The American cultural historian Paul Fussell held a personal disdain for anyone who would glorify war. After years of teaching 18th century British literature, in 1975 he crossed from academic to public intellectual with The Great War and Modern Memory, a seminal book examining how World War I, by its scope and immense carnage, caused a disillusionment that plagued Western society for decades. "The Great War was more ironic than any before or since," he wrote. "It reversed the idea of Progress."
But Fussell, who died May 23 at 88, had earned his scorn for war like few other critics. As a platoon leader in World War II he was wounded twice--once in an artillery barrage in southern France that killed several of his men--and earned a Bronze Star. "What happens in close combat is absolutely unknowable," he once said. "The temptation to run away, especially if you're a leader of troops, almost never gets a look ... It's a struggle about manhood as well as a struggle to keep from being hit from flying metal." Fussell also produced probing examinations of class in America and British travel writing, as well as an account of his combat experience--experience that led to his utter disillusionment with war.