June 3, 2010 by Reader's Connection
It´s appropriate that I´m beginning to type this blogpost on Memorial Day. At a graduation ceremony over the weekend, and then at church, and then during radio coverage of the Indianapolis 500, words were spoken about the sacrifices made by those who have served in our country´s military. D-Day: The Battle for Normandy gives an astonishing account of collective sacrifice.
This coming Sunday, June 6th, will mark the anniversary of the 1944 Allied invasion of France’s Normandy coast, one of the crucial turning points in World War II, and Antony Beevor’s 2009 title carries us through that campaign and on to the liberation of Paris in August.
Having just finished his account of the first landings on Omaha beach, I’m shaking my head. As one critic quoted on the dust jacket puts it: “The chapter on the Omaha beach landings is almost the literary equivalent of the opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan, with the same horror and pace.” He’s got it a little backward–that almost makes it sound as though the historical account is less upsetting than Steven Spielberg’s movie–but I know what he means.
Speaking of movies, I was starting to watch the 1962 film The Longest Day as a sort of accompaniment to Beevor’s book, but it didn’t work out. His story has its own momentum, which doesn’t need any help from Hollywood; and all those stars became a distraction. When I read about Brigadier General Norman Cota, for example, I didn’t want a famous movie-guy popping into my brain. I won’t name the star, so he won’t pop into your brain, either, if you read the book. (Warning: If you click on Cota’s photograph, here, and read the Wikipedia article, you’ll find out who played him in The Longest Day and who sort of played him in a couple of other movies.)
Beevor may be a British historian, but he takes a comprehensive view of all that happened. He makes note of the low regard in which some of the British commanders held General Dwight Eisenhower. General Sir Bernard Montgomery, for example, said of Ike after the war: “Nice chap, no soldier.”
These opinions were certainly unfair writes Beevor. Eisenhower demonstrated good judgement on all the key decisions over the Normandy invasion and his diplomatic skills held a fractious coalition together. That alone represented a considerable feat . . . And nobody, not even General George S. Patton, was as difficult to deal with as Monty, who treated his supreme commander with scant respect [and] suffered from a breathtaking conceit which almost certainly stemmed from some sort of inferiority complex.
Beevor also brings us (or at least me) up to speed about losses by the French. He concludes a paragraph about casualty reports by saying The only certain fact is that 3,000 French civilians died in the first twenty-four hours of the invasion, double the total number of American dead.
I’m tempted to cut loose with details, here–those frail wooden gliders carrying jeeps and other equipment, smashing up as soon as they hit the ground and killing pilots and crew members–but I’ll leave you in Beevor’s hands. He has masterfully depicted the chaos and terror of those days.
The library also owns the book on CD, and I thought about trying it, but becoming riveted to Beevor’s narrative while driving my car seemed unwise. Best wishes to those of you who can handle it.