“There is something about a man in uniform,” the old adage goes. Few have been as affected by their time in uniform as Paul Fussell, who served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1947, during which period (he tells us in his memoir) he was “ill-treated by members of the German Wehrmacht.” The titles of some of his books—Doing Battle, Wartime, Thank God for the Atom Bomb—indicate that the author’s experience in World War II greatly affected his worldview; and so Uniforms represents a natural progression from Fussell’s generalized interest in war and the military.
Fussell, indeed, devotes most of his attention to different military styles. Uniforms serve a variety of functions in the Armed Services. Most importantly, they clarify, in combat, who is friend or foe. They also serve to suppress individuality and generate esprit de corps. Fussell examines these uses from many different angles and from the perspectives of different countries, mostly with examples drawn from the 1940’s.
Nazi Germany was, naturally, uniform crazy. The Nazis wanted everyone to dress alike so that everyone would think alike.
A key impulse in the social operations of the Third Reich was to urge uniformity, regarded as the ideal cultural condition. As Joseph Goebbels once said, the object...