Tuesday, February 4, 2014

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor

After reading D-Day for several days, I began to feel like Patton, General Leclerc, and their soldiers: I became increasingly eager to reach Paris and thereby liberate myself from this book. Because it was boring or poorly written? Not at all! In fact, Beevor's account of the ferocious battles in Normandy takes the reader into the fray about as well as I expect a book can. The death, destruction, and brutality--with a few fleeting glimpses of kindness--are all there. Just as soldiers wanted to be done with battle and return home and the generals wanted to achieve their glory, so the reader, after only this hint of what it would have been like, wants to conclude the matter. This is a sign of the author's success, not failure. 

I wrote a bit about this book in a recent post, but there's a lot more that can be said about the book. Beevor explains what was happening from Churchill to Norman residents, from the troops to the generals. He does an excellent job of mixing these perspectives. His mix of perspectives also serves to break up the alphabet soup military designations and descriptions of movements on the map. Such descriptions and maps are crucial for understanding the military moves, but such descriptions can sometimes overwhelm a layman like me. 

So in addition to my earlier comments and the comments made above, here are some random notes and thoughts generated by this book: 
  • General Montgomery (Monty) was as big a horse's ass as I've heard him to be from other sources. Indeed, many Brits were as displeased with him as the Americans were. He really seems to have taken the cake as a prima dona. 
  • General Patton was no slouch when it comes to ego, either. The portrait composed by Beevor, done in small bits, conforms to the impression I have from George C. Scott's biopic, Patton. But in this theatre, Patton, after serving as a decoy, proved helpful. 
  • Normandy's sacrifice saved the rest of France a great deal of trauma, but the Normans suffered mightily, perhaps too much from Allied bombing. 
  • The politics of the French; to wit, De Gaulle and the Communists, was a real mess. FDR didn't trust DeGaulle, nor should he have, but there was no other choice. The French were proud, although essentially defeated (1940 was a complete collapse of the French) until the Liberation of Paris. It looked like post-war France could erupt in civil war. The Communists, quite important in the Resistance, were putting out pamphlets in Paris to send people "to the barricades" The politics of France at that time remained a mess, and the race to Paris became a necessary ingredient in the campaign. 
  • Women in France accused of collaboration horizontale suffered shaved-heads or worse. As Beevor notes, however, much of this consisted of witch-hunting for the benefit males deflecting their non-resistance and enacting their jealousy. Beevor writes: “It was jealousy masquerading as moral outrage. The jealousy was mainly provoked by the food that they [the women] had received as a result of their conduct.” (450). Mob justice is an oxymoron, and there was a lot of it. 
  • Americans, arriving in Paris after the grueling battles to take Normandy, treated Paris as a one big carnival, leaving a bad taste in many of the French. Instead of thanks for liberating France, the French remember the gluttony, drunkenness, and whoring. 
  • It appears to me (and I don't recall Beevor directly addressing this) that without the almost unchallenged air superiority of the Allies (RAF and Americans), the ground forces may have been outmatched by the Germans. 
  • Although not as important in the end, Allied naval superiority allowed the Allies to arrive and establish a beachhead unchallenged from the sea as well as the air. 
  • The lack of coordination between ground and air forces often caused a large number of friendly fire casualties. 
  • There could be no better demonstration that Clausewitz was right about the reality of the "friction" in war and the reality of “the fog of war”.
  • The brutality and carnage on both sides can sometimes leave one shaking one's head. If reading a book doesn't stamp "war is hell" onto your brain, then you'd better check your sense of humanity. This wasn't a "good war"--there is no such thing. 

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