The War

Marine Corps Combat
Photography in WWII

Thayer Soule
For those of us living in what they called "the Homefront" during WWII people didn't die, at least not as we think of what we call "death." They weren't allowed to. If they did, it was a sanitary, bloodless death: we only knew about it from a telegram, or a silver star in the window. The newsmagazines and newspapers carefully observed the rule of No Bodies. It was a clean war, it was a bloodless war.

When, in 1944, Life Magazine had the chutzpa to publish the picture of an anonymous Marine, face down, on some anonymous beach, a man who had died on landing --- the magazine was roundly criticised. It was considered not only bad taste, but, more importantly, it was contrary to the War Effort. One wasn't to show what war was all about: killing people.

Thayer Soule was a Marine photographer. He joined the Marine Corps in 1941, starting making training pictures, and then took combat photographs at Guadacanal, and at the terrible battles on Iwo Jima. Theirs was to do or die --- and Soule was very much a part of this system.

Shooting the Pacific War has lots of maps, and fifteen or twenty photographs, but not one of them shows Mister Death. Furthermore, no where in the text can we find Soule questioning this system. There are pictures of Marines advancing "on the double;" there are pictures of stern-looking officers looking quite official; there are shots of Marines huddling under enemy fire; there are photographs of happy Marines returning happily home; there's even one of Soule getting The Bronze Star for courage under fire. But bodies, corpses, dead men? Like we say, people didn't die in WWII. They just fought bravely, and came home smiling.

O yes. There is one chilling photograph. It shows a Marine with a flamethrower, squirting it into a Japanese bunker. No follow up, though. No shots of the Japanese dying in agony, their skin burned off their bodies --- "burned to a crisp" as they used to say. Often, the victims would run screaming, flames enveloping them, racing from their hiding place. There was little could be done for them. A particularly horrible death.

Not much discussion of that here.

--- R. W. Pease


Scott Brassart, Editor
Twenty-five or so writers tell us stories about going to the bars, sitting down alone, drinking (sometimes too much), getting picked up (or rejected), and then passing out, or going home alone, or going home with some bod.

The writing ranges from the OK to the awful --- but the main downer is that after their third decade, anybody in their right mind would think twice about going to a bar alone to get anything but drunk. It's passing strange that the publisher would believe the adventures or mis-adventures of picking up someone in a bar --- or being ignored --- would be worth telling, much less writing, much less publishing. For those of us who had to live through the bar culture --- and in this case, the gay bar culture --- it was misery, pure and simple.

If you are gorgeous, or young, or a stud --- I suppose it would be mildly interesting to see who wants to pick up on you. For the rest of us, especially those of us over the hill --- and evidently, that means twenty-five or so --- or any of us who have distinguishing marks, scars, wheel-chairs, acne, palsy, one leg, false teeth, receding hairline, or leprosy --- the bar was and is merely a place to put yourself on display, get scorned, and either get drunk and go home depressed, or stay sober and go home depressed.

Why anyone would collect a series of stories --- some as short as five pages --- on bars, bar-hopping, and picking up men (or getting picked up) is, thus, way beyond us. There are a couple of tales that are mildly interesting: a bookish type from high school who sees the guy that used to beat up on him. He is not recognized, so he takes his old nemesis off to his own pad, shackles him (he's into bondage), turns off the answering machine, throws the key out the window, and then, as he is walking out the door, turns to see him "blubbering into the futon."

Or the visitor in Japan who finds himself in a bar where, after they lock the door, is expected to provide the entertainment with a perfect, of course perfect, young Japanese who is serving the drinks. Fine fantasy: but to glorify what is the bane and misery of gay life with an entire book seems a bit much to us.

--- Ignacio Schwartz


Stories from
The Street

Lee Stringer
(Washington Square Press)
This Stringer is the real thing. He lived on the streets of New York for years. He was into crack cocaine. He stole, got arrested, slept in stinky rooms, sometimes ran from the police. He found the most comfortable place to sleep in Grand Central Station, one in which he could doze and not get caught. He lived from hand to mouth for years, from one score to the next. But god (in the form of The Muse) found him.

He had sold the Street News in the streets of New York City --- one of those newspapers written and edited by the homeless. He was good at selling, and then, one day, he started writing. And he couldn't stop.

This is his story, and it is rare reading. Like most druggies (and street people) he doesn't kid himself, nor us. Often, he has to run, to slip through the cracks, hide his stash, go crazy or get stoned --- and yet he had enough to keep it together to get hired on by the first newspaper by, for, and of the people --- that is, the homeless people. (If you ask people for money, he explains, you are a beggar; if you sell them something --- a newspaper, say --- you are a part of the American capitalist dream).

Stringer tells some righteous stories: of being strung out in furtherest paranoia with a friend; of fighting a junkie who is out to kill him with a razor blade in a junkie apartment; of a street punk that wants to do him in when they are in a work project. Then there is the story of actually digging up scandal on a man named Ischi who did professional scams on the homeless charity game. He publishes it in The Street News, and he gets no credit. Thank god, he says, for,

    had my cynicism been validated by any public glory, I might be out there this very moment, thoroughly addicted to the business of dredging up somebody else's muck --- not the most constructive reason to climb out of bed in the morning. So it is just as well the story didn't make a big splash...I squander enough spirit puffing on a crack pipe.

The stories are great, eye-poppers. The philosophizing? Well --- when he gets on politicians and their efforts to keep people like Stringer from living the way they want, eg, in the public streets --- he loses some of his pith.

Still, he's one who sees it as it is --- even when it comes to the fake glory of writing news:

    I can write but as I've come to realize, newspapers aren't really a writer's medium. You do have to be able to write, of course, and preferably with a certain craft and economy. But it's the immediacy of the story you're covering that earns you ink, not the profundity of your prose --- more a matter of the gossip's ear than the poet's muse.

Some of the most fascinating takes are on the crack cocaine world. Just as he is sounding more and more like a writer for Rolling Stone, he reminds us that he has to stop what he is doing and go out and get his fix.

Let's hope he writes the follow-up, because the only thing missing here is the explanation of how someone as obviously right-on as Stringer ended up on the street in the first place.

--- A. W. Allworthy

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