Jungle Shock: American Savagery In The Fiction Of The Pacific War
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Attempting to define savagery in wartime presents major questions about the status of war: what constitutes a savage act, and how can we tell when a soldier exceeds the call of duty in violent conflicts? I placed these questions in the context of the Pacific Theater of World War II, a campaign that saw numerous atrocities committed by both Japanese and American soldiers. I was fascinated by the behavior of American troops abroad—US troops engaged in body mutilation of the enemy, revenge killings, and a number of other behaviors that contradicted the United States’ stated code of military conduct. In an attempt to understand both the motivation for these atrocities and locate the often-imperceptible line between duty and savagery, I study Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’s The Thin Red Line, using war fiction to examine the soldier’s psyche in combat. Both The Naked and the Dead and The Thin Red Line—the major Pacific War novels of their generation—concern themselves with questions of savagery, offering explanations for extreme violence ranging from the pleasurable nature of killing to “battle numbness.” Mailer and Jones’s personal relationship adds dimension to the comparison of these texts; in life as in their novels, Mailer and Jones themselves lived violently and loudly, forming a friendship precipitated by sudden literary fame and marked by arrogance, jealousy, and love.