Ray Elliott: James Jones: The Evolution of a Solider & a Writer - Part 3

Uploaded by cahEIU on 26.04.2011


Ok, then from Hawaii, his outfit the 25th Infantry Division was
rumored to be headed toward Australia, but ended up on
Guadalcanal in November 1942 as a part of the army deployment to
relieve the marines who had landed on the
beach in as early August.
As Jones wrote in World War II, the marines who had been there
since the landing and had fought to constantly reinforce Japanese
to a standstill "were deadbeat, ill and tired, decimated by
wounds and tropical diseases but evolved into soldiers at last."
He also wrote that nobody looking at his outfit going
ashore that day and staring in awe of what he described as
quote "Hollow eyed, vacant faced, mean looking 1st marines
could have believed that in the three months from that day that
we would be known as the famed 25th Lightening Division."
The Division took part, Jones continued, in the final
defensive on Guadalcanal, chased the Japanese to Tassafaronga,
and [unclear audio], then went up into Georgia and that's,
Jones went up into Memphis at that time.
But that was what gave them their name, and then they began
the next fight of their campaign and I think the 25th ended up in
the Philippines in 1945.
"The Thin Red Line", the second book in the trilogy is Jones'
account of Guadalcanal and is often mentioned as one of the
best novels ever written about combat.
Published 17 years after the end of the war and published in
Paris, the soldier's attitude about the war Jones captured so
well in "From Here to Eternity" has matured slightly from the
earlier excited and somewhat adolescent view of war.
He claimed all his books were actually antiwar in scope, and
it's not without a touch of irony that he dedicates "The
Thin Red Line", "to those greatest and most heroic of all
human endeavors war and warfare."
"May they never cease to give the pleasure, excitement, and
adrenal stimulation that we need or provide us with the heroes
the presidents and leaders, the monuments and museums which we
erect to them in the name of peace."
On Guadalcanal, Jones wrestled with the agony of war and his
own feelings of combat, as did the rest of the men.
"I was scared shitless just about all the time," he wrote in
World War II."
And he became decidedly more anti-war after he killed a
charging half-starved Japanese soldier or be killed himself.
Afterwards he no longer wanted to fight and used the incident
in "The Thin Red Line", but never mentioned
it in any of his non-fiction work.
Sometime later, still fighting though he was slightly wounded,
returned to finish the campaign and then was
shipped out because of an ankle injury.
He said the thing he was most proud of when he was wounded was
that he remembered to remove his canteen and toss it to another
man in the company.
In "The Thin Red Line" Jones becomes the universal soldier
and writes omnisciently from an infantryman's point of view.
This time the honor of the individual is not much at stake.
Honor doesn't keep the people alive, but survival does, then
the glory of war soon vanishes as Jones shows the collective
behavior of a cross section of American men forced into a
situation where they have no choice except to fight.
You see man at his lowest most base level taking the final step
in the evolution of the soldier.
Jones himself had a difficult time taking that final step.
In World War II he writes about drinking in a bar on Waikiki in
May of '42, with three sailors from the Yorktown fresh from the
Battle of the Coral Sea, where the carrier Lexington had been
lost and heard them matter-of-factly tell about the
battle and the damage to Yorktown.
They were drinking themselves into a stupor because as one of
them said, "they might not get another chance."
"More than anything in the world I wanted to
be like them", Jones wrote.
But he saw, said he saw "on their sun-blackened faces and
hollowed haunting eyes they were men who had already been passed
on into a realm that I had never seen
and didn't particularly want to see."
The Yorktown was sunk at Midway a few days later.
Jones wrote to his brother Jeff from Guadalcanal that "some of
us will live through it, but that doesn't help one guy any
because if he doesn't live through it what happens to the
rest doesn't make any difference."
"I've sort of got a hunch that I'm not going to make it."
Afterwards he wrote," I simply did not want to die and not be
remembered for it or not remembered at all."
Although Pruit is killed in "From Here to Eternity," Jones
resurrects him as Witt in "The Thin Red Line" and justifies the
changing of the many of the names of the other characters.
While this does seem bit strange because they seem to be the same
men, it works because the characters are the same types
and change with what has happened to them and what they
have endured in the war.
So the names doesn't, they don't seem to be that important and
Jones once said that he had to kill Pruit for the dramatic
effect for "From Here to Eternity" and then he had to
resurrect him I guess because those were the people he knew
and was writing about and I think that's true of Jones'
work, that he writes about the people and the things that he
experienced and knew about.
Warden, the top Sergeant in "From Here to Eternity"
is now Welsh on Guadalcanal, same people.
While Warden seems eager to go to war at the time of Pearl
Harbor, when he gleefully goes up onto the barracks roof to
shoot at Japanese fighter planes, Welsh isn't quite so
eager to fight, even though he's cynical and hard-nosed and still
takes care of his men.
The way Welsh chose to see it", Jones wrote in "The Thin red
Line", "he had beaten the Depression and his country and
now today, November the 10th, 1942,
he was preparing to pay for it.
Welsh believes the war is for one thing, property
with which he wants nothing to do.
He seems almost content to survive with his canteens full
of gin, he volunteers for nothing, does his job and
nothing more, which is exactly what Jones said he did himself.
Only Wit seems to be unconcerned about survival.
Still the rebel like he was as Pruit in Eternity, has
transferred to another company for being a troublemaker.
But he later rejoins the old company to fight when he pleases
and according to whether he's still under the command of
someone he respects, the soldier's soldier.
Wit swears he'll never return to the company after a tactical
error causes all but two of the squad
side patrol he was on to be killed.
Shortly before the company leaves for
New Georgia however, Wit returns.
[unclear audio] is with the company, and it's men, the
evolution of the soldier goes on.
Jones' understanding of the emotions of men in combat and
his knowledge of military tactics are quite impressive.
As the reader, you experience vicariously in the tactics and
the battles for each hill.
You feel what the men felt, and you feel for the men.
And you know that Jones is articulating what thousands of
combat veterans must know, but slowly forget as the years pass
and they begin to lose some of the feeling of what it was like,
the de-evolution of the soldier Perhaps that's partly why Jones
writes at the end of the novel, as the survivors of the C.
Charlie Company leave the island for the New Jersey campaign,
"one day one of their number would write a book about all
this, but none of them would believe is because none of them
would remember it that way at all."
The combat veteran's I've talked with, I have always looked for a
larger picture in my interviews I suppose, and finally a guy
down in Crawford County said, "well I'm going to tell you
something, God dammit," said, "you know what's going on right
in front of you, right on your left, and right on your right."
He says, "you don't know what, hell you don't even care what's
going on the rest of the places sometimes because you're taking
care of yourself and the people around you."
But that's, but all combat veterans certainly know about
the evolution of the soldier.
Even the old cigar-sopping doctor who treats Fithe for the
same type of head wound that Jones actually received on
Guadalcanal had evolved into a soldier.
Fithe wants to be evacuated even though the wound isn't serious,
and Jones writes of the doctor quote, "quite suddenly his smile
disappeared from the cigar butt in it, his eyes got flatter as
if some veil had fallen over them.
"Old Doc Hanes stared back at him, obdurately now, 'I don't
make the rules son,' he said 'I just try to live by them'."
So Fithe goes back, he has no choice, and is assigned to a
platoon leading an attack.
This time he learns that he too can kill, death becomes routine,
part of the brutality of war.
Jones shows up close what combat is like then, and he feels fear
and hope with the men hem writes about, served with,
and has compassion for them.
So, combat doesn't deal a very good hand to play in,
and Jones leaves no illusion that is does.
And that's true even for the survivors.
And that's particularly true in "Whistle", the last book of the
trilogy, where the de-evolution of the
soldier begins in earnest.
Now back home, the characters think much differently than they
did in the first two books of the trilogy, and it was written
more than 30 years after the end of the war and I think it also
had some effect on that.