Men Without Hate is the story of two men inextricably linked by family and irrevocably changed by war. Juxtaposing two quintessentially American coming-of-age tales—and two iconic American wars, the Civil War and World War II—the stories of Lewis and Hilton Raines also offer reflect on the nature of family legacy, healing, and survival. With the world embattled by war and terrorism, the novel’s central question—how do some men’s souls survive the horror of war while others’ minds are destroyed by it?—has resonance for us all.
In 1861, twenty-two-year old Lewis Raines is coming of age on the family farm in Ware County, Georgia just as the Civil War breaks out. Deciding that fighting for a good cause is preferable to a dull future farming and marrying the preacher’s daughter, Lewis enlists. As the story opens, it is 1863 and Lewis’s battery is preparing to fight in what will become known as Pickett’s Charge. Lewis tries to send word to headquarters of the danger he sees, but is too late. He can only watch in horror as Pickett’s men begin across the valley, toward the Federal positions and certain death.
The surviving forces retreat and Lee eventually surrenders, but for Lewis the searing memories of chaos and death make it impossible to go home. When he finally returns to Ware County in 1868 he finds his parents dead and his sister married to privileged landowner Jared Dancy. Trying to put the war behind him, Lewis attempts to restore the abandoned Raines farm, assisted by a black man known to Lewis only as Waller, who becomes both working partner and friend.
But the conflicts that caused the war still haunt Ware County. On Christmas Eve in 1869 Lewis wakes to the smell of smoke and the cries of angry men. He races out to discover Waller being lynched by hooded “Knights of the South.” Captured by the Knights, Lewis is forced to watch Waller’s agonizing death. Recognizing the distinctive horse of one of the attackers, Lewis rides to his sister’s plantation the next day. Ignoring her screams, Lewis slashes Dancy’s throat.
Over the next fifteen years Lewis wanders the country, only slowly beginning to feel the pull of Ware County again. He falls in love with Inez but cannot commit to her until he experiences the 1886 hurricane and its reminders of life’s tenuousness. Lewis is a hard man and a harder father, raising his three sons with an iron hand that eventually splinters the family. Though he has settled down, the emotional wounds of Lewis’s wartime experiences never leave him, and his youthful warmth and optimism never return.
In the second half of the novel, the narrative shifts to 1935 and the life of Hilton Raines, Lewis’s grandson. Raised by a man scarred by his own father’s coldness, Hilton has enjoyed a warm, stable, and comfortable boyhood. As his story opens, the 14-year-old is making a late-summer fishing trip with his father John and John’s brothers, TJ and RL. Though they don’t know it, as they sail from Hilton’s home in Fort Lauderdale to the Keys, a massive hurricane is bearing down on them. By the time it ends, Henry Flagler’s railroad, RL’s life, and Hilton’s innocence about mortality are all gone.
World War II begins while Hilton is at college. At his father’s urging he graduates, but puts off law school to enlist in the Army Infantry in 1943. He forms a tight war-time bond with his commanding sergeant, Ray Jesup, during the invasion of Leyte. After fighting its way through the jungles of the Philippines, their howitzer unit, “The Guns of Dixie,” supports the attack on Manila. The Japanese are vanquished after three weeks of fighting, but when Hilton and Jesup visit the ruins of the sacred walled city the day after the final battle, Hilton is unprepared for what he sees. In a bombed-out church, dead Filipino prisoners sit mutely in pews. In the plaza outside, a young Filipino woman with a baby in her arms runs toward Hilton begging for help. A Japanese soldier appears from a doorway, shooting first at the woman and then at Sergeant Jesup. Mortally wounded, Jesup begs Hilton to kill him; reluctantly, Hilton eventually gives in to his friend’s agony and agrees. When he walks over to the dead woman afterward, he sees that the baby has been dead all along, gutted by a Japanese bayonet.
When the war ends, a bout of malaria spares Hilton from becoming part of the occupation force in Japan. Instead, he is transferred to the military hospital in California’s Fort Ord, where he suffers a malaria relapse and a terrifying experience of what his doctors call battle fatigue, known today as PTSD. Finally he is well enough to return home to Florida, where his parents and his fiancée, Gwen Moulton, are waiting for him at the train station. That night he makes love with Gwen for the very first time, but what should be an exquisite experience is destroyed by another disturbing episode of hallucination and disassociation in which Hilton sees again the Filipino woman and her dead, mutilated child.
Though he is well enough to go to work at his father’s law firm and marry Gwen, Hilton is haunted by the after-effects of malaria, increasingly frequent episodes of battle fatigue, and the disturbing feeling that the war has changed nothing but him. One night, an even more violent hallucination than usual leaves Hilton terrified that he has killed Gwen and their unborn child. He finds himself at the local railroad station, where the train to New York is soon to arrive. He believes now that he is of no further good to Gwen, or for anyone, in the condition the war has brought him to. With his trust in himself and his hopes for the future gone, knowing what must be done to make everything all right once more, Hilton steps onto the tracks.
Synopsis of Men Without Hate © Gene Lee 2016