Peace. Richard Bausch. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. 978-0-307-26833-4.
Richard Bausch is just a few years older than I am so I am going to claim that he and I are of the same generation. I suspect that his father’s experiences fighting in World War II may have influenced his son as Bausch grew up with sensibilities imparted by his father that in part were honed on the battlefields of the last great war.
I know that was true of my own father. A small town boy from Wisconsin who ended up in the South Pacific battle zone, he rarely spoke of his service years until near the end of his life. Then, as an old man looking back, he went on a mission to trace his service record. The hunt eventually proved futile when he discovered all his records were lost in a fire years ago in St. Louis warehouse where they were stored.
I cannot imagine any reader not being touched by the writing at the end of chapter twelve when the young Marson is doing his leave taking with his family. There must be many Americans today who could write their own chapters on this sad subject.
My father was a disciplined and at time hard individual. Once a close cousin of mine said his family forgave my father for some of his attitudes because they knew he had been a Marine in the Pacific. I had to laugh because my father was just a Sergeant Major in the Army, or as I said at the time, “He was no Marine—just a son-of-a-bitch.”
Why do I think Bausch may be writing about his father? Bausch was born on April 18, 1945 at Fort Benning in Georgia. The second part of the dedication of Peace says, “In loving memory of my father, Robert Carl Bausch, who served bravely in Africa, Sicily, and Italy.” And lastly, the third part of the dedication states, “With deepest gratitude, love and admiration to George Garrett, who for almost twenty years kept after me to write this story.”
There is a quote on the Literature Resource Center page from Bausch that says, “I grew up listening to my father tell stories–he is a great story-teller.”
Whether this particular story is exactly the one Robert told Richard, we can say one thing for sure. The son tells it better than his father ever did.
The basic plot of this novel is that Corporal Robert Marson is a part of a reconnaissance mission in Italy near Cassino. Recon missions require men to go out and find the enemy, remain unseen, and then get back and report what they saw. When his unit comes upon a cart pulled by two Italians who scurry away, Marson and his men are not cautious enough. After tipping the cart, a German officer tumbles out who shoots two American soldiers before being shot by Marson. A woman, who accompanied the officer in the cart, is summarily executed by Sergeant John Glick without remorse. Of this, Glick’s only remark is to say, “This is all one thing.”
It may very well be as the next piece of action finds Marson and two privates named Asch and Joyner assigned to climb a mountain to find the enemy. As they begin their ascent, they are joined by an Italian guide named Angelo who proves to be an enigma. Asch is fearful that the mission is cursed as revenge for the killing of the woman while Joyner feels everything is justified by the death of the two Americans.
While only taking 171 pages to tell it, Richard Bausch manages to create an oppressive atmosphere out of so many factors. The condition of war would be enough if not combined with constant rain that turns to snow as the men gain altitude. Each man suffers a physical aliment which impedes his thinking but also reinforces the theme of the novel. In the way that Bausch unfolds this tale, the sheer physical brutality of fighting the war equals the moral horror of being a participant.
But to me the most compelling story this short novel tells is how citizen soldiers are so unprepared for what they will experience on the battlefield. Forced to make split second decisions truly about life and death, sent to war without enough training and placed in command when it is contrary to a character’s nature are just samples of some of the challenges faced by the men in this novel.
These are the types of things that molded our fathers into the men they became when they raised boys like me. At a time when we know our citizen soldiers are in the same situations again in far flung foreign lands, I cannot help but think this book would make a great book discussion title for any library.
Here are some suggested questions that I thought of as I read this novel:
Glick says, “This is all one thing.” (pg. 6) How is he right and where is he wrong?
Why do the men not report the incident when it happens?
Why do the men become obsessed with the incident when it is over?
What is the sense in the men’s mission to climb the mountain?
Why is Asch the one who is shot?
Why do the men trust Angelo as a guide?
Does Marson make the right decision regarding Angelo’s fate?
Is Glick a murderer?
Is Marson a murderer?
What does it mean when Marson’s father says, “Do your duty”?