Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

One of the principal themes of the novel is how unprepared America was, militarily and morally, to fight a global war, and how it astonished the world with its ability to acquire the means to defeat all its foes. President Roosevelt is credited with the political greatness that ensured cooperation among the allies and solid support for the war at home. While not endorsing Armin von Roon’s portrait of Roosevelt as the evil genius of the war who knew how to keep the Soviets fighting while America minimized its losses, Wouk does see the president as practicing realpolitik by giving the Soviets, through the policy of Lend-Lease, virtually all the material that they requested; by not challenging their territorial claims; and by restraining Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s opposition to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

The Nazi extermination of the Jews and the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima are not equated in moral terms, but Wouk clearly identifies these two events as shattering traditional views of the world. The systematic, bureaucratic, and industrialized killing of a people, is, in his words, a “new fact” about human nature that the world will forever have to reckon with. Similarly “new” in a terrible way is the atom bomb, “the new light [that] seared more than sixty thousand people to cinders.” Although more people died in conventional bombing raids over Dresden and Tokyo, the concentration of such force in a single bomb inevitably ended not only World War II but also the thought of any survivable global conflict in the future.