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Author: Charles Glass
Publisher: Penguin Books
Professional burnout is
such a common phenomenon these days in the contemporary workplace
that undue chastisement for anyone afflicted with it would most
likely be abhorred as being indicative of a sign of lack of empathy
and true leadership in those who head up the organizations concerned.
Why, then, should the enlisted during wartime, who are subjected to
the constant psychological and physical battery of ongoing
bombardment of the senses, be expected to endure life-threatening
dangers with no, or scant, desire to leave the combat zone?
To lack compassion and understanding for a person caught up in such a situation (of which they, more often than not, knew and understood little before becoming immersed in it) shows the highest disregard for human rights. Yet, what deserters were exposed to during World War II was recrimination of the harshest kind, with many receiving prolonged jail sentences, if not execution by means of firing squad.
In The Deserters: A Hidden
History of World War II, the intrepid journalist, Charles Glass,
takes up the cudgels on behalf of those who, until now, have had far
too little attention paid to them in the literature relating to the
Second World War—that is, the deserters. In order to overcome the
negativity and neglect to which such individuals have, in the past,
been subject, Glass explores the individual histories of three men
that show, not primarily what others have deemed to be their
cowardice at deserting their posts, but rather their
multidimensionality as fully fleshed characters in their own right.
The reasons for their desertion are examined in detail, so that
readers can relate to them both in terms of their personal histories,
and in terms of the wider arena of war. The biographical approach
that Glass has taken, and which is based on research that led him
“from archives to libraries, from court-martial records to old
V-mail letters, from fading documents to myriad academic studies”
has enabled the author to present a lively and vivid account of both
the context in which these three individuals served, and of their own
inner workings at the height of conflict and beyond.
It is as though we are encountering these figures at first-hand, and not through the condemnatory lens of officialdom, in whose light they have so often been cast before. Yet Glass does not present a picture of the three Privates, Alfred Whitehead, John Bain, and Steve Weiss, through rose-colored spectacles either. He shows them, warts and all, in full three-dimensional perspective, down to the criminal pursuits of Private Alfred Whitehead in postliberation Paris. Although some of their actions were a great deal more commendable than were others, with, for instance, the same Private having earned both Silver and Bronze stars for bravery prior to his desertion, Glass gives a well-rounded portrayal of each of the three leading protagonists in this highly laudable and clearly well-researched account.
The Deserters is a powerful and cogent argument for the objective assessment of those who have previously been seen, by some, as contemptible excuses for manhood. For a valid and rational understanding of what World War II did to the average male psyche, this volume deserves to be read.