For century upon century, from the time of the stories of Gilgamesh (18th BCE), stories of war have been told to exalt the valorous and victorious, to enshrine the names of warriors in the minds of generations to come and to provide example to the youth who listen: this is the way to eternal glory.  This basic compact between warrior and story-teller (you make me famous and I’ll make you famous) endured until the barbed-wire and machine-guns of the First World War began to shred it.  Perhaps the story of guts and glory wasn’t the only story to be told.

The pathos and war-regret of Remarque’s million-seller in 1929, All Quiet on the Western Front, had been preceded by others of not such great fame.  Arnold Zweig, a German, wrote the satiric The Case of Sergeant Grishka in 1927. Georges Duhamel won France’s Prix Goncourt in 1918 for his anguished Vie des martyrs / Life of the Martyrs, 1917.  He had been a battle surgeon for most of the war.  Roland Dorgelés, a French soldier, published the scathing Wooden Crosses in 1919. In England, Rebecca West movingly described “combat fatigue” by 1919 in The Return of the Soldier.  In America, countering the Edith Wharton and Willa Cather’s war-positive novels of the ’20s,  John Dos Passos contributed Three Soldiers, 1921,  and e. e. cummings, The Enormous Room in 1922.


With Remarque came a virtual wave of war-sorrow novels. In the same year were Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms and Frederic Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune, described by Hemingway as “the finest and noblest novel to come out of World War I.” Faulkner contributed several novellas  and Dalton Trumbo Johnny Got His Gun,1939, with its soldier who has lost his arms, legs, and all of his face (including his eyes, ears, teeth, and tongue); Louis-Ferdinand Céline in France wrote Journey to the End of the Night an absolutely scabrous take on the war and the fever than came with it — “…everyone queued up to go and get killed.” —  Scarcely anything was written that had the old burnish of brass and bravery.

The same change of mood was taking place on the other side of the world as well.  Writers whose forebears had told of the courage and skill of the samurai warriors in gunki monogatari, or war tales, began to tell other stories.  One was Ishikawa Tatsuzō.  At thirty-two years old, an admirer of Anatole France¹ and Emile Zola², and having won a prestigious literary prize for his first novel, based on several years as a farm laborer in Brazil, he was sent to report on the Japanese war in China in December of 1937.

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