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‘An Intimate History of Killing:

Face-To-Face Killing In Twentieth-Century Warfare’

Joanna Bourke

Granta Books

It is almost universally accepted among writers on warfare that battle is a terrible experience, and that those who fight are at the very least sobered, and often deeply traumatized, by the horrors of combat. Bourke uses the letters, diaries, memoirs and reports of veterans from three conflicts – the First World War, the Second World War and the Vietnam War – to establish a picture of the man-at-arms. She suggests that the structure of war encourages pleasure in killing, and that perfectly ordinary, gentle human beings can become enthusiastic killers without becoming ‘brutalized’. Bourke forces the reader to face some disconcerting truths about societies that can so easily organize themselves for war.