Amid the carnage of Okinawa, America also lost its greatest reporter.
He wrote like none of the rest. The official, pressagent, advertising-agency writing that fills the newspapers, magazines, and radio with its hearty reassuring lies, its mechanical and heartless superlatives; the rhetorical, sensational, and professional pieces of ordinary Time-Life journalism &mdash the same no matter what the subject, who the writer; the condescending, preoccupied work of “real writers” officially pretending to be correspondents for the duration: all this writing about the war that by its quality denies the nature and even the existence of the war, he neither competed with nor was affected by. He was affected by, obsessed with, one thing &mdash the real war: that is, the people in it, all those privite wars the imaginary sum of which is the public war; and he knew that his private war, his compulsive obligation, was to write what he had seen and heard and felt so that neither those who had felt it nor those who had not could ever again believe that it was necessary for anyone to be ignorant of it. He was their witness; and he looked not to find evidence for his own theories or desires, to condemn, to explain away, to justify, but only to see, and to tell what he saw. What he cared about was the facts. But facts are only facts as we see them, as we feel them; and he knew to what a degree experience &mdash especially in war &mdash is “seeing only faintly and not wanting to see at all.” The exactly incongruous, the crazily prosaic, the finally convincing fact &mdash that must be true because no one could have made it up, that must be Pyle because no one else would hive noticed it &mdash was his technical obsession, because he knew it was only by means of it that he could make us understand his moral obsession: what happens to men in our war. (A few reporters cared almost as much and tried almost as hard; but their work is hurt by emotional forcing, self-consciousness, the hopeless strain between their material and their technique. To the reporter’s trained consciousness there is something incidental, merely personal, almost meretricious, about his exact emotions or perceptions or moral judgments; these things are not part of “the facts,” and he professionally supplies only as much of their generalized, familiar equivalents as his readers immediately demand and immediately accept. These things, for many years, had been the only facts for Pyle.) Pyle did not care how he told it if he could make us feel it; there is neither self-protectiveness nor self-exploitation in his style. What he saw and what he felt he said. He used for ordinary narration a plain, transparent, but oddly personal style &mdash a style that could convince anybody of anything; but when his perceptions or emotions were complex, far-reaching, and profound, he did his utmost to express their quality fully &mdash at his best with the most exact intensity, at his worst with a rather appealingly old-fashioned spaciousness of rhetoric. It is easy to be critical of some of these last passages, and of the flat homeliness of others: he possessed few of the unessential qualities of the accomplished writer but &mdash at his rare best &mdash many of the essential qualities of the great writer. It was puzzling and disheartening to read some of the reviews of his books: the insistence that this was not “great” reporting, the work of a “real” writer, but only a good reporter, a good man &mdash nobody missed that &mdash reproducing what the “G. I. Joes” felt and said. (Some writers seemed compelled to use about him, as they do about all soldiers who are at the same time enlisted men, the words simple, plain, or little &mdash so disquieting in their revelation of the writers’ knowledge and values.) And yet all of us knew better. We felt most the moral qualities of his work and life; but we could not help realizing that his work was, in our time, an unprecedented aesthetic triumph: because of it most of the people of a country felt, in the fullest moral and emotional sense, something that had never happened to them, that they could never have imagined without it &mdash a war.