THE IDEA THE WAR WAS JUST’ IS BURIED UN­DER A MOUND OF RAPED WOMEN AND MUR­DERED MEN

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Mark Dapin

Shrap­nel is a con­fes­sion but it does not seem to have been ther­a­peu­tic. It was writ­ten in English, but it has some of the gappy, dis­as­so­ci­ated qual­i­ties of prose in trans­la­tion.

Whar­ton re­fuses to al­low him­self com­fort from any­thing. Even the idea the war was ‘‘ just’’ and the Al­lied cause right is buried un­der a mound of raped women and mur­dered men. ‘‘ I recog­nise now that the only heroes of war are the con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tors,’’ he writes.

In con­clu­sion, all he can do is hope his chil­dren fi­nally ‘‘ en­joy’’ his war sto­ries, and that they won’t lose too much re­spect for him. But Shrap­nel is a work to be re­spected at ev­ery level. It is de­press­ing but it is also thrilling. Amid the re­lent­less damna­tion are mo­ments of re­demp­tion that make hope seem pos­si­ble — al­though not, it must be said, to Whar­ton.

Mem­oirs of war are pop­u­lar be­cause read­ers are en­cour­aged to ask them­selves what they would have done in the writer’s sit­u­a­tion. The an­swer is in Shrap­nel: most peo­ple would have acted like Whar­ton.

He never grew mur­der­ous or sadis­tic and took no part in the atroc­i­ties he saw. Sev­eral times he made good, moral de­ci­sions. Men have won medals for far less than Whar­ton.

To him­self he could never be a hero, but the ag­o­nised hon­esty of this mem­oir, its forced clear-sight­ed­ness and fu­ri­ous re­fusal to com­pro­mise, is heroic in it­self.

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