[[ read online ]] Once There Was a WarAuthor John Steinbeck – Schematicwiringdiagram.co

Nobel laureate John Steinbeck's bracing fromthefrontlines account of World War IInow with a new cover and introduction** InJohn Steinbeck was on assignment for The New York Herald Tribune, writing from Italy and North Africa, and from England in the midst of the London blitz In his dispatches he focuses on the humanscale effect of the war, portraying everyone from the guys in a bomber crew to Bob Hope on his USO tour and even fighting alongside soldiers behind enemy lines Taken together, these writings create an indelible portrait of life in wartime


10 thoughts on “Once There Was a War

  1. Kim Kim says:


    When the US entered World War II, Steinbeck had been involved in writing anti-fascist propaganda for some time. He was keen to secure a commission as an intelligence officer in the armed forces, but this didn't eventuate. Steinbeck then spent time trying to get himself appointed as a war correspondent. In April 1943, the New York Herald Tribune offered to hire him if he could obtain the necessary security clearances. Doing so was not as easy as it should have been, as some people interviewed by Army Counterintelligence described Steinbeck as a dangerous radical. According to Steinbeck's biographer, Jay Parini, a right wing group known as the American Legion Radical Research Bureau had compiled what it considered to be damaging information about Steinbeck, specifically that he had contributed articles to several red publications. If Steinbeck was aware of what was being said about him at the time, it must have been particularly galling, given his commitment to supporting the US government and given the fact that his personal politics had never been further to the left than New Deal Democrat.

    In any event, Steinbeck obtained clearance to work as a war correspondent and travelled to England on a troop ship in June 1943. He spent almost five months in England and then in Europe, reporting from England, North Africa and Italy. This is a collection of Steinbeck's dispatches from that period, first published in 1958. In the introduction, Steinbeck describes the attitude of experienced war correspondents to his arrival on the scene:

    To this hard-bitten bunch of professionals I arrived as a Johnny-come-lately, a sacred cow, a kind of tourist. I think they felt I was muscling in on their hard-gained territory. When, however, they found that I was not duplicating their work, was not reporting straight news, they were very kind to me and went out of their way to help me and to instruct me in the things I didn't know.

    Some of Steinbeck's dispatches are quirky observations, some are very funny, some are intensely moving. There is a certain uneveness in the quality of the writing, with some pieces much better written and more interesting than others. Among the best of the pieces is a tribute to Bob Hope in his role as an entertainer of troops and a very funny story about American soldiers collecting souvenirs. However, the most poignant and powerful pieces are those which deal with the allied invasion of Italy. It is in writing about this event that Steinbeck's unsentimental but poetic writing really shines.

    In an interview with Jay Parini, Gore Vidal said this about Steinbeck:
    The truth is that Steinbeck was really a journalist at heart. All of his best work was journalism in that it was inspired by daily events, by current circumstances. He didn't invent things. He found them. (See John Steinbeck: A Biography page 331).
    .
    This work provides sound evidence of the correctness of Vidal's opinion.


  2. Chrissie Chrissie says:

    For six months, June through December 1943, John Steinbeck worked as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. He relayed daily dispatches to them. He was forty one. He was a celebrity, given the popularity of The Grapes of Wrath. Deemed a security risk by the Air Force for his so-called “communist views”, he sought another way to participate in the war. He had patriotic sentiments, and he wanted to see the action.

    These dispatches are collected in this book, published after the war in 1958. The dispatches were written quickly; they were written to meet deadlines. They were censored by the military and remain so here in the book format. They were written to capture the experiences of the men and the women actually fighting the war--how it looked, sounded and felt, even the smells filling their nostrils are described. What is recorded here are not the words of national and military leaders or army commanders. We are not given a recount of campaign strategies or troop movements.

    Steinbeck did not fight; he listened to those doing the fighting; he observed, joked and talked with them. He had access to their mess halls. Through Steinbeck’s words readers are given a close up view of common soldiers’ experiences—embarking on and disembarking from troop ships, of waiting and waiting and waiting for orders. The soldiers, each with a helmet on their head loose their identity; they are one of a mass, one of a group following orders.

    We follow the men to unidentified places--“somewhere in England”, “somewhere in the Mediterranean war theater”, to bomber stations, to coast batteries, to minesweeper operations. We are there alongside a bombing crew. We are in London during the Blitz, in Italy and unspecified places in Northern Africa. Algiers and the Italian island Ventotene are specifically mentioned.

    We observe the frantic search for lost good luck medallions, the soldiers’ attachment to barrack pets, the miscommunication between American and British soldiers and the men’s anxiety, fear and homesickness.

    The tone and the writing style of the articles vary. Some are poignant, movingly capturing soldiers’ emotions. Others are amusing and light. For example, we are told of an inebriated pet goat, of a captain who would not let himself be promoted, of the ubiquitous poster pin-up girls adorning barrack walls, the movies shown and the songs sung. Some incidents are so absurd they stretch believability—the men swear an elf appeared, but of course they were at the time drunk. Most everybody who has read of the war will have heard some of these stories before.

    Liking some chapters more and others less, I have given the collection as a whole three stars. I can’t say I learned terribly much, but I don‘t regret reading the book because Steinbeck’s prose is good.

    Lloyd James reads the audiobook wonderfully. The listener hears every word. He knows when to pause. He varies his intonations to fit those speaking and the situations that arise. Five stars to the narration.

    ********************
    Steinbeck’s books in order of preference :
    *Of Mice and Men 5 stars
    *The Grapes of Wrath 5 stars
    *In Dubious Battle 4 stars
    *The Wayward Bus 4 stars
    *Travels with Charley: In Search of America 4 stars
    *The Moon Is Down 4 stars
    *Cannery Row 4 stars
    *Once There Was a War 3 stars
    *The Winter of Our Discontent 3 stars
    *A Russian Journal 3 stars
    *The Pearl 3 stars
    *Sweet Thursday 2 stars
    *To a God Unknown 2 stars
    *East of Eden 2 stars
    *The Red Pony TBR
    *The Pastures of Heaven TBR

    War Correspondents
    *Train to Nowhere: One Woman's War, Ambulance Driver, Reporter, Liberator 5 stars by Anita Leslie
    * In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin 4 stars by Lindsey Hilsum
    *The View from the Ground 4 stars by Martha Gellhorn
    *The Face of War 4 stars by Martha Gellhorn


  3. Jason Koivu Jason Koivu says:

    A book of stories John Steinbeck filed while working as a war correspondent during WWII.

    Even though they're non-fiction, there's a Steinbeckian ring of storytelling here that reads much like his fiction. Style can be a difficult thing to get away from. But then again, perhaps he didn't want to. After all, these weren't meant to be straightforward reports on battles and troop movements. These stories tell a more human side to the war. Steinbeck did what he did best. He created larger-than-life characters out of real people.


  4. Kevin Kevin says:

    This was a great look at World War 2, not the usual battles and politicians and generals but a look at the war from the eye level of the troops by a superb writer. It was almost like slice of life stories, some of the most compelling for me was a scene in a movie theater during the blitz. I'd seen the movie that was playing comfortably at home and not under bombing, a section on Bob Hope was easily the most patriotic. A few funny pieces Germans fight for world domination and the English for the defense of England, the Americans fight for souvenirs. and a version of Santa that delivers Scotch to a thirsty press corp.


  5. Christine PNW Christine PNW says:

    Quotes for posterity (and sorry, there will be a lot of them):

    It is a different thing, then, to be at war than to be observing and watching it from a safe distance. Steinbeck surrendered any attempt to understand the big picture, and immersed himself.

    ONCE UPON A TIME there was a war, but so long ago and so shouldered out of the way by other wars and other kinds of wars that even people who were there are apt to forget. This war that I speak of came after the plate armor and longbows of Crécy and Agincourt and just before the little spitting experimental atom bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Page 8:

    The clerks and farmers, salesmen, students, laborers, technicians, reporters, fishermen who have stopped being those things to become an army have been trained from their induction for this moment. This is the beginning of the real thing for which they have practiced.

    Page 26:

    American soldiers, Canadians, Royal Air Force men, and many of Great Britain’s women soldiers walk through the streets. But Britain drafts its women and they are really in the Army, driver-mechanics, dispatch riders, trim and hard in their uniforms.

    Page 54:

    The process is machine-like, exact. There is no waste movement and no nonsense. These girls seem to be natural soldiers. They are soldiers, too. They resent above anything being treated like women when they are near the guns. Their work is hard and constant. Sometimes they are alerted to the guns thirty times in a day and a night. They may fire on a marauder ten times in that period. They have been bombed and strafed, and there is no record of any girl flinching.

    Page 55:

    The girls like this work and are proud of it. It is difficult to see how the housemaids will be able to go back to dusting furniture under querulous mistresses, how the farm girls will be able to go back to the tiny farms of Scotland and the Midlands. This is the great exciting time of their lives. They are very important, these girls. The defense of the country in their area is in their hands.

    Page 65:

    LONDON, July 13, 1943—It is interesting to see that the nearer one comes to a war zone the less one hears of grand strategy. There is more discussion of tactics and the over-all picture in the Stork Club on a Saturday night than in the whole European theater of operations. This may be, to a certain extent, because of a lack of generals to give the strategists a social foundation. For that matter, there are more generals in the Carlton Hotel in Washington at lunch time than in all the rest of the world.

    Page 74:

    For example, the average English cook regards a vegetable with suspicion. It is his conviction that unless the vegetable is dominated and thoroughly convinced that it must offer no nonsense, it is likely either to revolt or to demand dominion status. The brussels sprout is a good example of the acceptable vegetable. It is first allowed to become large and fierce. It is then picked from its stem and the daylights are boiled out of it. At the end of a few hours the little wild lump of green has disintegrated into a curious, grayish paste. It is then considered fit for consumption.

    Page 75:

    And almost universally you find among the soldiers not a fear of the enemy but a fear of what is going to happen after the war. The collapse of retooled factories, the unemployment of millions due to the increase of automatic machinery, a depression that will make the last one look like a holiday.

    Page 80:

    It was nine in the morning when the operating was finished. At the theater the tired squads were still finding a few bodies. And in the hospital beds—great wads of bandage and wide, staring, unbelieving eyes and utter weariness—the little targets, the seven-year-old military objectives.


    Page 138:

    But there are many sad little evidences in the vehicles. In this tank which has been hit there is a splash of blood against the steel side of the turret. And in this burned-out tank a large piece of singed cloth and a charred and curled shoe. And the insides of a tank are full of evidences of the men who ran it, penciled notes written on the walls, a telephone number, a sketch of a profile on the steel armor plate. Probably every vehicle in the whole Army has a name, usually the name of a girl but sometimes a brave name like Hun Chaser. That one got badly hit. And there is a tank with no track and with the whole top of the turret shot away by a heavy shell, but on her skirt in front is still her name and she is called Lucky Girl. Every one of these vehicles lying in the wreck yard has some tremendous story, but in many of the cases the story died with the driver and the crew.

    Page 145:

    The men slept in their pup tents and drew their mosquito nets over them and scratched and cursed all night until, after a time, they were too tired to scratch and curse and they fell asleep the moment they hit the blankets. Their minds and their bodies became machine-like. They did not talk about the war. They talked only of home and of clean beds with white sheets and they talked of ice water and ice cream and places that did not smell of urine. Most of them let their minds dwell on snow banks and the sharp winds of Middle Western winter. But the red dust blew over them and crusted their skins and after a while they could not wash it all off any more. The war had narrowed down to their own small group of men and their own job. It would be a lie to suggest that they like being there. They wish they were somewhere else.

    Page 151:

    In the moonlight on the iron deck they look at each other strangely. Men they have known well and soldiered with are strange and every man is cut off from every other one, and in their minds they search the faces of their friends for the dead. Who will be alive tomorrow night? I will, for one. No one ever gets killed in the war. Couldn’t possibly. There would be no war if anyone got killed. But each man, in this last night in the moonlight, looks strangely at the others and sees death there. This is the most terrible time of all. This night before the assault by the new green troops. They will never be like this again.

    Page 157:

    Perhaps the correspondent scuttled with them and hit the ground again. His report will be of battle plan and tactics, of taken ground or lost terrain, of attack and counterattack. But these are some of the things he probably really saw: He might have seen the splash of dirt and dust that is a shell burst, and a small Italian girl in the street with her stomach blown out, and he might have seen an American soldier standing over a twitching body, crying. He probably saw many dead mules, lying on their sides, reduced to pulp. He saw the wreckage of houses, with torn beds hanging like shreds out of the spilled hole in a plaster wall. There were red carts and the stalled vehicles of refugees who did not get away.

    Page 177:

    In all kinds of combat the whole body is battered by emotion. The ductless glands pour their fluids into the system to make it able to stand up to the great demand on it. Fear and ferocity are products of the same fluid. Fatigue toxins poison the system. Hunger followed by wolfed food distorts the metabolic pattern already distorted by the adrenalin and fatigue. The body and the mind so disturbed are really ill and fevered. But in addition to these ills, which come from the inside of a man and are given him so that he can temporarily withstand pressures beyond his ordinary ability, there is the further stress of explosion.

    I can't really explain how moving this book is.



  6. Chris Dietzel Chris Dietzel says:

    The value in this book comes from gaining insight into Steinbeck's experiences as a war journalist. Anyone looking for a history lesson or additional details on WWII will be greatly disappointed. Every other nonfiction book I've read on similar topics will be more useful for such readers. Instead, Steinbeck writes about the mundane and the whimsical and offers a very vanilla perspective on the events he covered. For fans of the author, however, this is a fascinating look at how starkly different his mindset was compared to others who were involved in major wars, such as Hemingway, Vonnegut, and so on.


  7. Rose Rose says:

    A vivid and insightful look into the realities of wartime. While Steinbeck's particular genius was perhaps better suited to novels like Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, he makes a fine job of war journalism.

    Favourite quote:

    There is a quality in the people of Dover that may well be the key to the coming German disaster. They are incorrigibly, incorruptibly unimpressed. The German, with his uniform and his pageantry and his threats and plans, does not impress these people at all. The Dover man has taken perhaps a little more pounding than most, not in great blitzes, but in every-day bombing and shelling, and still he is not impressed. Jerry is like the weather to him. He complains about it and then promptly goes on with what he was doing...Weather and Jerry are alike in that they are inconvenient and sometimes make messes. Surveying a building wrecked by a big shell, he says, Jerry was bad last night, as he would discuss a windstorm.


    Least politically-correct quote:
    No love is lost for the Arabs. They are the dirtiest people in the world and among the smelliest. The whole countryside smells of urine, four thousand years of urine. That is the characteristic smell of North Africa.


  8. Paul Paul says:

    A collection of columns Steinbeck wrote from various places where he was “embedded” (as we call it now) with the troops during World War II. Written on a more personal level and with a different style than many columnists of the day who focused on individuals, Steinbeck’s book describes settings to make the reader feel like they are there. This makes the book unique, because there aren’t many dramatic stories, and it’s more about the day-to-day existence where sudden death can come at a moment’s notice to break up the mundane monotony.

    I don’t want to give too much away – each of the stories is unique, and they range from a tragedy with a movie theater being bombed to the hilarious “Commander William Goat” to ghost stories and “miracles”, along with plenty of different types of units where Steinbeck describes the day-to-day life of the ordinary serviceman (or servicewoman in a few cases) – but each one is a glimpse into what was happening in the corner of the war he found himself in on that particular day in the war (beginning in 1943).


  9. Michael Buchanan Michael Buchanan says:

    Snacky little bites of Steinbeck, yum yum yum. I bet the kids got a real kick out of these stories back then. Some nice anecdotes and, as always with Steinbeck, wonderful details which can mean so much. The sleeping men not seeing the land they may never see again, the white and ragged uniforms of the paratroopers, the shock of bombs upon the memory. I bet he had fun writing these, what an inspiration he is.


  10. Kusaimamekirai Kusaimamekirai says:


    In the foreword to his book “There Once Was a War”, John Steinbeck finds himself looking back at his time as a war correspondent in Europe during WW2. He writes that these chronicles were something he wanted to do for the war effort. That despite the heavy censorship his work was subject to, he accepted the rationale behind it. And yet in hindsight he realized the folly of not this war in particular, but of war in general and the toll it takes on those who are sacrificed to it long after it ends. Even in these writings, we see Steinbeck grappling with what he saw on and off the battlefield and it clearly shook him:

    “Now for many years we have suckled on fear and fear alone, and there is no good product of fear. Its children are cruelty and deceit and suspicion germinating in our darkness. And just as surely as we are poisoning the air with our test bombs, so are we poisoned in our souls by fear, faceless, stupid sarcomic terror.”

    The war he describes has episodes of valor to be sure, but more than anything else, there is folly. Be it the preoccupation Americans have with collecting souvenirs, soldiers doing the absolute least they can possibly do in order to stay alive(the story of Big Train Mulligan and his quest to remain a private forever so he doesn’t have to order people around is particularly endearing), or the superstitions of the troops, the accepted propaganda of stoic soldiers on the march for freedom is well and truly blown apart here.
    And yet by doing so, Steinbeck humanizes them in a way that no propaganda film ever could. By showing them as being brave, occasionally reckless, selfish, generous, lazy and heroic, we can see the complete spectrum of personalities that war seems to focus.
    Steinbeck never blames the men for the untenable situation they have been dropped into. Rather, he acknowledges the troops misgivings and fives voice to them. Particularly about their being under no illusions as to why they are there:

    “And the troops feel they are going to come home to one of two things, either a painless anarchy, or a system set up in their absence with the cards stacked against them…..
    Common people have learned a great deal in the last twenty-five years, and the old magical words do not fool them any more. They do not believe the golden future made of words. They would like freedom from want. That means the little farm in Connecticut is safe from foreclosure. That means the job left when the soldier joined the Army is there waiting, and not only waiting but it will continue while the children grow up. That means there will be schools, and either savings to take care of illness in the family or medicine available without savings. Talking to many soldiers, it is the worry that comes out of them that is impressive. Is the country to be taken over by special interests through the medium of special pleaders? Is inflation to be permitted because a few people will grow rich through it? Are fortunes being made while these men get $50 a month? Will they go home to a country destroyed by greed?”

    Perhaps the only jarring moment in Steinbeck’s chronicle is his time with the troops in Africa. It is perhaps important to acknowledge that attitudes toward Arabs during WW2 were starkly different than they are now. To criticize someone of a different time using the mores of the present can be slippery slope to head down. This is not to absolve Steinbeck of comments like:

    “Time and time again we tried to catch them in what is called a natural pose, not of work, because that would be a contradiction in terms, but just relaxed and looking Arab...We had wanted to get them relaxed because I suppose Arabs have as few noble moments as anyone in the world. Bushmen may compete with them in this respect but I doubt it.”

    To say nobody 70 years ago would have been appalled by these comments is to do those who had the courage to condemn such words a disservice. While Steinbeck, a tireless spokesman for workers and fierce critic of consumer capitalism, was a product of his time, these stereotypes are still a stain on what was otherwise a very well written and important book.