The Winds of War: Herman Wouk Dead at 103

 

He was many things. A gag writer, a sailor at war, a novelist, the grandson of a rabbi. But above everything else, he was a storyteller. Herman Wouk has died at age 103.

He is best remembered for his breakthrough novel, The Caine Mutiny, and an epic pair of television mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Caine won the 1951 Pulitzer and was made into a classic film starring Humphrey Bogart as the mentally unstable Captain Queeg.

His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in New York. When his maternal grandfather joined them he took over the boy’s education in the Talmud. Although he resented it at the time his faith would become an integral part of his writing. In an age when it was fashionable for writers to look skeptically at religion or dismiss it entirely, Wouk embraced it. He would later call his grandfather and the United States Navy the two most important influences in his life.

It’s almost amazing to think that he began his career as a radio gag man. For five years he toiled for satirist Fred Allen, although writing for Allen was not exactly a comedy writer’s dream job. Anyone who wrote for him had to understand that you would be the most re-written writer in the medium as Allen would produce the final draft of every script that hit air.

He joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor and served on two different minesweepers in the South Pacific, eventually serving as the XO of the USS Southard. Here, he said he learned about three things: Machinery, how men behaved under pressure and Americans. All of that came together in his novels and the television adaptation of his tale of the Henry and Jastrow families, led by Navy Captain Victor “Pug” Henry. (Played to perfection by Robert Mitchum.) The two miniseries commanded almost 42 hours of screen time and were major hits for ABC in the 1980s. It remains the second-most most watched series event behind the original adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots.

After dedicating the better part of two decades to telling that tale, he turned to writing about his other loves, his faith and Israel in The Hope (1993) and The Glory (1994), two historical novels about the Jewish state’s first 33 years of existence. He also wrote two non-fiction books on Jewry, This is My God (1959) and The Will to Live On: This is Our Heritage (2000). Reportedly, he was still working on a new novel at the time of his death.

Not bad for a radio gag man.

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There are 21 comments.

  1. Kay of MT Member

    My favorite author ever, have all of his books, and waiting for his last one.

    • #1
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:05 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer Member

    Growing up I recall seeing The Winds of War on my parent’s shelf.

    We had many books in our household but this one always stood out, for no reason I can particularly point to. I noticed it every time I walked by it sitting there, but never read it. Yet I always wondered if I should have. 

    I have so many excellent books that I haven’t gotten around to but as tribute to this fellow’s passing alone it may finally be the right time to pick this one up and move it to the top of the list. 

    • #2
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:28 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Shauna Hunt Member

    I read The Caine Mutiny in college. It was fascinating and I couldn’t put it down.

    • #3
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:30 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Miffed White Male Member

    The TV miniseries Winds of War and especially War and Remembrance remain the finest depiction of the Holocaust ever committed to film.

    As long as you fast forward through any scene involving Polly Bergen or Victoria Tennant

    • #4
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:52 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Randy Webster Member

    When I think about The Winds of War and War and Remembrance I think the same as I do about Annika Hernroth-Rothstein. Just get out.

    • #5
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:15 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. The Great Adventure! Member

    The writer that ignited a love of historical fiction in me. I picked up The Winds of War as I was recovering from an appendectomy at age 16. Read it cover to cover in less than a week, then started over and read it cover to cover again. I think I had a crush on Natalie Jastrow. 

    • #6
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:57 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  7. Skyler Coolidge

    Shauna Hunt (View Comment):

    I read The Caine Mutiny in college. It was fascinating and I couldn’t put it down.

    Bogart was superb in the movie where he portrayed Queeg, but that movie version left out so much that the entire point of novel was missed. There were other versions, not as well produced or acted, that tried to include more of the novel, but you really can’t appreciate the story without reading it, I think.

    I especially loved his real world experience with the minesweepers and their ungainly and often unworking equipment. He described it as only a cynic bred from real frustration could.

    But the real brilliance of The Caine Mutiny was how the officers were affected after the mutiny, and the conclusion that Queeg was probably the real hero, or maybe that’s a bit too strong, who led the others who were too caught up in their own petty universes and their own magnified sense of being tormented to understand the responsibilities of the commander. The end of the book has the narrator as the XO after a string of the other officers are the CO and XO. The navy was so large and institutionally uncaring about that ship and the crew that they remained there, taking on replacements but relying on the ship to groom its own commanders.

    The Caine Mutiny is one of those stories that could only be written by someone who had been there, who understands the petty torments of being in a military unit. It’s not always a band of brothers. In fact “Band of Brothers” is another book that exposes the discontent and even hatred that a military unit can experience; those paratroopers were nearly dysfunctional even when they dropped on D-Day.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of mutiny in the military and am frequently amazed that it is so rare, given how unhappy soldiers and sailors often are. Most people like to wax on about the brotherhood of serving together, and that is real enough. But what is also real is sometimes the hatred and discontent that could make a unit completely ineffective were it not for discipline and belief in the ideals the unit is defending.

    Wouk is one of the few authors who explored that theme very effectively, and he was one of the more important books I’ve read. 

    • #7
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:06 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  8. Seawriter Member

    Another WWII vet gone.Another of my favorite authors gone. 

    Read Caine Mutiny in high school. Did not really understand it at the time – only after re-reading it as an adult. Humphrey Bogart got it – that is why he insisted on playing Queeg. I will have to re-read it again soon. (I referenced the Caine Mutiny in my book on flush-deck destroyers.)

    At 103 he is another man who got change back on his three-score and ten.

    Memory eternal!

     

    • #8
    • May 18, 2019, at 1:04 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Al Sparks Thatcher

    I think that the first book I read of Herman Wouk’s was Mutiny. When I was growing up, my mom left books she had read on a bookshelf in the hallway, many of which were mysteries and thrillers.

    For example, I read many of the James Bond books by Ian Fleming before I saw a movie.

    By the time I read Mutiny, it was the early 1970’s, a good twenty years after it was published, and I had yet to see the movie. I think I’ve read it 2-3 times. I became a fan of Wouk’s, and sought out his other works. For example, I read City Boy once. I don’t remember that much about it, but I did pick up a couple of things. First that New Yorkers (I grew up in the American Southwest) didn’t put names on their schools. The protagonist went to P.S 50. That’s all it was called. The other was that teachers made it a point to discourage their pupils from speaking in Bronx accent. As a young teenager, books like this had an influence on me.

    Herman Wouk, along with Leon Uris, influenced my perception of American Jews. It was Leon Uris who through Exodus informed of the Holocaust, and it was Herman Wouk, in the Winds of War and War and Remembrance that cemented it. With a teenagers judgementalism, I had so much contempt for Aaron Jastrow, who wouldn’t leave Nazi Europe, and who ends up dying at Auschwitz, but worse, drags his niece there, because she wouldn’t leave him, even as she urges him to go with her.

    It was through one of his books, probably one of the War’s that I learned that American Communists that were embedded in show business had their own blacklist in the 1930’s and that the McCarthyism did not come from no where in the 1950’s. It all sounds so familiar today, with the way conservatives are treated in Hollywood.

    And I reread Mutiny during my time in the Coast Guard. And I was able to relate because the fictional minesweeper, the USS Caine was about the same size as the buoy tenders I served on, and had many of the same minor dramas amongst the crew portrayed in Caine

    I didn’t realize that Wouk was still alive until now. It sounds like he lived a full life, and didn’t suffer the emotional torments that many artists do. If he did, he didn’t display them.

    • #9
    • May 18, 2019, at 5:47 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  10. Al Sparks Thatcher

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of mutiny in the military and am frequently amazed that it is so rare, given how unhappy soldiers and sailors often are. Most people like to wax on about the brotherhood of serving together, and that is real enough. But what is also real is sometimes the hatred and discontent that could make a unit completely ineffective were it not for discipline and belief in the ideals the unit is defending.

    In the American military, belief in the ideals is a major factor. But this discipline is maintained in other country’s military, often without the belief in ideals. The Soviet Union is an example.

    You’re right, however, about the hatred and discontent. I do remember, as a young man, the petty resentments I felt when I served. In fact, one such event caused me to look at myself critically because I was allowing my own discontent to affect me so much. Looking back it was a wonder that the rare and minor violence we experienced, scuffles really, didn’t escalate into something worse.

    • #10
    • May 18, 2019, at 5:55 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Skyler Coolidge

    Al Sparks (View Comment):.

    In the American military, belief in the ideals is a major factor. But this discipline is maintained in other country’s military, often without the belief in ideals. The Soviet Union is an example.

     

    Yes, sometimes fear is the motivator. Humans respond very predictably to fear and terrorism.

     

    • #11
    • May 18, 2019, at 6:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Kay of MT Member

    Al Sparks (View Comment):
    It sounds like he lived a full life, and didn’t suffer the emotional torments that many artists do. If he did, he didn’t display them.

    In his non fiction book, This Is My God, he explains that keeping the Sabbath is what provided respite for him. He put all work and worries, films, demands for his time in the theater aside and celebrated the Sabbath. From Friday sundown to Sat sundown, all his co workers soon realized to not disturb him. It took a little time, but he insisted. And they respected him.

    In his non fiction book, The Language God Talks, on Science and Religion, he goes into more detail and had some wonderful talks with Richard Feynman who insisted that God talked in calculus. He was researching for his book on War and Peace.

    • #12
    • May 18, 2019, at 6:06 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Seawriter Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of mutiny in the military and am frequently amazed that it is so rare, given how unhappy soldiers and sailors often are

    In the Age of Sail, especially prior to the French Revolution, most mutinies could be thought of as labor actions (akin to strikes) and were frequently tacitly supported by the officers mutinied against. The two most common were a refusal to sail when pay was in arrears and refusal to sail on an unsafe ship.

    By arrears of pay, I am not talking about a month or two – more frequently 2-3 years (a voyage). The officers supported these because the men needed the money to support their families. The men would declare a sit-down strike in port and the officers would see the port admiral and explain their men had not been paid in “X” years and were really within their rights to withhold service (especially since these types of mutinies were accompanied by pledges that if the enemy sailed the men would return to their duties), The port admiral would bluster, and forward the petition to the Admiralty, which would reluctantly provide the overdue pay. It was theater. You could tell these kinds of mutinies because the ringleaders were the petty officers who would be distrated by way of punishment (no floggings or hangings) and then re-rated once at sea.

    The unsafe ship mutiny was similar, although in this case, the officers often encouraged the men. The ship was typically unseaworthy in these (and the officers would drown along with the men if the bottom fell out of the ship). The men would pledge undying loyalty to the crown, but point out if they died due to a rotten ship neither ship nor crew would be of further service to the crown, so could you put us in a ship that won’t fall apart in a storm (or even oceanic rollers). These were resolved by taking a ship out of mothballs and having the crew refit it.

    The Bounty mutiny was a real exception because it was led by the officers. (Bligh had been saddled with a large number of sons of privilege who resented naval discipline. Kind of like the class that conducted Occupy Wall Street.) The Great Mutiny at Spithead was similar to these on a fleet level. The subsequent one at the Nore turned revolutionary,and marked a transition to modern stereotypes of mutiny.

    • #13
    • May 18, 2019, at 6:17 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    I started watching Winds of War Part 7 on Youtube this morning in tribute. Wouk wrote the Teleplay for the series. Who does that these days.

    I myself read War and Remembrance and Winds of War in 10th grade having run out of science fiction to read in the small rural high school that I went to. It with Pournelle West of Hornor (a book I read every year, the latest a month ago) was one of the greatest influences of my life. I owe my paltry writing career to Wouks influence.

     

     

    • #14
    • May 18, 2019, at 7:34 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. Annefy Member

    When I joined the Doubleday book club back in the 70s, This Is My God was a book I received. It has never been far out of reach since. 

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Wouk at the LA Times Book Festival around the time The Language That God Speaks was published. He was interviewed for over an hour by an acquaintance, Tim Rutten. 

    Mr Wouk was funny and engaging and interesting for over an hour on stage. 

    He signed my beloved copy of This Is My God and I gave him a kiss on the cheek. 

    A top 10 day 

    • #15
    • May 18, 2019, at 8:00 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  16. Kay of MT Member

    Annefy (View Comment):
    He signed my beloved copy of This Is My God and I gave him a kiss on the cheek. 

    Oh, you blessed woman! I so envy your experience.

    • #16
    • May 18, 2019, at 8:15 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Annefy Member

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    Annefy (View Comment):
    He signed my beloved copy of This Is My God and I gave him a kiss on the cheek.

    Oh, you blessed woman! I so envy your experience.

    Right??!!? Living near La La land I’ve met my share of famous people but meeting Mr Wouk was by far the most treasured experience 

    • #17
    • May 18, 2019, at 8:18 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. David Foster Member

    The Caine Mutiny movie was good, but the book is even better. I just reposted my book review here.

    • #18
    • May 18, 2019, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Jim Kearney Contributor

    Wouk summered in Seaview on Fire Island for many years. His works were very popular there as everywhere, and as a 1960’s library volunteer in a neighboring village I can attest he was never late returning a book.

    Winds of War was a terrific miniseries and ratings hit. War & Remembrance was artistically noteworthy in its depiction of the Holocaust, but the production costs spiraled out of control to $110 million and it became a cautionary tale of another kind in Hollywood, “last of the big budget miniseries.” Last of the 20th century, as it turned out.

     

    • #19
    • May 19, 2019, at 9:05 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Lois Lane Coolidge

    I loved The Caine Mutiny, but I was also surprised to see a musical for which Jimmy Buffett wrote the score that used a Wouk novel. It was fabulous.

    • #20
    • May 19, 2019, at 4:51 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. LibertyDefender Member

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    I loved The Caine Mutiny, but I was also surprised to see a musical for which Jimmy Buffett wrote the score that used a Wouk novel. It was fabulous.

    Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival is hilarious. It might not work for those who have never spent much time in the Caribbean, but for those who have, it is a master work.

    • #21
    • May 22, 2019, at 4:32 PM PDT
    • 3 likes