December 6, 2000: From the Editor

I have a friend, about my age, who likes to joke that he was in "the Big One" - referring to his role as a tank squadron commander in the Persian Gulf War. He can kid about it because his father really was in the Big One, as an Army officer in World War II.

My friend is unusual. For most people in my generation, war is a distant abstraction. We were born during Vietnam. The Desert Storm operation of 1991 seemed like a made-for-CNN miniseries: We watched smart bombs find their targets, listened to Peter Arnett report from a hotel in Baghdad, and feared for Charles Jaco at an undisclosed location in Saudi Arabia. We worried, briefly, about the possibility of a reinstatement of the draft, but the war was over so quickly and so decisively that those anxieties never felt real.

For the Princeton classes of the early 1940s, however, war was all too real. Eighty-four percent of the Class of 1942 served in World War II, most going directly from the classroom to the battlefield. "He had never held a serious job, was not used to taking orders that governed his every move, and had never functioned as a supervisor...He was a college boy one day and a serviceman the next," writes Charles Blackmar '42 of himself and his classmates. Blackmar is the editor of the Class of 1942's recent book, a collection of individual war stories, which we excerpt beginning on page 16.

Though these callow soldiers were remarkably successful - "Our hastily trained civilians were able to overcome fierce resistance from soldiers who had received their military assignments in early youth and had had continuous training until called to war," writes Blackmar - they were hardly unscathed by their experiences. Twenty-five died. For others, their contribution to this book, nearly 60 years after the war's conclusion, marks the first time they have been able to discuss what happened during the war.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," wrote philosopher George Santayana, and that is perhaps the most important purpose of this book - to educate those in my generation, and in the other fortunate generations behind mine with no experience of armed conflict, about the terrible price of war. Blackmar says it best: "Our hope is that this volume...may provide some understanding of the individual experiences of people in the armed forces during the Second World War. Nor is it too extravagant to hope that better understanding of the events of 1941 through 1945 may provide some insights which may be helpful in preventing future wars."