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Citizen Soldiers: From The Normandy Beaches To The Surrender Of Germany Paperback – 2 Sep 2002
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Ken Burns What a wonderful book, an emotionally powerful argument for our wonderful, flawed system and its homegrown heroics. I imagine Ambrose's writing room as supreme HQ where he is standing over a huge map of Europe, barking orders, dispatching terrified subordinates, surveying and understanding a vast, tragic human canvas at a glance. Ambrose's arsenal is imposing and effective; his pen is a machine gun: detached, hot, and devastating. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Stephen E. Ambrose, leading World War II historian, was the author of numerous books on history including the Number 1 bestselling BAND OF BROTHERS, D-DAY (on which SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was based) PEGASUS BRIDGE and WILD BLUE. He is founder of the Eisenhower Center and the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. He died in 2002.
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However, There was a point in the introduction of the book that stated that Ambrose would not delve into the overall politics and command decisions of the war and would instead concentrate on the individual s of the front line.
Sadly Ambrose didn't take long to lose focus and this book becomes more of an overview of the European theatre , with individual stories becoming few and far between.
The chronology of the book takes a hit too, the first quarter of the book is almost entirely in date order , but then when Ambrose starts talking about the battle of the bulge , the entire focus of the book changes and starts skipping between subject matters and politics as if the book had always been like that.
Just watch out for Ambrose and his inconsistent writing style, otherwise this book is a good tool to see some different perspectives on the war.
I have to admit my ignorance about the campaign, I was well read on the air war in the West but not the conflict on the ground. The impression I had was that there were a few intense battles (Ardennes and D-Day for example) but in general the war on the ground was a simple affair. I was shocked however to see the attrition rates of units, 200% over the 12 months fighting in some cases. This simply beggars belief and the personal insights of the combatants did on occasion bring a lump to my throat.
I take the point of others, Ambrose writes from a very 'America'-centric viewpoint. This is inevitable as the interviews he used are with American veterans. In addition however I'm British, and there are no doubt many who would read my views and be offended (for which I apologise), but we have to accept that the war was won by the Americans and Russians. They were no better soldiers than us, but we could not match their numbers or industrial output. The Brits should be (and are) justly proud that they stopped the Germans expanding any further West than France, but we would never have pushed them back without help. On occasion Ambrose (and his witnesses) reflect these facts but I don't think that warrants critisism and I certainly don't take offence.
Another very interesting point is the acknowledgement by Ambrose of the completely different culture and ethos in the US and British Army. The US were very much shoot first, ask questions later and reliant on an individual's initiative. The British relied upon planning and discipline over and above all else. Both codes have their advantages and disadvantages, and I think that Ambrose does make that point. His account of Patton and Montgomery's different approaches to crossing the Rhine illustrate this perfectly. What makes this even more interesting is the current debate surrounding friendly fire incidents in the Gulf conflict - the same fundamental differences of approach resulting in the US being far more likely to transgress.
Anyway, all I can do is recommend this book and extend my gratitude and respect to the veterens who contributed and to Ambrose for his work.
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