Edward Streeter (essay date 1943)
SOURCE: "Ernie Pyle's Story of G. I. Joe," in The New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1943, pp. 1, 34.
[In the following essay, Streeter praises Pyle's "deeply human portrait of the American soldier in action."]
Ernie Pyle has drawn a graphic and absorbing picture of the fighting in Tunisia. [in Here Is Your War]. He has also achieved something far more difficult and important—a full length, deeply human portrait of the American soldier in action.
This ability to disclose the individual beneath the war-stained uniform of the soldier is what has made Pyle one of the most popular of the war correspondents. He writes only of what he sees, and he sees the tilings that those at home want most to know: what their boys eat, where they sleep, what they talk about, and how they react to the fatigue, dirt and danger of a fighting front.
Pyle spent most of his time in North Africa with the men who were shooting and being shot at. He sees them not as "soldiers," but as boys from the farms and the cities, the plains and the uplands of forty-eight States. He sees them as ex-storekeepers, soda jerks, truck drivers, clerks, cowpunchers, farmers and gas station attendants—dumped into a small segment of North Africa, called upon to perform dangerous and unaccustomed tasks—yet still civilians at heart.
From the general staff point of view, a military campaign consists of a carefully worked-out plan, executed with precision and skillfully timed. A campaign is also composed of myriads of incidents, small in themselves but vitally important to those who take part in them. History is written as much by the reaction of individuals to the impact of relatively trivial things as it is by the leaders.
It is this phase of war which interests Ernie Pyle:
I haven't written anything about the Big Picture, because I don't know anything about it. I only know what we see from our worm's-eye view, and our segment of this picture consists only of tired and dirty soldiers who are alive and don't want to die; of long darkened convoys in the middle of the night; of shocked, silent men wandering back down the hill from battle; of chow lines and atabrine tablets and foxholes and burning tanks and Arabs holding up eggs and the rustle of high-flown shells; of jeeps and petrol dumps and smelly bedding-rolls and A rations and cactus patches and blown bridges and dead mules and hospital tents and shirt collars greasy-black from months of wearing; and of laughter, too, and anger and wine and lovely flowers, and constant cussing. All these it is composed of; and of graves and graves and graves.
These are the materials from which the story is woven; innumerable strands which, when drawn together, disclose the magnitude of the over-all accomplishment. It is the story of thousands of bewildered, frustrated and very human beings, who through their daily actions and reactions merged into an irresistible fighting machine.
There is no embellishment, no fine writing. This is not a book of memories, revived and polished on a sunny terrace in Connecticut. It was written behind rocks scarred by snipers' bullets, in pup tents, foxholes and dugouts, in freezing cold and...
(The entire section is 1371 words.)