Letters and emails written by soldiers and civilians, letters of friendship between former adversaries, child orphans writing to their adult relatives. Of marriage proposals, of broken relationships, expressions of familial love, assurances to loved ones of their safety. Mothers and fathers enquiring about missing sons and daughters. Firsthand accounts of life as a POW; or (amazingly) those imprisoned in concentration camp writing about some things that went in there. Or by soldiers encountering the concentration camps for the first time.

Behind the Lines: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters -- and One Man's Search to Find Them
ISBN: 0743256166

About an unofficial Christmas truce in WWI (P145). What the letters don’t reveal are the survivors who subsequently went through post-traumatic stress disorder.

P39. “During WWI, more than one million Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian troops from India served with the British Army in Europe.”

P137. From a letter by Canadian Army clergyman, William Mayse, writing to his wife Betty: “Talk about the “glory of war” there is no glory, it is hellish devilish. We saw places too where the trenches & ground around was literally bloodsoaked & here & there shell holes with blood & water still standing in them. I must close this letter now, will write as often as possible. I have written to Rose & also the Bank about that money. Love & kisses.”

P156. An ensign writes a blow-by-blow letter to his sister, of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7, 1941. Very articulate account. Apparently he wrote it while his ship was being attacked: “It seems funny to be writing like this when it may be your last… The next bomb may be our last but I will keep writing until I am told to stop or am given another job.”

P163. Letter by a Russian woman sniper, to her mother, on how much she enjoys hunting German soldiers (p164 has a photo of her, holding her young sister — you can’t tell that she is a deadly sniper).

P166. Letter by the last American servicemen (officially) tried and executed for desertion since the American Civil War.

P175. A soldier’s impressions of his 28 months war experience in Germany, WWII: “First is the absolute futility of war. Seen at close range, it becomes so brutal and stupid that we have to rub our eyes to believe the world is capable of it. It can’t be written; samples of the death, poverty, and destruction in war’s wake must be seen to be appreciated.”

P195. Author offers an explanation why Vietnam was different (and vastly unpopular) from WWII for the Americans; there was no clear objective of pushing the enemy off, or liberating countries — only killing as many enemy soldiers as they can.

P304. Letter by American missionary, James H. McCallum, to his family, describing the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in Nanking: “It is a horrible story to relate; I know not where to begin nor to end. Never have I heard or read of such brutality. Rape: Rape: Rape: We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day… In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval there is a bayonet stab or a bullet.” His letter continues with his work at the hospital, encounters with horribly brutalised and tortured and dying civilians (a pregnant woman raped and bayoneted; a civilian man burnt alive). He also wrote: “We have met some very pleasant Japanese who have treated us with courtesy and respect… Occasionally have I seen a Japanese helping some Chinese or pick up a Chinese baby and play with it. More than one Japanese soldier told me he did not like war and wished he were back home… But soldiers with a conscience are few and far between.”

Some soldiers write of letting go of hate. Others cannot (like a civilian woman writing about the death of her daughter in the hands of the Gestapo) P325 – 331.

P334. A soldier writes back about encountering Russian and Polish girls, enslaved in camps for the sexual pleasure of the Germans.

P347. A Japanese civilian, writing of the aftermath of the Nagasaki atomic bombing.

P354. An American commander writes to his 12-year old daughter, after he visited Yokohama immediately after the WWII Japanese surrender: “I believe that my generation can help peace for awhile, if we work hard enough, but your generation must not forget the capacity for destruction that exists in man, and must somehow see that neither you nor your children face this again.”

P384. email from an Iraqi high school student to his friend in the US. Describes life in Iraq after the topple of Saddam Hussein in 2003; power outages, bomb threats, anger against seemingly non-action by coalition forces; anger at Iraqi insurgents terrorrising civilians.

P391. A series of letters by a US army officer, while serving his tour of duty in 1898, in the American annexation of the Philippines. (what struck me was the descriptions of army retaliations against guerrilla tactics echoed with what went on in Vietnam.

P417. Letter by a US army private to his family, asking them to be “patient” with him when he returns home.

American civil war, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Sarajevo, Kuwait/ Iraq.

P450. A german u-boat commander writes to the widow of the US submarine commander, whom he was their POW. The german commander remembers the respect and care he was given.

P453. Letter from a Japanese woman, writing to her prospective American in-laws (the two fathers from both sides fought in WWII and all had painful memories).

P463. Closing letter was very apt. Exchange of emails between an American and a Saudi Arabian journalist. The American wrote a nasty email, following the Sept 11 attack in 2001. The journalist responded: “Instead of such vitroil, I would request you join us in a prayer for world peace”. That led to the American writing an apologetic note, admitting he wanted to goad the other party. Eventually they managed a cordial exchange of views. The American, a WWII vet in his 70s, passed away. His son wrote to the journalist that his dad found peace.

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