Last night I wrote of the news of the passing of legendary critic and historian Paul Fussell. Today, Slate’s Stephen Metcalf wrote a beautiful piece on Fussell’s impact on American history. Specifically, Metcalf quotes a great interview of Fussell’s when Fussell candidly talked about the absurdity of moral blame when discussing the atom bomb.


This produced a funny kind of irony —small “i” irony, nothing on the scale of the grand historical irony unleashed by Passchendaele and the Somme —in Fussell’s work. It’s powerfully on display in the essay, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” for example, where he asks of John Kenneth Galbraith, who had argued that the single ordnance incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, was immoral: “What did [Galbraith] do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.”

What Metcalf gets right about understanding Fussell was that the Second World War wasn’t a great fun time for a lot of young men. It was brutal and disgusting and a lot of boys died. It’s fitting to me that this being Memorial Day weekend, that people remember that too.