Cover image for The crash of ruin : American combat soldiers in Europe during World War II
The crash of ruin : American combat soldiers in Europe during World War II
Schrijvers, Peter, 1963-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xiii, 325 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D769.2 .S34 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In the ruined Europe of World War II, American soldiers on the front lines had no eye for breathtaking vistas or romantic settings. The brutality of battle profoundly darkened their perceptions of the Old World. As the only means of international travel for the masses, the military exposed millions of Americans to a Europe in swift, catastrophic decline.

Drawing on soldiers' diaries, letters, poems, and songs, Peter Schrijvers offers a compelling account of the experiences of U.S. combat ground forces: their struggles with the European terrain and seasons, their confrontations with soldiers, and their often startling encounters with civilians. Schrijvers relays how the GIs became so desensitized and dehumanized that the sight of dead animals often evoked more compassion than the sight of enemy dead.

The Crash of Ruin concludes with a dramatic and moving account of the final Allied offensive into German-held territory and the soldiers' bearing witness to the ultimate symbol of Europe's descent into ruin--the death camps of the Holocaust.

The harrowing experiences of the GIs convinced them that Europe's collapse was not only the result of the war, but also the Old World's deep-seated political cynicism, economic stagnation, and cultural decadence. The soldiers came to believe that the plague of war formed an inseparable part of the Old World's decline and fall.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The US Army deployed 68 combat divisions (two-thirds infantry) to Europe to defeat Germany in WW II. Stationed in or fighting from Iceland to Morocco to Czechoslovakia, frontline soldiers, mostly draftees, encountered terrible weather, a tenacious foe, loneliness, fear, and a bewildering assortment of peoples, languages, and cultures. They recorded their thoughts and observations in diaries, letters, and memoirs, which the Belgian-born Schrijvers has effectively blended with unit histories, official publications, and monographs to convey the impressions of the victorious Americans. The youthful soldiers were appalled by Europe's backwardness and poverty, gratified by being greeted as liberators (though they sensed the French merely tolerated them), tempted to loot (especially in Germany), and angered by German savagery. The New World, they concluded, was in the process of supplanting the Old World. Schrijvers's book is an interesting if not compelling narrative that will appeal to general audiences. It reminds one of Michael Doubler's Closing with the Enemy (1994); Lee Kennett's G.I.: The American Soldier in World War II (1987); and Harold Leinbaugh and John Campbell's The Men of Company K (1985). The book lacks maps and, worse, illustrations. C. L. Egan University of Houston