In the immediate sense, this long, eventful and agonizingly suspenseful novel shows what fear, secret hidden fear, can do to even one of those seeming heroes, a war lover. In the longer view, however, this may come to be regarded as the great and ultimate anti-war novel of our time.
The scene is an American bomber base in England sometime before D-Day. The characters are the crew of a Flying Fortress named The Body, particularly the pilot, Buzz Marrow, and the co-pilot, Boman, who tells the story of his worship of Marrow, and of how his hero succumbed, on their final crucial mission, to the fatal weakness with which he camouflaged his fear—his secret delight in annihilation.
Boman also tells the story of the English girl he loved (and Mr. Hersey’s many admirers will note a new tenderness and passion in these scenes), and of her fateful intervention in Marrow’s collapse. Both narrative lines flow together and are superbly united in the sustained and powerful climax.