An account that redefines the ordinary soldier in the Second World War, The Deserters
is a breathtaking work of historical reportage, weaving together the
lives of forgotten servicemen even as it overturns the assumptions and
prejudices of an era. The Deserters reveals that ordinary
soldiers viewed “desertion” as a natural part of conflict, as unexpected
and inexplicable as bravery. Men who had fought fearlessly in the
mountains of Italy were cowering wrecks a year later in the mountains of
France; a man who fled from tanks in the desert showed superior courage
in the D-Day amphibious landings. Many frontline soldiers saw no shame
in these contradictory reactions and sought ways to comfort their
comrades to fight another day.
With all the grace and pace of a novel, The Deserters
moves beyond the false extremes of courage and cowardice to reveal the
true experience of the Allied soldier. This is the story of men such as
Private Alfred Whitehead, a Tennessee farm boy who earned Silver and
Bronze Stars for bravery in Normandy—yet became a gangster in
postliberation Paris, robbing Allied supply depots along with
restaurants and ordinary citizens. It is the story of British soldiers
such as Private John Bain, who deserted three times but fought well in
North Africa and northern France until German machine-gun fire cut his
legs from under him. The core of The Deserters resides with men
such as Private Stephen Weiss, an idealistic boy from Brooklyn who
enlisted at seventeen. On the Anzio beachhead and in the Ardennes
forest, as an ordinary infantryman and an accidental partisan in the
French Resistance, Weiss shed his illusions about the nobility of
conflict and the infallibility of the American military.
Leading us through the moral twists and turns of The Deserters is Charles Glass, renowned journalist and author of the critically acclaimed Americans in Paris. Meticulously researched and deeply revelatory, The Deserters remains
at its heart an unforgettable war story that, like the very best of the
genre, deals with ordinary men struggling to fulfill the vast and
contradictory expectations imposed upon them.
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