Randall Jarrell on wartime correspondent Ernie Pyle

Pyle, the most popular war correspondent for his accounts of the ordinary soldier, was killed by machine-gun fire on the Japanese island of Ieshima.

Tough our victory in this war is better than our defeat, though there is a difference between the two sides that is essential, still what has to be done, the actual substance of the war is almost entirely evil. The sergeant says to Pyle about the replacements: "I know it aint my fault they get killed, and I do the best I can for them. But Ive got so I feel like its me killing em instead of a German. Ive got so I feel like a murderer." For Pyle, to the end, killing was murder; but he saw the murderers die themselves.

His condemnation of war seems to the reader more nearly final than any other, because in him there is no exaggeration, no hysteria, no selection to make out a case, no merely personal emotion unrecognized as such; he has nothing to prove. He has written down all that is favorable or indifferent his readers have noticed this most, the commonplace courage and endurance and affection of his soldiers; but after all this his condemnation is so complete, detailed, brought home to us so absolutely, that it is unforgettable and unarguable....

Is there any imaginable way in which the next quotation could be altered?

Our fighters moved on after the enemy, and those who did not fight, but moved in the wake of the battles, would not catch up for hours. There was nothing left behind but the remains the lifeless debris, the sunshine and the flowers, and utter silence. An amateur who wandered in this vacuum at the rear of a battle had a terrible sense of loneliness. Everything was dead the men, the machines, the animals and he alone was left alive.

--Randall Jarrell, May 19, 1945, in the Nation


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Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:26:56 EDT