. Other armies, allied and enemy, pulled fighting divisions out of battle for replacement, refurbishing, and retraining. American replacements were individual soldiers who faced isolation for some time in their new units until accepted by the veterans. More often than not these inexperienced youths were promptly put "on point' for the practical reason that they were far less useful than the battle-hardened old timers-- though few infantrymen lasted long enough to become "hardened.'

Kennet also makes clear the differencesthat emerged in combat conditions between the Pacific and European theaters. For example, soldiers in Europe rarely expressed hatred of their German enemy. They perceived German soldiers to be much like themselves in combat, as prisoners, and certainly during the occupation. But virulent hatred was directed at the Japanese, and took on an increasingly racist dimension. While Japanese soldiers rarely surrendered, American soldiers often refused to take prisoners even when there was a clear opportunity to do so.

For those who did not serve duringWorld War II--a population with a vanishing sense of history-- G.I. reveals the heavy burden of war and death borne by those with the least to say in great political and military decisions that shape, take, and frequently waste their lives.
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Author:Savage, Paul L
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1987
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