Soldier from the War Returning
The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II
By Thomas Childers
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618773688, 352pp.)
Publication Date: May 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
One of our most enduring national myths surrounds the men and women who fought in the so-called "Good War." The Greatest Generation, we're told by Tom Brokaw and others, fought heroically, then returned to America happy, healthy and well-adjusted. They quickly and cheerfully went on with the business of rebuilding their lives.
In this shocking and hauntingly beautiful book, historian Thomas Childers shatters that myth. He interweaves the intimate story of three familiesincluding his ownwith a decades' worth of research to paint an entirely new picture of the war's aftermath. Drawing on government documents, interviews, oral histories and diaries, he reveals that 10,000 veterans a month were being diagnosed with psycho-neurotic disorder (now known as PTSD). Alcoholism, homelessness, and unemployment were rampant, leading to a skyrocketing divorce rate. Many veterans bounced back, but their struggle has been lost in a wave of nostalgia that threatens to undermine a new generation of returning soldiers.
Novelistic in its telling and impeccably researched, Childers's book is a stark reminder that the price of war is unimaginably high. The consequences are human, not just political, and the toll can stretch across generations.
THOMAS CHILDERS is the Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of five previous books on the Third Reich and World War II, most recently, Wings of Morning and In the Shadows of War.
“[T]his somber book is a sharp reminder, as the Greatest Generation passes into history, that war is the most powerful of defining moments.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[C]ompelling, nuanced…With his meticulous reporting and sensitive yet dispassionate writing, Childers pays the highest honor to the complete story of the Greatest Generation.”
—St. Louis Post Dispatch
“Thomas Childers' heartbreaking book makes palpable the human cost of a conflict too often sanitized as 'the good war.' No war is good for those who fight it, he reminds us in scarifying descriptions of his three protagonists' travails.”
“Childers's beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjects' wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress....Childers's absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good War's legacy.”
“A sympathetic, wide-ranging look at unseen casualties of World War II—those psychologically damaged by battle....A lucid study of a well-remembered war’s forgotten soldiers.”
“In this provocative and eloquent book, Thomas Childers breaks significant new ground by chronicling the hidden history of the emotional toll that World War II exacted on those who fought it, and on those who loved them. I did not think there was anything fresh to say about the defining conflict of the modern world. Childers has proven me wrong—very wrong indeed. This is an important and engaging work.”
—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston
“Thomas Childers has made a brave and honest inquiry into a darker side of the Greatest Generation, the aftershock World War II inflicted on millions of veterans and their families. This haunting book penetrates the fog of myth surrounding ‘The Last Good War.’ It offers a fine homage to countless acts of heart breaking sacrifice.”
—Tom Mathews, author of Our Fathers’ War
“With Soldier From the War Returning, Thomas Childers has exposed the post-war trauma of three WWII veterans. They symbolize the struggle that many of our fathers and grandfathers experienced when the cheering stopped and the haunting by the war’s long shadow remained. A compelling read for all generations.”
—David P. Colley, author of Safely Rest and Blood for Dignity
“Sublime, cathartic, the ‘Truth’s own self,’ Childers’ memorial to the emotionally damaged is a precious gift to World War II veterans, their baby-boom children, and all future generations scarred by wars whose wounds last far more than a lifetime.”
—Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Vietnam veteran, and author of Throes of Democracy: The American Civil Era 1829-1877
“Childers’s beautifully written, novelistic profiles movingly convey his subjects’ wartime travails and their twilight struggles with disability and post-traumatic stress....Childers’s absorbing study offers an important corrective to sanitized tributes to the Good War’s legacy.” —Publishers Weekly
“More emotionally telling than most histories and more historically revealing than many memoirs. This is a collective biography of casualties - visible and invisible - not only the men who lost limbs or minds, but also their wives and, inevitably, their children. It should be required reading for everyone in Washington who has the authority to send other people into war.” —Washington Times