“When Ned Bradford read the typescript he soberly commented, ‘Herman, this novel was a religious obligation, wasn’t it? The Winds of War was just a warm-up.’ There was an editor for you. In my own mind, Winds was, and has remained, the pedestal, Remembrance the memorial.”
Herman Wouk, Sailor and Fiddler, page 87
What I like about this passage in Herman Wouk’s autobiography, written from his viewpoint as a centenarian, is the invocation of memory and memorial at the end.
The World War II generation is today passing from the scene. Age 26 at the time of Pearl Harbor, Herman Wouk was somewhat older than most of his contemporaries who signed up for service the next day. But even if one did not personally witness death or combat, consider the number of lives cut short in the war years. Consider the promise of all the individual people who might also have lived to over 100 years old, like Herman Wouk today, but did not survive.
Across America and the world, they did not return to their own families, perhaps have subsequent spouses and children, did not enjoy careers of their choosing, and gain the differing perspective—even wisdom— that sometimes comes over the accumulated stages of a human life span. Had the war not occurred, had dead survived, they would have no doubt affected and changed the lives of virtually all of us today. It is impossible to calculate the true losses in human potential.
It is for the memories of the dead, and the sacrifices of those who fought to end the slaughter, that I think Herman Wouk’s World War II novels will forever be read.
“A place can evoke the history that occurred there, but through words our minds truly gain perspectives and understanding of what it was like to know, feel, experience, hope, fail, triumph, and live through events from which we ourselves were absent. The written word is our most intricate map to retrace and reconstruct what we think happened, and ultimately brings us back to ourselves.”
– Keith Huxen, PhD, Senior Director of Research and History, The National WWII Museum
Keith is the former Senior Director of Research and History in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum.