War Comes Again

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War Comes Again

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although the United States has fought a number of wars, declared and undeclared, two stand out as the most costly, the most desperate and—the war for independence excepted—the most important: the American Civil War and World War II. These two wars are true watersheds in America’s historical life as a nation, and our reactions to them, both at the time and afterward, has defined who and what we are as a people. The first preserved the Union and ended slavery; the second destroyed Nazism and made the United States a true international superpower. Surely there have been no other wars quite like them in American history.

Such is the underlying thesis of WAR COMES AGAIN, a collection of original essays tracing the similarities and differences of these two conflicts. Ably edited by the noted Civil War historian Gabor Boritt, the volume contains essays from historians and writers of the caliber of Stephen E. Ambrose, Don E. Fehrenbacher, Russell F. Weigley, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The observations they make, and the perceptions they provide, will interest and even intrigue the general reader as well as the military enthusiast.

In a brief review, it is perhaps unfair to single out individual entries when all contributors offer such substantial pleasures, but two pieces provide so much thought-provoking insight into such limited space that they must be mentioned. Both are comparative essays on Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., on how the two wartime presidents adhered to the spirit of the Constitution while sometimes obscuring its letter; the second by Howard Jones on the presidential diplomacy of Lincoln and Roosevelt. Both selections provide in a handful of pages more understanding that is sometimes found in volumes.

Fortunately, pedantry is almost entirely absent from this collection, and there are moments of real— if subtle—humor, as Howard Jones himself so aptly demonstrates. In his comparison of Lincoln and FDR, he admits that Lincoln was the man of “deeper thought and purpose.” Jones neatly explains this as a matter of education, since “Lincoln studied the Bible; Roosevelt went to Harvard.” This collection of essays is about the most serious of subjects, but is clearly not without its grace notes.