Tag Archives: invasion

Review: “D-Day: June 6, 1944” by Stephen E. Ambrose

49250Title: D-Day: June 6, 1944–The Climactic Battle Of World War II
Author: Stephen E. Ambrose
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Simon & Schuster, 1994

Well, this is awkward. I was all set to tell you how Stephen Ambrose was one of the greatest historians of the Second World War still living, and then tell you to read this book. Except that in looking up tidbits of fact to sprinkle in here and whet your fancy, I discovered two things. First, he died twelve years ago. Secondly, and more important, his reputation is not now as glowing as I had believed it to be. It seems that several of his books are riddled with improper citations and, in a couple places, even inaccuracies. Sentences or even paragraphs lifted almost verbatim from other sources, given a citation but not acknowledged within the text. An easy mistake to make, perhaps, but a rookie level one. Ambrose was one of the leading WWII scholars in the nation, even the world. You would think that indicated a level of care and professionalism that would preclude such sloppiness. (You can read about that whole mess here.) More troubling is the recent discovery that his relationship with General-turned-President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not exactly as he had described. Instead of Eisenhower approaching him to write his biography, Ambrose approached the former president. Instead of the hundreds of hours they allegedly spent talking before Eisenhower’s death, the meticulous records kept by Eisenhower’s secretary and assistant show only five. Some of the interviews cited by Ambrose take place at times Eisenhower was recorded to be elsewhere. Later-used citations are vague as to the date and time, simply cited as “Interview with DDE.” (You can read that story here.) This saddens me, for I had intended to consume his entire bibliography. Now….now my plan is to still read his WWII histories (Pegasus Bridge, Citizen Soldiers, re-read Band Of Brothers) which are less controversial, but I doubt I’ll push beyond that. We’ll see when the time comes I suppose.

But you know what? I’m still recommending this book. It was incredibly engaging and well-written–even his harshest detractors admit that he was one heck of a writer. With two lone exceptions (discussed below), there is no controversy concerning the facts as Ambrose relates them here. There may be a few spurious interview bits from Eisenhower buried in the passages he cites from his own books, I can’t check the whole chain of citation since I only have this one book on hand, but across the board his sources for this one seem legit. Would I use this as a source for a scholarly paper? Maybe not, at least without doing some more serious digging, but that’s really not a question I think most of my readers are concerned with. So far as I can tell, most of my readers are simply concerned with finding good books to fill their reading time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. History degree or not, I’m under no delusions that my review blog is a scholarly source. So, let me be clear as to what this is: Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day is an incredibly compelling study of arguably the single most crucial operation in the Second World War, told mostly by the men who were there and survived the experience. It is a tale of incredible human ingenuity, courage, and resolve, and it is very much worth reading.

In the wee hours of the morning, June 6th, 1944, the Allied nations launched the single greatest amphibious assault in the history of warfare. Hitler had spent years fortifying the French coast against this day, certain that it would have to come eventually, and the network of fortifications he had ordered constructed were intended to be impenetrable. Had any one of a hundred different factors played out differently, they may well have proved to be. Had the fortifications been better staffed, had Hitler proved more decisive and/or less inclined to micromanaging troop dispositions, had his staff even proved willing to wake him up when the invasion started so that he could give the proper orders, it would be a very different book I’m reviewing here. Had the invasion failed, what would the world look like today? That’s a question far too large for me to answer, at least here, but Ambrose believes that Berlin would have suffered the eventual fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, it’s no spoiler seventy years on to tell you that the invasion of Normandy was successful, if incredibly costly. I urge you to read this book and see the operation through the eyes of the men who were there.

I think I’ve pretty adequately communicated that I think you should read this. I’ve touched on how well it’s written, and how despite the controversy surrounding the author nobody really takes issue with this particular work, with two exceptions. First, Ambrose portrays the pilots ferrying the airborne troops to their dropzones as untrained for the degree of AA fire they were taking, and blames this factor (and, by extension, their fear) for how scattered the paratroopers became. These pilots take offense to this portrayal and have repeatedly lobbied for changes in this and other books that make the same claim. The second minor controversy concerns an incident occurring off of Omaha beach, where a landing craft skipper wanted to abort and the infantry captain aboard forced him to make the run in anyway at gunpoint. A fine story, a compelling anecdote, and properly sourced to boot. Ambrose didn’t simply make this up–it comes from a 1960 article in Atlantic Monthly, and is a story that has been much repeated in a number of other works since. The problem? The sole survivor of that landing craft denies it ever happened. Either way, Ambrose acted in good faith here, though I do somewhat question the reliability of Atlantic Monthly as a reliable source of historical fact. So do with that what you will. But read the book.

CONTENT: Some R-rated language, depending on how the veterans being interviewed censored themselves and their stories. Some graphic depictions of violence, especially in the accounts from Omaha beach. No sexual content.

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Review: Fringe (2008-2013 TV Series)

Created by: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, & Alex Kurtzman.

“Endless Impossibilities.” That’s what Fringe (*****) offered, and that’s what it delivered for five straight seasons of programming. If you’re a longtime reader you know of my love for good science fiction, and this series did not disappoint. In fact, it was by far one of my absolute favorite series all the way through its run, and I recently worked through the entire series again so my wife could see it. She loved it as much as I did, so I can confidently tell you that its appeal goes beyond uber-geeks.

Fringe is the spiritual if not actual successor to The X-Files, which I am somewhat ashamed to admit I have not yet watched all the way through. (Cut me a little slack, I was way too little when it first started! It’s on my to-do list….) In fact, they briefly make reference to the old X-designation” as having been the FBI’s standard practice for dealing with unexplainable phenomena before Fringe Division was created. I’m pretty sure the two mythologies are incompatible, as aliens play little if any role in Fringe, but it was a fun moment nonetheless. Regardless of any ties between the two, the shows have a number of similarities including complicated mythologies. Instead of Scully and Mulder going rogue and investigating things their superiors would rather sweep under the rug, in Fringe the FBI has set up a whole division to investigate “the Pattern,” a series of unexplainable or “fringe” events that have been recently escalating in frequency. To this end, Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assisted in her investigations by Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a proverbial mad scientist who doesn’t believe in the word “impossible”–or that there is any conundrum an acid trip won’t help him unravel. Walter is mentally and emotionally unstable for reasons it will be far more fun for you to discover yourself than for me to reveal to you here, and is only allowed out of the mental institution where he has lived for twenty years because his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) has agreed to be responsible for him. Peter is a borderline-genius himself, and once conned his way into MIT–he even managed to get a couple papers published before he was found out. Secondary characters include Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), who usually gets stuck babysitting Walter in the lab; Agent Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick), the head of Fringe Division; Agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo), Dunham’s partner and friend; and Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), the CEO of the multi-national mega-company Massive Dynamic who always seems to know more than she’s telling (“What do we do here at Massive Dynamic? The better question is, what don’t we do…”). There are a score of wonderful guest appearances as well, from Jared Harris to the legendary Leonard Nimoy. I will also say that the quality of the acting is phenomenal, with several of the castmembers portraying multiple distinct versions of their characters (alternate universes, remember?)

When I watched through this series the first time, I was watching it as it was broadcast over a five-year period. I greatly enjoyed it, but you forget things after that long. Watching it through the second time, knowing where things were headed, I could see so much more depth and interconnectedness. The writers had to have the entire story arc of the show in mind from the beginning, because the entire plot of Season 5 is hinted at and rooted in an episode from Season 1! So watching it the second time and catching all the setup for later things was great. I do wish they would have had longer to set up their endgame–they were kind of forced to just jump into it by the threat of imminent cancelation–but overall it worked out well. Season 1 and to some degree Season 2 are mostly episodic case-of-the-week things, but gradually the show morphs into a serial adventure with most of the cases intimately connected. Major elements involve alternate universes and time travel, which I always find fun.

I jokingly say that one thing I wish they had explored was the origin of the giant floating letters that always set the scene during the show (see example. And no, its not mispelled, that’s how they spell it in the alternate universe….) Another thing I wish had been included was an explanation for how they always manage to get between New York and Boston so quickly. The show bends the laws of physics all the time–just acknowledge the fact and give us a throwaway line!

There are a number of comics based on the show. I reviewed one set of them here, but haven’t managed to get my hands on the rest. I’m a bit sad about this, as the others are by all accounts of a much higher quality than the mediocre ones I did manage to find….

Content: When this was broadcast it was rated TV-14, and I think that’s fair. The show can be fairly violent, and at times quite gruesome with the aftermath of whatever fringe event they are investigating. Mild language, typical for that rating slot. Occasional sexual content, nothing too explicit. This is more prevalent in the first couple episodes….I cynically atribute this to trying to draw people in and grab their attention. They do say sex sells…..

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