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