Herman Wouk's The Winds of War debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list on November 28, 1971 at number nine. The fact that it was found on the list the week of its publication can be accredited to Wouk's a
cclaim as an author. Having already published six successful novels, Wouk's highly-touted epic about World WAr II was an anticipated literary event.
In addition, his previous novel on life in the military, The Caine Mutiny, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1951. Critics and readers alike waited with high expectations for The Winds of War's publication.
It was not Wouk's popularity, however, that kept The Winds of War on the lists of both the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly for a combined total of 172 weeks. Nor was it his previous awards that catapulted the novel to the top of the list for a se
ven month run. It was the novel's ability to capture an audience, to maintain their captivity for nine hundred pages, that made his book a beloved bestseller.
Wouk's goal in writing this novel was to teach the American public about the forces behind World War II. Investing seven years of his life to research, Wouk moved to Washington D.C. in order to live closer to the National Archives and the Library of Con
gress. He traveled to England, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Israel, Iran, and the Soviet Union, in an effort to capture the true essence of the people he was to base his characters on.
The reasons for Wouk's immense devotion are numbered. He enlisted in the Navy shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, and his time in service certainly influenced his interest in the subject of war. Indeed, two of his novels written prior to
the publication of The Winds of War; Aurora Dawn and The Caine Mutiny were also based on the military. Several critics consider Wouk's ability to accurately depict the military as "insightful and carefully constructed" (Gale, 8).
His understanding of the armed forces and the manner in which they operate is obvious throughout his book, as his main character is an officer in the American army. Wouk's personal experience in the army lends to a greater authenticity in his writing, a
n authenticity the American public relished in.
In addition, Wouk is Jewish, and thus has an even more personal reason in desiring to capture World War II as accurately as possible. His close connection to subject matter helped in creating a deeply personal and heartfelt story that readers felt they c
ould relate to. As the Atlantic's Edward Weeks wrote, "without much fuss for style or symbolism, [Wouk] drives his story ahead with an infectious belief in the people he is writing about." His characters are not two-dimensional, but fully fleshed-out a
Rather than creating a heroic archetype of the American soldier, Wouk writes that Pug Henry was "single-minded" (4) and inexpressive. Instead of the typical image one associates with an important military officer, Henry is short and stocky. Wouk's huma
nized description of his main character lends to ones abilitiy to relate to him and his feelings. Wouk also creates flaws in Pug's wife, Rhoda, who has an affair with a prominent American scientist as a result of her husband's increased passivity and
absence. Thus, in his depiction
of characters, Wouk creates a historic novel that readers felt compassion towards as a result of their realism.
Wouk's ability to write enjoyable historical tales has been compared to that of James Michener, a comparison that seems valid if one looks at the bestseller list from 1971. The Winds of War and Michener's The Drifters are numbers six and seven, respect
ively, illustrating the popularity of fiction based on real events; Michener's novel is a report on the Kent State shootings. Two other books on the list, Irving Stone's Passions of the Mind and Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal, also contain real
ist elements; Stone's novel is about Sigmund Freud, while
Forsyth's is known as a "documentary novel." Its detailed realism is heralded as a superb literary achievement. Forsyth, like Wouk, is devoted to accuracy, as he spends months on research.
Both Forsyth and Wouk are also found on the bestseller list from 1972; Forsyth's The Odessa File as well as his Day of the Jackal are two and six. The extended run of all three novels demonstrates the lasting success of the historically-based, realisiti
c genre during this time, perhaps a result of the desire for stability in the turbulent era of the late sixties and early seventies.
In addition, one non-fiction book illustrates the public's interest in the history of past events. At number six on the list of non-fiction bestsellers is a book entitled Inside the Third Reich, by Albert Speer. The success of both The Winds of War and
Inside the Third Reich demonstrates a genuine interest in World War II by the American people, perhaps a result of America's involvement in yet another war at this time, Vietnam.
Written on the dedication page of The Winds of War is the Hebrew word for 'remember' underneath the names of Wouk's two sons, Nathaniel and Joseph. The importance of remembering the atrocities of World War II is demonstrated through Wouk's insistence
on historical accuracy through nine hundred pages of text. Indeed, Wouk created a romance whose purpose was a didactic one. His story begins in 1936 and ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His main characters are present at every major event during
Pug Henry meets Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and Churchill, and is friends with Roosevelt; his son witnesses the German blitzkrieg and the bombing of Warsaw; his wife has an affair with a scientist who helps to develop the atomic bomb. Wouk acknowledges the
accuracy of his novel in the foreword, in which he writes "The history of the war in this romance is offered as accurate; the statistics, as reliable; the words and acts of the great personages, as either historical, or derived from accounts of their wor
ds and deeds
in similar situations. No work of this scope can be free of error, but readers will discern, it is hoped, an arduous effort to give a true and full picture of a great world battle." A generation after the end of World War II, the American public thirste
d for an account of the war their fathers fought in. Because The Winds of War was written with so much attention to detail, the public couldn't help but learn about historical events. As Michael Mandelbaum wrote in Political Science Quarterly, "Since [
The Winds of War] has been
a bestseller, it is likely that more Americans have learned about, or remembered, the war through Wouk's account than from any other single source in the last decade." The fact that historical information could be gleaned from a fascinating story enhanc
ed the novel's appeal, and lended to its success at bookstores across the country.
But Wouk was not content to simply teach others about the events surrounding World War II. He also wished to promote peace, so that something like it would never happen again. He writes that "industrialized armed force, the curse that presses so heavily
and so ominously on us all, came to full flower in the Second World War." At a time when the protracted length of U.S. involvement in Vietnam had come under severe attack, when sentiment against participation in the war had been expressed in peace ralli
es, demonstrations, and rallies across the country, The Winds of War's message
of peace was deeply desired by many. Wouk acknowledges his aim in the foreword, where he quotes Julien Benda: Peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war, but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the c
oming of a state of mind. In this sense the most insignificant writer can serve peace, where the most powerful tribunals can do nothing.
Because Wouk writes with vivid realism, he does not avoid the dark side of war. He writes of generals who blindly lead their soldiers to death, of cities that are destroyed by bombing. He captures the terror of those who lived in fear as well as the dev
astation of those that suffered at Auschwitz. At the same time, however, Wouk does not shy away from writing about the valor and the leadership of war. His novel also displays battle in a positive light, exploring the extreme patriotism that war creates
. His Pug Henry is a man of conviction and pride, and Wouk obviously views him, and men like him,
as a fundamental part of modern society. His idea of peace and his idea of patriotism are not contradictory, for he explains through the course of his novel that the reason there is no peace is that there are not enought men like Pug. Thus, Wouk appeale
d to both the side of the American population who desired peace and the side that felt war is necessary.
The popularity of the novel can also be credited to Wouk's attempt to answer the ultimate question of World War II, a question that many have attempted to solve since the end of the war: why did the Germans do it? He explores this theme by having differ
ent characters cite different reasons, both political and cultural. He also shows the German perspective with an imaginary treatise written by the character General Armin von Roon, which is based on actual writings by German officers. Michael Mandelbaum
wrote of Wouk's explanation for the war: Human cruelty, of which war is the most massive and spectacular manifestation,
occurs not because people are cruel, but because most people are weak or lazy, or too wishful to perceive in time what truly cruel people like the Nazis are about...Given that fallibility, World War II, and possibly other wars since, probably could not ha
ve been avoided.
It is easier to convey one's opinion through the guise of a novel, rather than an essay or an article, as a reader is more likely to accept an author's idea when he is attached to the characters who are thinking it. Thus, Wouk is able to successfully e
xplore the causes of the war in a manner that readers found inoffensive and informative to read. This successful combination led to an enjoyable reading experience, in which readers were compelled to think and to reflect about the war. The reading exper
ience was therefore as intellectual as it was pleasing.
While the novel enjoyed an extended run in 1971 and 1972, it also saw a brief (twelve week) reemergence in 1983 with the massive televised mini-series on ABC. The movie was an immense hit, and ABC claimed it was the "most watched program in television hi
story." The success of the movie prompted readers to once again buy the beloved best-seller, demonstrating The Winds of War's enduring poppularity.
Arnold Beichman of the National Review wrote "Herman Wouk is one of our outstanding historical novelists." This sentiment is obviously reciprocated by the millions of readers who bought The Winds of War, and who continue to buy it, to this day. Wouk's
amazing gift of story-telling lends itself to the compelling narrative of the novel, a novel whose sequel, War and Remembrance, was equally as popular. Wouk's popularity as an author is undeniable and irrefutable, as is the popularity of The Winds of Wa