Home Book Review COMMENTS ABOUT THE BOOK , D-DAY, BY STEPHEN AMBROSE
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COMMENTS ABOUT THE BOOK , D-DAY, BY STEPHEN AMBROSE

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[01]     Stephen E. Ambrose was in Whitewater, Wis., on D-Day, and his father in the Pacific. He was 10 years old and collected cans for fun at that time. In 1964, he was a Civil War historian, and got a call from General Eisenhower, who asked him to write his biography, having seen Ambrose has written Civil War books before, and for him, it should be very difficult to do so, without being interested in D-Day 01.

The D-Day book we’ve read is a 754 page-translation, in Portuguese, portraits the essential facts, that took place in Europe, referring to several different perspectives of the great battle of the World War II, written for those who were part of the history, and were born during the false prosperity of the 20’s, raised in the tough reality of depression extended to the 30’s. In the author’s opinion, they were the soldiers of Democracy, men of D-Day, and we owe them our freedom.02 More than facts are presented in this book. The author and also the main important ideological features of Einsenhower’s government provide a sense of reality about war necessity. 03

Ambrose mentions that the book results from a group work, and it follows the ideal of General Eisenhower, having seen he demonstrated how important the conjugation of forces is, whenever looking for a certain aim, as well as failing possibility did not exist (79). The date June 6th, 1944, was the day, occidental democracies, manifested all their anger, and got the triumph (17) So, the keyword was “group”. (76). The strategically formulas chosen by the Americans, included the possibility to make Hitler believe the combat was coming from a different side – Fortitude. (91) He describes people’s impressions in metaphorical language, by saying that we should imagine how a flea could behave on a hot surface. They all felt like living in a high-tension net (104).  The technological forces were used so that the plan of transport was created to impede the passage of German people to

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France, as well as religious forces can be observed when Eisenhower said “Amen” (112), as soon as he was informed about his deliberations, writing it down on his diary. They did not want French people to hate England, and the USA. The traffic of information could be observed by the radio transmitter, put in a Campbell soup can which was used to inform England about the war situation, when a little boy, son of a blind person, was given a ride to Bayeux, and got in touch with Andre Heintz, an eighteen-year-old soldier of the Resistance (119).  American soldiers believed in their violent attack, their technological forces, simplicity, and strong personality. (151) Condoms were used to preserve the guns, watches and protect documents. (181) Their clothes smelt very bad. Some men could go to the bars to drink, but others were so depressive that got crazy, eating a sandwich made with tobacco, or shooting the cottages. They also had their hair cut, and that should be an easy way to be recognized in the war. They didn’t see consequences in that attitude. They believed in God and claimed for his mercy. (203) They believed each man was part of the big deal. (225) The author describes many scenes of pain and scenes where God was claimed many times. Tension, fair, and anticipation were the dominant feelings. What Hitler planted should be given back to him. (317) But, German people also claimed for God. “Gott mit uns”, which means “God is with us”. Americans could not trust! (373) Soldier Ryan became famous (442) because his active participation in many situations is described by the author. It explains why it recently became a biographical film. (Gustavson,40-52).

But many other names, and facts are mentioned in the following pages. A conclusion is written: “As much time you wait for a war, as much you imagine that tomorrow can be the last day of your life, and this is terrible.” (572).  Ambrose mentions the participation of several sectors of midia, like the incident with the films, and the few saved pictures, the

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film producers’ groups, and Hemingway’s participation as a correspondent of Collier’s. Hitler was known as the man who built castles in the air – utopia. (585) “The sun bright outside”, said Eisenhower with a smile. (589) It was the D-Day! The day to give freedom to the arrested world by the Nazis! (591) Anne Frank is mentioned as a personage of the moment, who was informed in Amsterdam about the D-day, by the radio. (619). The news was everywhere in the world. After all, a British historian concluded that there was too much pretension on the D-Day (631), but they collected many bad news to make use of them. French people were being put in freedom. (676) Fortitude was brilliant.  We did it! (p.703) A plane was not taken. (710)

Ambrose most polemical conclusion is that most great men are not good. There’s no way in the world Napoleon been a good man, he affirms. But when he mentions Eisenhower he pretty much defends his position that goodness is not part of greatness. 04

[02]     The book starts with the narrative of situation in Caen Channel, 00.16, in June 6th, 1944, involving personages as the lieutenant Den Brotherridge, Sargent Jack, Sargent Romer, when the first facts involving attacks, shoots, could be compared as doors to the dramatic scenes along the narrative. The details of each scene, short term, sometimes get us really involved, so that we only can be really very sorry about what goes on page by page. The successive dramas absorb our attention completely, so that reading is absolutely involving.

We focus Higgins and the tremendous contribution to technological forces, with the industry of boats. They knew the enemy (German Army) was weak. Optimism was constant among Einsenhower’s men. A list of names can be pointed out, along the narrative, and each one, short term, describes what the whole tragedy was. Heroes of resistance! The great charismatic talent of Eisenhower to attract people is demonstrated in the sentence: ” Only his smile is

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necessary, so that you trust him”.(76) All the forces are extensively described, since the behavior of the Generals who left men over 50 very tired. Eisenhower hated Nazism. Rommel was not Nazi, but sometimes he was considered adept to Hitler. (81). The book is a long composition of facts which historical inevitability is shown, step by step. We predict how the end will be, in an extensive review of important situations. Long term, we get convinced that the war permitted people to be challenged considering technological forces, demonstrating the perspective that war does not provide any progress, is very relative. The wonderful maps of plans, lists of strategically localization  (e.g. 145, 251, 352) are real proofs of the necessity to be absolutely very well organized for the war. Sometimes this organization didn’t work.

[03]     The presence of social forces in the text can be observed, because of the involvement of people of different nationalities along the narrative, and the interests of them, depending on the position they had during the mission. Their feelings and strategies in relation with their intention, can be observed along the text, demonstrating religious and technological forces. What they believed, what, and how, they could do so that the battle could be over. And for sure leadership was fundamental. Eisenhower is the most important personage if we consider

power, and how it was exerted. The so many technological new equipment and invents that were developed for the aim of war, are named one by one, at the end of the book, in a glossary. (715-16). ( Gustavson, 138) It sounds that group activity was the greatest strategy as it was mentioned. Though, a group ought to know exactly how to act, so that aims can be really got. This fact involves discipline, self-confidence and determination, which lead to power, and victory. As Gustavson reports, “The life of an individual sees a constant process of adjustment to environment”. 05  The faith each member of this group has, provides a certain responsibility to

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what the results would be. Not an easy task to imagine how each one was trained to act in such a context, but the other side, was also ideologically ready, having Hitler, the despotic human who could make people  believe that there was a pure race, whenever making use of foreigners to defend their interests in the command. Which race is this? So powerful and so scarce! What bothers me most, is the fact that he could convince people to act like that, and believe they were all better than the rest of the world, giving them no other choice. People from different nationalities were arrested because of his crazy aims. Each situation is unique for Ambrose. We do have the sensation that nothing more than the war could solve the problem. He establishes trends along the narrative. What we do question is that even if we don’t believe in war as being the only way to solve conflicts, a moment of hesitation comes to our mind. This hesitation is also in consequence of Ambrose’s strong arguments, which make us thinking about the tyranny and cruelty of certain governments, and the consequences of their ambitions and desires. We also question where the church was at that time, and how it faced the problem. We know the state and the church tried to take convergent decisions along the History of the humanity for many years, but it sounds this time, it was not present. If it does not go against Nazism publicly, it sounds there wasn’t any other chance to pronounce their position. War sometimes is admitted as a necessity, uncontrolled even by the church. We’re sure that more than the faith in God, remains the reality of those who don’t believe in it, and claim for him, when they are dying, but not when they are killing. We’re invited to give interpretation to the facts, as far as we get involved with the so many scenes of violence and tension along the narrative, which make us thinking about life, and death, as well as the forces for both cases.(Gustavson 1-24)

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[04]     The author deals with the facts, by the same way Einsenhower’s speech could be strong enough to win the war. Ambrose is also a winner, because he presents a clear argumentation, strong fundaments, evidences, facts, and many voices that can be heard along his narrative. Each part of the book is carefully built up, so that the reader can understand the circumstances of each different moment that preceded the D-Day. We march with Ambrose to the war, and when we reach the end of it, we have the sensation that we were captured and involved by the author, in his self-confident presentation of facts, in such a wonderful atmosphere, that permits us to wonder the scenes in details. Time to reflect is needed, after we read each page. There are some anecdotes presented, like the one on page 708 that mentions the following ideas: “A joke of Wehrmacht mentioned that if the plane in the sky was silver, that should be American, if blue, British, and invisible, ours.” He presents his narrative in 32 Chapters, showing the personages, the action of being prepared for that day, the conflicts along the battle, and the conquest. If we look for causation, we do have to present the immediate ones as well as long range. (Gustavson, 53)

From the beginning to the end, the D-Day is being expected in such a way those readers can really wonder the final result, and the suspense is evident when the scenes of the war started to be commented along the narrative. We can’t deny that Ambrose is very analytical, logic and divides the whole content in topics, but we suppose the book can really be read  only by a certain public who can better react to the facts that provoke emotional reactions. It’s not a book we can recommend for any person. There are many examples, pictures and special comments of the author along the narrative, that make us understanding even ethnical problems, such as the supremacy of Arian Race, physically and mentally, and

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the contradiction that Jesse Owens got three international records, and was the winner in the Olympics in Berlin (1936). (702)

I did not understand the relations between Japan and Germany, as well as I did not understand how France was neutral all the time. My questions are answered, but when he finishes the book by reporting the opinion of Eisenhower when contemplating Omaha made me thinking about another question.(Gustavson, 123)”That’s a wonderful thought, remembering that the reason those people were fighting and sacrificing themselves, was to conquest our life style. It was not to conquest any land, and personal ambition. But to preserve what Hitler could not destroy, which was the freedom of the world. And finishes his comment by saying that to think about those lives that were given for this principle, paying the terrible price: only in this beach 2000 dead people. But they did, so that the world could be free. This shows exactly what free men will do so that they never fall on slavery.”(714) Die for Freedom? Although this speech is reach and consistent, we do face a different kind of slavery in the world, by the subordination of economical circumstances that permit people to move in the society, in accordance with what they have, much more than the circumstances of his/her own existence. We are now facing an existential slavery, and this is a serious point to be observed in everyday life. Life goes by, and History is dynamic. Perhaps more explanations can be found, as much as we get concerned about the circumstances of the main subject, by listening to several different perspectives of information, about and around the book. We do believe the author has selected much more than words. We are convinced about the sacrifice of the soldiers by looking the pictures (201-486) which illustrate the several different situations of panic and stress they were living. There are very cruel passages along the book

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that sometimes shock us. It shouldn’t be different, but sometimes the cruelty is very sophisticated. (Gustavson, 152) They thought their hearts were young and gay, because they believed they were immortal, and suppose to do something great, and they believed in their crusade. The hope to have the world free of the Nazism. (591)

There’s a critique that Ambrose paraphrased many of the passages in his book incorrectly, and he admits it publically..06 What is really impressive is the style, and his very simple language to speak about so many facts, people, and circumstances, and he’s the

intention to give a space for all the possible voices in certain contexts, where the personages got involved. He does not present his opinions about the facts. Rather than this, he presents evidences of them, and the opinion of the people involved. So, he hardly ever make considerations about what he comments, and justify his facts positively. The construction of his speech joins so many voices together and his clever arguments are enough to give a certain guarantee of what is being said. The author deals with different approaches, but we do

not see conflict in what is being said. Sometimes, different authors are presented with different approaches, like the interpretation of a British historian that the aims of D-Day were

so ambitious (631) The author does not dismiss these, but does not argue with them. He comments that British people were experts in commenting things wrongly. At the end of the book, we can see a big list of participants of the narrative as well as the localization of each one in the text.  The footnotes and bibliography reveal extensive scholarly activity in archives and specialized studies, mainly in English, so that the text can be explained and also secondary sources presented. The author shows preference for the emphasis of the word of participants, including psychological analyses and disquisition. Added material that enhances the book can be easily found in the book, like pictures, maps, charts, but no appendixes or

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Chapter sub-headings. A Glossary, Final notes and the bibliography finally complement de book. (Gustavson, 164)

Major King read the unforgettable verses of Henry the V for the soldiers: ” Ahead, ahead, noble English men! This blood comes from war experimented parents…be now examples for those men of less noble ones, and teach them how to make the war. The game marches. Follow your spirits” (672).

                    Some good aspects can be observed after the World War II. For instance, we have the sensation that France was destroyed with the attacks. Anyway, as Jean Jacques Becker affirms, the French society had a great development, because the number of Immigration increased so much, specially Portuguese people, and demonstrated a great recover after Germany was capitulated in May 8th, 1945, ending the war, started in June 6th, 1944. The government of de Gaulle was especially focused on the reconstruction of economical and social structures of the country and provides new institutions for the Republic (BECKER-208)

And the so-called Reichsführer, the only one senior of the German Nazis last castles in the air, was finally destroyed, in the name of freedom and dignity of human rights. After this, so many trades, conventions and agreements were created, so that the humanity could march to a different porpoise, considering respect, and human fundaments, as routes to be taken, besides any resistance. Eisenhower was nominated the supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe in 1944 and the forces of OTAN in December 1950, until 1952, when he decided to be a candidate for the Presidency.(Gustavson, 198). In 1956, he was elected. His main goal was to combat communism. (BECKER-468)

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             By reading Ambrose, we could have a general panoramic perspective of the world our parents lived. It’s easier for us to understand many of the passages they mentioned in their conversations, and our own roots.

              More than a gallery of heroes can be observed along his narrative. A long current of strong rings, in the attempt to rebuild and reconstruct the several facts about the D-Day, is patiently outlined by Ambrose. Documentaries and films can now be observed, but we can affirm that nothing provokes more emotional impact than some passages of his book.

              What we observe is the fact that the philosophy of contemporary world changed, and has gone through a period of pessimism and confusion. As Burns mentions for the majority of philosophers who faced the periods of war, the humanity lost the confidence in human’s capacity to save him/herself without the support of authority or over natural forces. Even Santayana ran away from the materialist America, going to a Monastery in Rome, for the rest of his life. Aldous Huxley wrote about Hindu and Christian mysticism. Sartre was also strong, moments before the war – 1938. (Gustavson, 179) Then, the conclusion: “War is still our most serious problem, but even it is necessarily insolvent. This is a logical monstrosity. Sense did not disappear from the planet. If we can’t solve our problems we should at list do something, so that we could get rid of some of them. Intelligence and expansion of knowledge will help us to get the rest”. 07 (997-1011). As it was demonstrated along the paper, Gustavson provides us general aspects about  the study of History, that for sure are guidelines to better understand the conduction of our approaches to our analysis,  here presented.

            And this is History! All the blood, all the dreams, all the fairs, all the conquests and faults! As Voltaire mentions “History is but pictures of crimes and misfortunes”. 08

                                                                                                                                                   

       Works Cited  

Ambrose, Sthepen E., O Dia D. 6 de junho de 1944,BCD Ed. 1998.

Becker, Jean-Jacques, Resumo de História do século XX, Plátano, Portugal,  1999.

Burns, Edward McNall, History of the Occidental Civilization, Globo Ed. 1971.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York:

                   Modern Language Association, 1988.

Gustavson, Carl G., A preface to History, Copyright. 1955, McGraw HILL.

ENDNOTES

01  http://www.booknotes.org/transcript  -2002

02  id.ib.

 03 Ambrose, Sthepen E., O Dia D. 6 de junho de 1944,BCD Ed. 1998. and all the other    

              collocations in parenthesis.

04    www.neh.gov/news/humanities/1997-09ambrose

05    Gustavson, Carl G., A preface to History, Copyright. 1955, McGraw HILL. p. 206

06. http://www.stephenambrose.com/

07.Burns, Edward McNall, History of the Occidental Civilization, Globo Ed. 1971.

08 Giordani, Mario, The Byzantine Empire History, Vozes, 1968, 09.

By Antonio Cunha

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