Love and War: Pearl Harbor Through V-J Day. By Robert and Jane Easton. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. Appendix. Illustrations. Index. 397 pages.
Reviewed by Francis N. Stites, Professor of History, San Diego State University. Author of John Marshall: Defender of the Constitution, and articles on the United States Supreme Court.
“You continually speak the unreality of war,” Jane Easton wrote her husband, Bob, in March 1945, “of moving through the daze. I can see it and feel it, I touch it in your letters… I like them because they are simply YOU and what else can any human being contribute, except his own little spot of sunlight or shadow (p. 23)?” Her words aptly summarize this reviewer’s comments about this collection of the Eastons’ war letters and later reflections.
Love and War and the 1990 Miss You are the only books to offer the correspondence of both husband and wife. Both, like social history, reveal war’s effects on ordinary people not leaders. Through this California couple’s letters readers will also “feel” the personal emotional roller coaster, the “daze,” of the soldier who moved from civilian life to infantry combat in Europe and of the civilian, his wife, who experienced two pregnancies and the rigors of war on the domestic front.
Readers will share the Eastons’ struggle to maintain conjugal intimacy by corresponding about the hopes, fears, and details that dominated their separated lives. But correspondence cannot replace union. Often, Bob reflected in May 1945, “by candlelight in the cellar of some ruined house I opened the blue envelopes I know so well, that have become part of you, and read your words and at the same time thought how strange I should be where I was, and you there, and the scrap of blue paper between us, as it has been for so long and in so many different places (p. 322).” Jane, struggling to retain vivid memories, grew peeved that she had only learned about Bob’s smoking from a soldier friend of theirs. “I’m not as worked up over the smoking as I may sound, only slightly hurt that I’ve never seen you smoke and cannot visualize you in the process (p. 278).”
Paradoxically, the more one knows the Eastons the less certainly one knows WWII. Its dimensions diffuse. Inevitably, too, there is the question of representativeness. Can one generalize about WWII from their reciprocal devotion, their elegant reflections on the war’s cost and purpose, their candor about sexual desire, or their disgust and shame at the racism in the American army in WWII? (An appendix argues for long overdue recognition of African-American volunteers for combat in the infantry.)
Does Love and War advance our understanding of WWII? Bob addressed this when he returned and wanted to tell his parents “all that has happened to me, to the world; but I know that I cannot, that it is impossible and probably always will be … Life is made up of banalities and trivia, and the impossibility of uttering all that has happened (p. 370).” Although there is nothing of special interest to students of San Diego history, Love and War is good reading for Californians interested in the great Los Angeles air raid of February 1942 and wartime living conditions in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.