Axis/Axes to Grind

BookAxis/Axes to Grind

Axis/Axes to Grind

Political Slants in American World War II Novels, 1945-1975

Clemson University Press


June 15th, 2021

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Axis/Axes to Grind studies various political themes in American World War II novels of three decades. These themes include “big picture” novels that interpret the war’s meaning and predict the postwar political climate (The Naked and the Dead, The Young Lions) and novels that dramatize rebellions against military authority (From Here to Eternity, The Caine Mutiny and Catch-22).  “Political” also includes conflicts between various minorities and the dominant socio-political culture (White, Christian and heterosexual).  Racial conflicts appear in If He Hollers Let Him Go, And Then We Heard the Thunder and Guard of Honor); subversive gay themes inform The Gallery; anti-Semitic conflicts appear in several novels, particularly the Holocaust novel Point of No Return. 

War novels written well after the war tend to see the war through the lens of the author's own times. Thus, the 1960s protests against the Vietnam war inform the pacifism in Slaughterhouse-Five.  And in Gravity's Rainbow, the transnational cartels that enable the V-2 rocket attacks against England prefigure the military-industrial complex of Pynchon's time.

A study of political themes in American World War II novels from 1945 to 1975.

•While other scholarly books have examined the treatment of one particular minority, e.g., Leah Garrett’s Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel, none have dealt with the treatment of as many minorities as mine. •Besides dealing with well-known authors and WWII novels—Mailer, Jones, Wouk, Heller, Vonnegut—my book will bring to light some deserving, but neglected war novelists—Martha Gellhorn, Chester Himes, and John Oliver Killens—as well as a few novelists whose star has faded: John Horne Burns and James Gould Cozzens. And it considers a novel that many scholars mention but few have read all the way through: Gravity’s Rainbow. •My book will call attention to a much-neglected genre, the war novel, and particularly the subgenre, the American World War II novel.

Author Information

Milton Cohen has written books on modernists (Cummings and Hemingway) and modernist groups. More recently, his books have studied the interactions between modernist poets and leftist critics and 1930s novelists and leftist politics. Axis/Axes to Grind expands this study of literature and politics to World War II Novels. Cohen has also authored a collection of plays, American Glimpses, about the 1930s and 1940s.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Looking Ahead: Two “Big Picture” Views of the War’s Meaning and Postwar America17
Inconvenient Minorities43
The Soldier and the System: Three War Novels of the 1950s Era109
Looking Back to Look Ahead: Two Novels of the Late 1960s and Early 1970s147