Author: hdubrull

Why are There No Indians in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk?

With respect to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, there is a fair amount of “What about-ism” these days. What about Churchill? What about the French? As One Thing after Another has pointed out in a previous post, some critics are unhappy that Nolan did not include the stories of various figures or groups in his film. Now it is the turn of those who complain that Nolan has left Indians out of his tale.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/01/indian-african-dunkirk-history-whitewash-attitudes

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/opinion/dunkirk-indians-world-war.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

One Thing after Another has a two-part response to these criticism. First, Nolan’s ambition consisted of presenting the experience of Dunkirk, not relating the story of a battle in the round like, say, The Longest Day, or other such films associated with “blockbuster history.” In doing so, Nolan took British memories of Dunkirk as a plucky evacuation and recast them into a harrowing survival story (military historian Robert Citino claims this movie presents the best rendition of what helpless infantry must have felt like when attacked by Stukas). As this blog has argued earlier, many of Nolan’s critics appear to desire a semi-documentary that details the doings of everybody on the beach when that was never his ambition. In large part, they desire this treatment because they want his film to bear the large and unwieldy load of rectifying British amnesia about the contributions of others during the evacuation (and the entire war for that matter).

And that brings us to the second part of this blog’s response. In the New York Times, Yasmin Khan complains that Dunkirk allows Britons to continue ignoring the imperial dimension of World War II. Why, then, did Nolan not show Indian troops at Dunkirk or present the narrative through Indian eyes? The answer is that there were probably very few Indians at Dunkirk. When World War II broke out in September 1939, the Indian Army had just over 200,000 men on the rolls. According to Khan’s India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War, 53,000 Indians enlisted in the army during the first eight months of the war. In other words, when the Dunkirk evacuation occurred, the Indian Army still numbered under a quarter million men, not enough to spare many soldiers abroad, guard the volatile North-West Frontier, and maintain domestic order. Not surprisingly, then, the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) order of battle for 1940 reveals that there were no Indian combat units in France. Khan and others have pointed out that elements of the Royal India Army Service Corps (see photo above) were present in France and made it to the beaches for evacuation. But the RIASC only ever sent four companies to Franceabout 1,000 men. This unit would have constituted a drop in the bucket compared to the 225,000-odd British troops stranded on the beach. As for the lascars, those Indian sailors who constituted around a quarter of the British Merchant Navy’s strength, the evidence seems to indicate that they were not as numerous at Dunkirk as Sunny Singh believes. A large majority of British troops rescued from the beach were picked up by the Royal Navy’s smaller warships (destroyers, minesweepers, and so on) or vessels pressed into service by the Royal Navy (mainly ferry boats or those involved in Britain’s coastal trade). The latter, to judge from W. J. R. Gardner’s The Evacuation from Dunkirk: “Operation Dynamo”, 26 May-4 June 1940, the standard reference work on the subject, were captained by officers from the Royal Navy Reserve, and they generally appear to have been manned by British crews.

India’s enormous contribution to the British Empire’s war effort (as chronicled recently by both Khan’s excellent book and Srinath Raghavan’s India’s War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia) came later and elsewhere in the form of men, resources, and production. The Indian Army, which grew to just under 2.5 million men, played a very significant role in the Middle East, a commitment that spilled over into North Africa and thence to Italy and Greece. This force also proved particularly important in driving the Japanese out of Burma (now Myanmar). These missions were generally in keeping with the traditions of the Indian Army which consisted of safeguarding nearby imperial interests, including the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and southeast Asia (the one big exception came during World War I in the fall of 1914 when about one-fifth of the BEF in France consisted of Indian troops). And that is part of the reason why India’s contribution to the war has often been overlooked by both Britons and Indians; each has their reasons for ignoring the British Empire during World War II. British memories of the conflict stress how Britons heroically fought “alone” against the Germans for 18 months after France collapsed. This memory also tends to emphasize the action in Europe; there is less interest in the imperial dimension of the war because the empire is now dead and gone. At the same time, as Khan explains in her book, Indians also do not seem particularly interested in the role they played during World War II, largely because that role is difficult to incorporate in the nationalist narrative about India’s movement to independence in the 1940s. How does one tell the story of the almost 2.5 million Indian soldiers who faithfully did the British Empire’s bidding just a few short years before India’s “tryst with destiny”?

There is a movie yet to be made about Indians’ contribution to World War II that deals with the complexity of their relationship to the conflict and the British Empire. Dunkirk is not the setting for that movie. Such a film should be set in the Middle East or North Africa. Better yet, it it should take place in Burma, where eight of the thirteen infantry division that served in Bill Slim’s 14th Army were Indian. Their victories at Imphal and Kohima in the spring of 1944, which dealt Japan its greatest defeats on land during World War II, led to the recovery of Burma. It’s pretty clear that a British audience would not show much interest in such a film. But would Indians be in the mood to watch a movie that showed them in the service of an empire that they believe they are well rid of?

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Its Critics

If you pay attention to movies, you know that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which was released in the United States on Friday (and on July 13 in Britain), has been a tremendous hit with film critics, winning a fresh score of 92% at Rotten Tomatoes. Media outlets across the political spectrum appear to agree in conferring high honors on Dunkirk. For example, The Guardian acclaims it as “Nolan’s best film so far,” describes it as a “visceral piece of film-making,” and compares Nolan to Stanley Kubrick. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, which usually doesn’t find itself on the same side of most issues as The Guardian, praises Nolan for having “created something new in the annals of war films—an intimate epic.”

The world, of course, would not be what it is if somebody wasn’t critical of Nolan’s choices. A handful of critics have complained that the film does not have much of an emotional core because there is little character development, and One Thing after Another can understand where they are coming from; Dunkirk is an inspired piece of filmmaking, but it is not perfect. One Thing after Another, however, is less forgiving of more political criticisms of the movie. In a mixed review that admires Dunkirk’s ability to immerse the audience in the experiences of the protagonists but criticizes the lack of character development, Jacques Mandelbaum in Le Monde (one of France’s pre-eminent newspapers) takes Nolan to task for turning his movie into “a purely English history.” “In this film, where are the 120,000 French soldiers also evacuated from Dunkirk?” Mandelbaum asks. “Where are the other 40,000 who sacrificed themselves to defend the city against an enemy superior in arms and in numbers?” Mandelbaum would like to rescue the story of Dunkirk from its status as an exclusively British epic; the narrative he desires to see is a Franco-British one. This narrative would stress the courageous efforts of French troops at Lille and Dunkirk who bought time for the men on the beach—both French and British—to be rescued in a joint Allied operation. It would also express the pathos of the relations between allies who were now fated to go their separate ways—the British saving themselves to fight another day and liberate the Continent, the French succumbing to defeat and the tender mercies of Petain and German occupation. This type of criticism of is intelligible. France has its own story to tell about a battle that took place on French soil and involved hundreds of thousands of French troops who generally acquitted themselves in a courageous fashion. One can understand how tiresome it must feel to have this tale usurped or appropriated by the British. Yet there is more than one way of looking at Dunkirk, and many of these ways do not involve surveying the battle in its totality. Nolan is clearly interested in using Dunkirk as the setting for a timeless survival story. In so doing, he recasts the traditional British memory of Dunkirk which stresses the virtues of pluckiness, improvisation, courage, and the stiff upper lip. Instead, Nolan’s Dunkirk is a grim, austere, and often terrifying story where men must face terrible choices as they run a gauntlet of nightmares. As The Guardian puts it, Dunkirk is not so much a war movie as a disaster film; the characters, often with limited means, try to evade or, at most, mitigate the great harm of war. Indeed, Dunkirk reminds One Thing after Another of Samuel Hynes’ The Soldiers’ Tale (1998) with its evocation of the soldier as helpless victim before the often indiscriminate and sweeping reach of modern war (see Slate‘s comments to this point). At the end of the film, one of the characters, now safely in Britain, gets hold of a newspaper, and in a sometimes faltering voice, reads aloud Winston Churchill’s famous June 4, 1940 oration in the House of Commons (commonly referred to as the “We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches” speech). How strange and incongruous these words sound in the mouth of an exhausted British soldier who has done everything he could to escape a French beach, surviving rifle fire, artillery bombardment, strafing, bombing, and the sinking of several vessels. This moment makes us aware of the degree to which Nolan seeks to overturn the story that has dominated British memories of the evacuation.

At bottom, Dorothy Rabinowitz’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Review (as opposed to the positive film review by Joe Morgenstern which is cited above) suffers from the same kind of problem as Mandelbaum’s criticism. Rabinowitz accuses Nolan of “dumbing down” the story of Dunkirk because he did not supply the full historical context for the evacuation. Churchill, she complains, never makes an appearance in the film and, as she points out, it’s almost impossible, unless one already knows the story of Dunkirk, to see that the British characters in the film are pitted against Nazi Germany. Rabinowitz attributes the worst motives to Nolan by dwelling on his desire to make a “universal” and “relevant” story that neither gets bogged down in “politics” nor seems “old-fashioned.” She concludes that these aims show how little Nolan thinks of his audience; he does not wish, she argues, to tax their intellect too much. Like Mandelbaum, she wants a more complete story, but her version would involve Churchill, the discussions of the British cabinet, the conferences of generals and admirals, a full accounting of what occurred on the beach, and so on. In graduate school, One Thing after Another learned that a book reviewer should generally criticize a work on the basis of its arguments, not for neglecting to cover the topic that the reviewer wished the author had tackled. That piece of advice seems particularly apposite in this case. Rabinowitz appears incensed that Nolan did not depict Dunkirk the way she would have done it. As we have already seen, Nolan’s goals are far different from hers. She is interested in presenting what amounts to a history lesson in semi-documentary form. He is more concerned with the experience of individuals who try, each in his own way, to deal with the disaster at Dunkirk. Again, there is more than one way to portray this story.

One Thing after Another will go further, though, and argue that in other cases, Rabinowitz’s preferred approach to telling a World War II story has already been tried and found wanting. From the early 1960s, starting with The Longest Day (1962), and continuing until A Bridge Too Far (1977), Hollywood was plagued by “blockbuster history” films about World War II (to use Stephen Ambrose’s phrase). These movies, which also included The Battle of the Bulge (1965), The Battle of Britain (1969), and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), were huge productions that involved enormous casts and long running times. They interlaced the big picture with the little one, attempting to integrate the stories of politicians and generals with common soldiers. They could be entertaining and compelling in spots, but they generally faltered under the weight of their own ambitions. Film critics do not consider them great films, and historians do not think of them as great history. This sub-genre, then, has already been done before and, by most accounts, has failed. Why would Nolan want to give Dunkirk the blockbuster history treatment which is what Rabinowtiz seems to demand of him? Perhaps this is what Nolan meant when he said he did not want to make an “old-fashioned” war film.

Mandelbaum and Rabinowitz ought to understand that one can see the story of Dunkirk from a variety of perspectives. In recognizing that fact, they should ask themselves, first, if Nolan has seized upon an interesting and worthwhile perspective and, second, if he has related his tale well. Most critics, it appears, have answered “yes” to both questions.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Harvard versus “Unrecognized Single-Gender Organizations”

Those of you who pay attention to academia have surely heard about the uproar surrounding the recommendations recently issued by the Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (USGSO) at Harvard University. (For a link to the committee’s report, see this article in The Atlantic—for some reason, One Thing after Another has experienced difficulty installing the link in this post.) Although some media outlets have claimed the report recommends banning fraternities, sororities, and final clubs (which are the so-called “unrecognized single-gender social organizations” in question), that is not precisely the case. Harvard has not recognized male final clubs for over 30 years. These private organizations have no relationship to the university (hence the adjective “unrecognized”); it could not ban them if it wanted to. Rather, what the report endorses is prohibiting students from joining USGSO on pain of disciplinary action. The exact wording of the recommendation is as follows:

Harvard students may neither join nor participate in final clubs, fraternities or sororities, or other similar private, exclusionary social organizations that are exclusively or predominantly made up of Harvard students, whether they have any local or national affiliation, during their time in the College. The College will take disciplinary action against students who are found to be participating in such organizations. Violations will be adjudicated by the Administrative Board.

Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard, is now considering the report’s proposals.

There appear to be two distinct but related reasons that Harvard has contemplated this course. First, the report argues that USGSOs are discriminatory and exclusionary; something needs to be done to “bring them into greater accord with the forward-looking aspirations of the University.” The principles that govern these bodies, so the argument goes, run counter to the spirit that ought to infuse Harvard. Interestingly enough, the report dwells on the damage done to those who feel excluded by USGSOs. This position has been ridiculed by critics who point out that Harvard is one of the most exclusive universities in the world, and its students are among the most economically privileged. Under these circumstances, complaints about exclusion appears to show at best a lack of self-awareness and, at worst, a sensational level of chutzpah. Harvard’s administration could argue that the exclusion practiced by the university in admissions is based on merit rather than, say, something so arbitrary as gender. Yet some critics have argued that admissions are indeed arbitrary and open mainly to those who enjoy a wide range of social and economic privileges. Moreover, as the dissenting opinion of one member (Professor David Haig) of the Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations points out, it is not at all clear that students at Harvard feel so terribly excluded that they favor the actions contemplated by the administration.

One Thing after Another is somewhat more interested in the second reason, partly because it is associated with a more universal problem and partly because a number of observers have neglected it: Harvard’s administration has clearly been concerned for some time about the connection between USGSOs and sexual assault. A Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault issued a report in March 2016 making this connection, pointing out that whereas 31% of Harvard’s female undergraduates reported experiencing “non-consensual sexual contact” in their four years at the school, 47% of female seniors participating in final clubs had experienced such contact since entering the university. The task force argued that the male final clubs encouraged “a strong sense of sexual entitlement,” reinforced misogynistic behavior, and promoted “the marginalization of women.” In May of that year, Faust made a series of important changes that were based on this report (e.g. members of USGSOs would no longer be eligible for team captaincies, student leadership positions, and certain fellowships). Then as now, the administration did not dwell on USGSOs’ association with sexual assault. Rather, it claimed (to use the words of Rakesh Khurana, Harvard’s Dean), that “all of these unrecognized single-gender social organizations are at odds with Harvard College’s educational philosophy and its commitment to a diverse living and learning experience.”

Reducing the question to a matter of educational philosophy, as the administration seems determined to do, may allow the university to avoid the bad publicity associated with what appears to be the prevalence of sexual assault at Harvard, but it hardly seems to justify the dramatic action the university is contemplating: punishing students who belong to certain organizations that have no connection to the school. Unlike the mafia, the Hasty Pudding Club is not a criminal enterprise. Where would this kind of proscription end? What exactly would be the boundaries of the “forward-looking aspirations of the University”?

Moreover, by de-emphasizing the issue of sexual assault, the administration has allowed its critics to avoid dealing with the problem as well. Steven Pinker, the prominent professor of psychology at Harvard, has rightfully argued that the university has no right to impose values on it students and that the proposed policy is not “effective, rationally justified, evidence-based.” When they do these kind of things, he asserts, universities like Harvard do not look like “dispassionate forums” for “analyzing problems”; rather, they appear to be “institutions determined to impose their ideology and values on a diverse population by brute force.” In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has portrayed the issue as a matter of student autonomy. He sees two tendencies at work on college campuses today: a desire to treat students as adults who are capable of making “autonomous judgments about their social lives” (or at least as people who should be allowed to make mistakes within the safe confines of an undergraduate campus) versus a belief that “administrators of residential life can enlighten students morally by way of imposing bureaucratic rules and structures, resulting in more inclusive, equal campuses.” Pinker and Friedersdorf’s arguments carry a great deal of weight with One Thing after Another (which, by the by, shares the same undergraduate alma mater with Friedersdorf).

The difficulty with these arguments, though, is that some groups of students at Harvard appear to be using their autonomy, freedom, privilege, or whatever you want to call it to injure others through sexual assault. One thinks here of John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle” which amounts to the idea that the only limit to one’s liberty should be that he or she cannot harm others. His articulation of this idea in the first chapter of On Liberty is instructive:

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.

In other words, the promotion of an “educational philosophy” and “forward-looking aspirations” are insufficient reasons for curtailing a community’s freedom. Preventing something like sexual assault, however, does warrant the imposition of limits on individuals’ autonomy.

But are the recommendations proposed by the Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations the best means of attaining this end? Would striking a blow against USGSOs (including those that have recently turned coed or have begun to do so) really solve the problem? Are there other means of dealing with the problem that do not resemble an indiscriminate “sledgehammer,” to employ Pinker’s term? Some critics of Harvard have argued that individual transgressors should be punished rather than entire groups of students or organizations. This argument seems to make sense. Unfortunately, it is often fiendishly difficult to get to the bottom of a sexual assault case. Moreover, both the criminal justice system and Title IX proceedings have shown themselves to be flawed means of obtaining justice (in related news, Columbia University just settled out of court with Paul Nungesser, the student whom Emma Sulkowicz—she of the famous Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)—accused of rape). One Thing after Another would suggest that Harvard is considering the desperate expedients proposed by the committee because the existing means of dealing with sexual assault have proven themselves insufficient.

One Thing after Another realizes that it has produced more questions and criticisms than answers in this post. But it would like to leave its gentle readers with two  thoughts. First, Harvard needs to be more honest and forthright about the problem of sexual assault. If the statistics produced by the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault are legitimate and the university believes it has an important role to play in the lives of its students, then it needs to display the courage of its convictions and attack the issue head-on instead of emphasizing culture and values. Yes, promoting different culture and values may affect sexual behavior in the long run (although universities might overestimate the significance of their impact on student attitudes and conduct). But how exactly does the school plan to stop sexual assault right now? Second, Harvard, like other residential colleges that increasingly betray nanny-ish tendencies, ought to step back and reflect on what role institutions realistically can and ought to play in students’ lives. For a wide variety of reasons, colleges have sought to exert control over the most intimate parts of their students’ lives. That exertion has been attended by all manner of complications as the authority and competence of schools have been stretched to the breaking point. Is it time to develop a new relationship between the university and its students?

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

From Biotech to the Belmont PD: Siracusa Tells His Story

Only a few weeks ago, while strolling the streets of the Belmont/Watertown area in Massachusetts, One Thing after Another encountered James Sicracusa ’08. Having graduated from St. Anselm College with a BA in History, Siracusa went to work for Cambridge-based Genzyme, then the third-largest biotechnology firm in the world. After having been employed at Genzyme for almost five years, Siracusa decided to switch careers and became a police officer for his hometown of Belmont. What One Thing after Another found striking about Siracusa’s story is the extent to which his degree in History gave him a flexibility and versatility that served him well in the job market. But why don’t we let Siracusa tell his own story?

Q: What brought you to Saint Anselm College, and why did you major in History?

A: I looked at several schools in the New England area before visiting St. Anselm College. I wanted to attend a small college where I could develop one-on-one relationships with staff and students. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I remember the moment when I first drove on to campus from St. Anselm Drive, and I knew I was going to go to school there.

I majored in History for several reasons. I always had a fascination with history. I would watch the History Channel all the time when I was younger (back when it actually had programs about history). In middle and high school, my Social Studies/History classes were the only ones that I really enjoyed going to. I actually liked reading my history textbooks and listening to my teachers lecture. During the first semester of my freshman year, I changed my major several times. Most people feel like they need to major in business because they think it’s the only way to make money. It’s not. I realized that if I was going to study a field for four years, it had to be something that I actually enjoyed. I told my brother, Timothy, the same thing. He’s entering his junior year at St. Anselm as a History major as well.  My friend and roommate of 3 years, Michael LaBrie (now at Recommind), had already declared History as his major, and he enjoyed it too.

Q: You worked in two very distinct professional fields after graduating from St. A’s in 2008 – five years as an office worker at the biotech firm Genzyme and a now as a police officer in Belmont, MA. How did your liberal arts education and particularly your history major prepare you for these jobs?

A: Believe it or not, my background in History and the liberal arts is what got me hired at Genzyme. Generally speaking, most Genzyme job applicants have degrees in science or business. I had neither. My educational background made me stand out as a job applicant because I was different.

The critical thinking, reading, and writing skills I learned as a History major were invaluable. Being 22 and working with people who were more than twice my age, in a field I had no background in, was initially intimidating. I feel that my education gave me the necessary foundation to succeed in both the private and public sectors.

Q: When did you decide that you wanted to be a police officer? How did you go about placing yourself on a career path that led to policing your hometown?

A: Growing up, I had FBI agents and state troopers on both sides of my family. It was always a career that I had thought of, but I wanted to try my own thing out first. After about three years at Genzyme I realized that 40 years of sitting behind a desk, answering emails, and going to meetings was not for me. I wanted to have the opportunity to make a difference. Just as when I chose History as my major, I wanted to get into a career that I actually enjoyed. I signed up for the police exam and took that in the spring of 2011. Two years after taking the exam, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job in my hometown of Belmont, MA.

Q: What are your responsibilities as a police officer in Belmont, MA? Which of your tasks do you enjoy the most?

A: Right now I am on a temporary assignment working on our computer and IT systems. We are in the process of eliminating our old paper systems and making everything more efficient by replacing them with electronic databases. Before that, I worked the night shift on patrol. I would respond primarily to calls and initiate motor vehicle stops. I really enjoy working out in the streets on patrol. Helping the community is something that I find rewarding.

Q: Some students might think you need a Criminal Justice degree for your type of job. How did a History major prepare you?

A: Honestly, on a day-to-day basis, I use my BA in History more than my MA in Criminal Justice. History is basically the study of people and civilizations and why they did the things they did. This translates to police work quite nicely. Speaking with people on a call, understanding and listening to both sides of an issue, conflict resolution, and the ability to communicate and write effectively are all skills that I use daily. My History degree prepared me to do all these things.

Q: Tell me something memorable about one of your classes at St. A’s (doesn’t have to be history!).

A: During the second semester of my freshman year, I had to pick an elective, and I chose Origins of European Civilization with Professor Pajakowski. At the time, I was an International Relations major, and one of the major requirements was to take a History class. I was in that class with another friend, Kevin Golen (formerly of Fox News and now a manager at Dataminr, Inc.). We both always enjoyed History and really enjoyed that class. About halfway through the semester we changed our majors to History. I remember discussing it with Kevin one day after class, and we both decided to make the change! He and I both walked over to Bradley House and spoke with Professor Shannon about changing majors.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

How the Western Allies Won World War II

Phillips Payson O’Brien, How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Phillips Payson O’Brien opens How the War was Won with a provocative statement: “There were no decisive battles in World War II” (2). What he means by this assertion is that World War II was not won at so-called “decisive” battles like El Alamein, Kursk, or Midway. Rather, what really proved decisive was the attrition waged on what he terms “super-battlefields” (e.g. the Atlantic Ocean or the skies of Germany) in which each side employed primarily air and sea power to destroy enemy equipment in pre-production, production, and deployment (5). This book is not a history of World War II; it looks at one very important aspect of the war, the production and destruction of military equipment, and draws significant conclusions regarding strategy and the way the Western Allies won the war. As the subtitle suggests, massive investments in air and sea power yielded enormous dividends and played a huge role in destroying the Axis powers. As O’Brien puts it,

The struggle throughout the air-sea super-battlefield determined the outcome of every land battle in the war. In the first case it determined the vast majority of World War II munitions production. It then, limited, in some cases most severely, the types of each weapon that could be built, and just as important, the amount of built equipment that was able to reach the fighting area. Finally, when it came to the land battles, the ability to control or deny control of the air space over the fighting almost always proved decisive (6).

Before the war, although most powers had only the haziest notion of how they would use air and sea power, they instinctively understood that that they had to manufacture large numbers of aircraft and naval vessels. In the United States, this commitment to air and sea power was also driven by interservice rivalry. The machinations of Admiral Ernest King, commander-in-chief of the US fleet and chief of naval operations, proved decisive in obtaining an enormous amount of material for his branch of the service (and not only making a mockery of the so-called “Germany first” strategy but also ensuring that the US Navy would be able to mount its own drive in the central Pacific independent of the army’s offensive in the southern Pacific). By 1944, the US Navy’s air arm was slightly larger than the Luftwaffe and only smaller than the RAF and the USAAF. In any event, among all the belligerents, according to O’Brien, the proportion of productive capacity devoted particularly to air forces is staggering. For example, after surveying the statistics, he judges that in July 1944, the month that German munitions production reached its zenith, well over half of armaments and ammunition output went to the Luftwaffe and over two-thirds was devoured by the German air force and navy combined (27). If anything, the proportions for Great Britain, the United States, and Japan were even higher. Indeed, the United States devoted so much industrial might to air and sea forces that these commitments were a primary consideration in limiting the army to 100 divisions.

This investment in air and sea power, O’Brien argues, was warranted. For sure, enemy weaponry could be wrecked on the battlefield. However, aircraft and naval vessels could deny to the enemy the resources necessary to build this weaponry; wreck the facilities where this weaponry was constructed; and smash this weaponry as it traveled to the battlefield. This is exactly what the British and the Americans sought to do with increasing success as the war dragged on. Germany and Japan could have coped with their battlefield losses of tanks, artillery, and so on. To cite just one statistic (the book is full of startling figures), between July and August 1943, that is, during the Battle of Kursk, widely considered an especially destructive battle, the Germans lost 1,331 armored fighting vehicles on the entire Eastern Front; such a figure only represented about 11% of such vehicles produced by Germany that year. Far more serious were the losses of weaponry (particularly aircraft) and fighting strength lost off the traditional battlefield

O’Brien focuses on three strategic initiatives: the Battle of the Atlantic, the Anglo-American Combined Bombing Offensive (CBO) against Germany, and the US Navy’s drive against the Mariana archipelago. Each required an enormous amount of equipment, and each, he argues, proved decisive. As O’Brien puts it, “any discussion of the air-sea victory of the United States and the United Kingdom must start with control of the movement of supplies and raw materials across the Atlantic Ocean” (232). The stakes were high for both sides. While the Arsenal of Democracy was not vulnerable to German bombing (unlike German industry which was susceptible to Allied air attack), its products were exposed to German assault as they passed across the Atlantic to Britain. If the Germans could have prevented enough supplies from crossing the ocean, they could have prevented the build up of Anglo-American force in Britain, turned on the Soviets (whose productive power was inferior), and won the war in Europe. As O’Brien argues (and this type of argument appears throughout the book), even if the Germans had no hope of winning the Battle of the Atlantic, their substantial investment in U-boats made a great deal of sense. First, it allowed them to destroy an enormous amount of American equipment before it ever reached Europe. O’Brien calculates that by sinking over 20% of the bauxite (the ore used to make aluminum) that the United States attempted to ship to Britain in 1942, the Germany navy destroyed more Allied aircraft in pre-production than the Luftwaffe shot down in combat between 1942 and 1943. At the same time, U-boats also destroyed more American army equipment in transit than the Germany army did on the battlefield in 1942. Second, the U-boat offensive compelled the British and the Americans to spend billions of dollars on merchants and escort vessels—money could have been devoted to something else. Third, it led to the diversion of Allied strategic air power (in 1943, half of the bombs dropped by American strategic forces and one-fifth of those dropped by the British were placed on German submarine targets). In this battle of material and technology, however, the Allies had the advantage. As O’Brien argues, “Victory for the Allies was made possible by the British pushing the boundaries of modern warfare fully. It required technological superiority, for example with radar and sonar, superb operational analysis of the science of convoy speed and size, great shipbuilding resources, excellent training, and, eventually, a significant air component” (230). Allied victory on “superbattlefield” of the Atlantic “marked the end of any possibility for Germany to win the war” (230).

Many readers may not be particularly surprised by O’Brien’s narrative of the Battle of the Atlantic (although his quantification of the Allied effort certainly does put matters in perspective), but his attempt to rehabilitate the CBO will probably prove much more controversial. A number of prominent historians have characterized the Allied strategic bombing of Germany as ineffective and immoral (for an especially prominent example, see the review of Richard Overy’s Bombing War). O’Brien starts from the premise that the RAF’s strategy of laying entire German cities to waste was unproductive but that the USAAF’s targeting of key industries exerted a much greater impact (other scholars, and Overy again is a good example, do not see much of a distinction between the two air forces in practice). O’Brien concedes that the Allied strategic bombing campaign of 1943 was a failure. However, he argues that as the air forces of the Western Allies adjustrf (particularly the United States) and brought more force to bear on Germany, they eventually made an enormous contribution in 1944 and 1945 to the collapse of Nazi military power.

O’Brien argues that American bombing, which targeted aircraft manufacturing (particularly fighters), hydrogenation plans, ball-bearing production, and eventually transportation networks, had far-reaching consequences for Germany. Such bombing destroyed a number of aircraft before they ever became operational and compelled the Germans to disperse their aircraft industry, leading to greater inefficiency and lower quality manufacturing. The bombings also effected momentous changes to the allocation of resources (that is, when resources could still be allocated, for the bombing of the transportation network eventually brought the German economy to a standstill when factories could no longer obtain coal or raw materials). A large amount of German labor was shifted from manufacturing (especially in the aircraft industry) to the repair of various facilities. The Germans also had to produce enormous quantities of concrete to construct flak towers, shelters, and other structures necessitated by the bombing. The V-2 program, the most expensive weapons program the Germans developed during the war, was accelerated in response to the bombing as well. Fighter aircraft, as well as flak and anti-aircraft ammunition, became top priorities (the production of bombers virtually ceased by 1943). Finally, the Nazi regime had to redistribute existing forces (aircraft and flak) from the Eastern and the Mediterranean fronts to Germany. That meant that German ground forces increasingly had to operate without any air cover whatsoever. All of these changes availed the Germans nothing. The Luftwaffe entered a death spiral. Allied fighters escorting bombers over Germany shot down large numbers of enemy fighters. The pressure to produce new pilots (along with the decreasing supply of high-octane fuel) meant that the Luftwaffe spent less time on training than ever before. Badly prepared pilots flying poorly manufactured aircraft were not only shot down in ever larger numbers but also experienced huge non-operational losses. Meanwhile, the tactical and operational mobility of the German army was reduced (due to lack of fuel and the absence of air cover), and Germany suffered huge losses of armored fighting vehicles to Allied aircraft. O’Brien calculates that in 1943, the Germans lost a greater proportion of their military equipment in the air war over Germany than on the Eastern Front (314). Of course, in 1944, matters only grew worse for the Germans due to Allied strategic, operational, and tactical air superiority. Strategic bombing really began to undermine the German economy in the second half of the year. At the same time, the Germans lost more equipment during the Normandy campaign (at the fighting at the Falaise pocket) than they did during Operation Bagration in Russia (which was roughly concurrent), largely because Anglo-American bombers and fighters ruled the skies over France. O’Brien, then, produces much evidence to support the view that the Anglo-American strategic bombing campaign was truly the equivalent of a second front and then some.

The story is somewhat similar when O’Brien describes the US Navy’s offensive through the central Pacific toward the Mariana islands and the demise of Japanese fighting power. O’Brien rates Japanese industrial might rather highly; according to his figures, Japan produced about as much weaponry as the Soviet Union did in 1942 and 1943 (fewer tanks but many more ships). King might have lied to get the United States to devote more production to the Pacific theater, but it is clear that Japan was a very significant threat that made it very difficult for the Americans to hew to a “Germany first” strategy. Indeed, the United States eventually committed enormous amounts of air and sea power to the Pacific.  The United States did manage, however, to deal a number of heavy blows to the Japanese even before American industry hit its stride and covered the sea with ships and the sky with planes. The Battle of Midway was a great blow to the Japanese because they lost four aircraft carriers. O’Brien, argues, though, that the fight at Guadalcanal did more to undermine Japanese power because of the heavy losses inflicted on the navy’s air arm. This grinding, attritional battle led to the combat deaths of many experienced pilots who were compelled to operate from distant bases that were themselves at the end of a very long logistical tether. Non-operational deaths were also extremely high. Although the Japanese proved extremely good at replacing aircraft (and then some) up until the second half of 1944, the loss of pilots proved catastrophic. The pressure to produce pilots as well as shortages of high octane fuel (due to the success of American submarines in sinking Japanese tankers who brought oil from the Dutch East Indies) led to reduced training and poor pilot performance. American superiority in the air supported what became a huge superiority at sea. O’Brien points out that the American naval assets devoted to the capture of the Marianas (which he sees as the decisive victory of the Pacific theater) were absolutely huge. Spruance’s 5th Fleet included 7 aircraft carriers, 8 light aircraft carriers, 7 battleships, 8 cruisers, 12 light cruisers, and 67 destroyers—ships worth a total of $2,500,000,000 in 1944 dollars (the equivalent of America’s spending on ground forces for all of 1942). The 15 aircraft carriers were armed with almost a thousand planes. A total of 46 tankers supported the fleet, carrying 4,500,000 barrels of oil, 8,000,000 gallons of aviation fuel, and 275,000 barrels of diesel. On the American side, the Pacific war had become capital-intensive, and the number of troops employed was actually quite small (although casualties were very high among the soldiers or Marines who saw combat). O’Brien argues that once the Marianas were captured, “the war was over strategically” (422). China, the Philippines, and just about any other island in the Pacific became irrelevant. The Americans could use aircraft based on the Marianas to bomb Japan as well as to interdict trade between Japan and its imperial possessions. Japan entered a terminal decline as its imports were sunk and factories were destroyed.

The implications of O’Brien’s arguments for the historiography of World War II are great. First, he elevates the significance of naval and especially air power over armies. Second, as his opening line suggests, he stresses attrition on the air-sea “super-battlefield” at the expense of traditional land battles. Third, he emphasizes the contributions of Britain and the United States to Axis defeat and, by implication, downgrades the Soviet Union’s efforts. Fourth, he underscores the degree to which the Allies won because they destroyed Axis mobility at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. O’Brien suggests that two very different types of forces waged World War II. On the one hand, armies required a great deal of manpower but proved relatively cheap to put in the field. On the other, navies and air forces proved far more capital-intensive and technologically sophisticated in relation to the amount of manpower employed. The former looked somewhat to the past while the latter pointed to the future.

Elements of O’Brien’s argument may seem familiar, but they are buttressed with batteries of statistics that are presented in such a way as to make the reader look at matters in a new light (e.g. the development and production of the V-2 “cost Germany in relative terms as much as the Manhattan Project cost the United States” [340]). Since so much rides on statistics in this book, the question becomes, of course, are these statistics correct? This reviewer is not qualified to dispute O’Brien’s numbers, but it is worth pointing out that elements of the author’s arguments do rest on calculations and speculations of different sorts that other historians expert in the field might dispute. Other scholars are sure to take issue with the absence of the Soviet Union from most of this book. While O’Brien’s purpose consists of explaining the contribution of Anglo-American air and sea power to Allied victory, the title of his work suggests that this power was preponderant in defeating the Germans. Without investigating the Soviet Union to the same extent as the Western Allies, it is hard for the reader to know for sure. Finally, the stress on material factors (i.e. the production and destruction of munitions) tends to provide a lopsided view of the war. While O’Brien’s account does analyze strategy, it does not consider the significance of operations and tactics to the outcome of the war. For example, had the Japanese concentrated their carrier forces in the first half of 1942 instead of dispersing them in a series of fruitless raids and operations, the Americans very well could have been the ones to lose all of their carriers at Midway—and that would certainly have exerted a huge influence on the course of the war.

These quibbles aside, O’Brien’s work is an important reconsideration of the war if for no other reason that it reassesses the relative contributions of the Big Three to the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Hugh Dubrulle

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

It Would Have Been Extremely Difficult to End the Pacific War with “Diplomacy”

In a recent article appearing in the History News Network, Peter Van Buren attempts to use the bombing of Hiroshima as lesson that teaches us what happens when states rush to embrace military solutions instead of diplomatic ones. This lesson is especially valuable, he claims, because “many worry” that our nation “has largely moved past diplomacy as its primary foreign policy strategy.”

http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165752

The main thrust of Van Buren’s argument is that in the summer of 1945 the United States did not give peace a chance. Since then, he claims, the dominant narrative in America has not remembered that there were various alternatives to ending the war. Instead, the choice is remembered as a stark one between a costly amphibious assault and the atomic bombing. As he puts it:

The debate over whether the atomic bombings of Japan were the only alternative to a land invasion is one of the most contested among modern historians. . . . The dominant American narrative is the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a smaller price to pay than the greater loss of life anticipated under an invasion; in a grim calculus, the bombings were practically an act of humanity.

He goes on to point out that, in June 1945, Emperor Hirohito directed his Supreme War Direction Council to begin formal peace negotiations with the United States through the Soviet Union (which was not at war with Japan yet). There were grounds for optimism that such an approach might end the war, he implies, because “the gap between what the U.S. expected out of an unconditional surrender and what the Japanese realistically hoped for out of a lightly negotiated one was not significant.” But since the Americans were not inclined to negotiate, this opportunity was missed, the atomic bomb was dropped, and thousands of civilians died as a result.

One Thing after Another has discussed the bombing of Hiroshima before, so it does not feel compelled to relitigate the various means by which the United States could have ended he war in the Pacific. However, this blog does feel compelled to point out that Van Buren’s account does violence not only to what happened in the past but also to the way in which historians have treated this episode. For one thing, the debate among scholars is not “framed as binary, invasion or bomb.” Almost all of the recent scholarly works on the bombing recognize that the United States had several potential means of ending the war: blockade, conventional strategic bombing, amphibious assault, Soviet entry into the war sooner than later, and modification of the demand for unconditional surrender. (For a succinct summary of these options, see J. Samuel Walker’s Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan which was first published in 1997). As One Thing after Another has already pointed out, each of these alternatives suffered from political, military, or ethical problems (Michael Bess methodically outlines the moral difficulties in Chapter 10 of Choices under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II [2006]).

The claim that the emperor’s initiative in June 1945 somehow indicated diplomacy might have worked gives too much credit to the Japanese. There was a substantial difference between what the United States expected from unconditional surrender and what the Japanese hoped to obtain from a negotiated one. In Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (2005), Tsuyoshi Hasegawa has this to say about the Japanese move (which the Americans learned of through “Magic” intercepts) and the reaction of the United States:

It was indeed important, as [U.S.] Naval intelligence suggested, that the Japanese government indicated its willingness to terminate the war, and that this initiative came from the emperor himself. But this does not immediately lead to the conclusion that the Japanese government was prepared to surrender. The Japanese would have to travel a long road from willingness to terminate the war to actual acceptance of surrender. The crucial question is, On what terms was Japan prepared to surrender? On this question the government was hardly united; in fact, it could not come up with specific conditions. Even though Anami [War Minister], Umezu [Chief of the Army General Staff], and Toyoda [Chief of the Navy General Staff] went along with the emperor’s wish to seek Moscow’s mediation, there was little chance that they would have accepted conditions that contained disarmament, Allied occupation, and war crimes trials. Although Hirohito took the initiative, he himself admitted that the failure of Moscow mediation would serve as a good excuse to rally the nation behind a last-ditch defense [126-127].

In other words, the Japanese did not seem ready to beat swords into ploughshares just yet. They wanted peace—but they were badly divided on the terms. In any event, they would have found America’s conditions objectionable. At the same time, the Japanese also appeared to hope that they could use the negotiations (if they failed) to mobilize the Japanese people. This situation seems somewhat analogous to what the Hampton Roads Conference revealed about the North and South’s stances in February 1865. The Confederacy (like Japan) very much wanted to end the war—so long as it could obtain terms that were unacceptable to the Federal government (recognition of Confederate independence and perpetuation of slavery—although there is some dispute among scholars about how far Lincoln and Seward were willing to bend on the latter point). Jefferson Davis was more than happy to use the conference’s failure to rally Southerners who now fully understood (if they had not already) that peace on Federal terms was unpalatable.

Speaking of analogies, Van Buren’s brief essay shows the dangers of employing these types of comparisons (this blog suffers from a perpetual wariness of analogies). Given the right situation, there are many good arguments for employing diplomacy instead of force. In fact, there are probably a number of analogies that Van Buren could have referred to. The story that led up to Hiroshima, however, is not one of them.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.

Review: Robert Gildea’s Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance

Robert Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015).

For a work that is not a history of memory, Robert Gildea’s Fighters in the Shadows is still very much conscious of the way the French remember the Resistance movement of World War II. The introduction of this book is concerned almost exclusively with the emergence of the “central myth” of Resistance that was perpetuated by Charles de Gaulle and how it later succumbed to competing narratives. De Gaulle’s nationalist myth claimed that 1) the story of the Resistance could be traced in a straight line from the point when de Gaulle made his famous 1940 BBC radio address (where he called upon the French to continue resisting after their armies had been defeated) to the liberation of Paris and his famous march down the Champs-Élysées in 1944; 2) the vast majority of the French had supported the brave few who had taken up arms (and pens) against the German occupation; and 3) while the Anglo-Americans had provided valuable assistance, France had liberated itself and thus “restored national honour, confidence and unity” (3). While this myth persisted for some time, others grew alongside it or eventually supplanted it. The Communists, who had played an important role in the Resistance, always had their own myth that stressed their significance, the terrible suffering they had undergone during the occupation, and the kind of world that they had fought for. After de Gaulle’s death, another narrative emerged that emphasized the importance to the Resistance of foreign anti-fascists and especially foreign Jews (6). Other narratives that saw light of day in these years included those that highlighted the degree to which most Frenchmen had been “time-servers and cowards if not traitors” (5) or those that depicted Jews in France as victims rather than resisters. Most recently, one of the more influential fables has portrayed the French as a people moved by the Enlightenment, the rights of man, and humanistic values to support the small minority who rescued Jews from persecution. At the end of the introduction, Gildea clearly expresses a desire to right the balance of memory so that it more accurately reflects the past:

The dominant narrative of resistance today is a humanitarian and universal myth of the struggle for the rights of man, which allows a greater role for women and rescuers of Jews, and a lesser role for freedom fighters with Sten guns. The memories of resisters of dissident communist, foreign and Jewish origin survived as group memories but not as dominant narratives. One of the aims of this study is to bring these back into the mainstream. (19)

For these reasons, Gildea is far more interested in the politics and experience of the Resistance than he is in the Resistance’s military effectiveness or contribution to Allied victory. Fighters in the Shadows, then, speaks more to French history than the history of World War II. At the same time, the main themes of this work revolve around the diversity, divisions, and difficulties that characterized the Resistance throughout the war. What Gildea seems to indicate is that one should not be surprised by the bitterly contested leadership battles, the arguments over military strategy, the disputes over the movement’s political direction, and the overall lack of military effectiveness. Rather, what is truly astonishing is that the Resistance accomplished as much as it did, de Gaulle made an almost seamless transition to power in 1944, and France was able to contain civil discord as much as it did in the aftermath of the liberation.

Gildea is at his best in describing the experience of resisters—the motives that inspired them to join the Resistance, the institutions that served as the foundations for their organizations (“trade unions and businesses, universities and museums, churches and refugee groups”), the various forms of resistance they engaged in, the political objectives they sought to attain, and the means by which they sought to achieve these objectives. Chapter 7 (“In and Out of the Shadows”) is especially interesting in probing the ambiguity of Resistance, where there was always a “tension between appearance and reality, trust and treachery, and the absence of laws apart from those dictated by circumstance” (179). This theme meshes well with the confusion and conflict that characterized the Resistance from the beginning. Many of those who were appalled by German victory and determined to resist the occupation were perplexed about what to do. Those on the right stayed their hand for the moment because they thought (or hoped) that Petain was playing a deep game against the Germans and would eventually find a way to eject the occupiers from the country. Those on the left, especially Communists, did not wish to take up arms against a state that was an ally of the Soviet Union. Even after it became clear that Petain was incapable of using his power as a shield to protect the French people (as he had promised) and even after Germany invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941), the Resistance was plagued by divisions rooted in its miscellaneous composition. Aside from their important ideological disagreements, resisters came to the movement from diverse backgrounds (e.g. conservative army officers, leftist veterans of the Spanish Civil War—foreign and native, women seeking to stretch gender norms, and Jews, many of whom were foreign nationals). These people displayed variegated temperaments and expressed divergent aspirations. They also performed a wide variety of duties—collecting intelligence, leading protests, producing propaganda, conducting attacks, sabotaging industry, rescuing Jews, and smuggling downed Allied airmen. Gildea notes that the different circumstances in the Occupied Zone (nominally ruled by the Vichy government but run by the Germans) and the Free Zone (administered by Vichy alone until November 1942, when the Germans occupied the rest of the country) produced movements that applied themselves to contrasting tasks (in the former, the Resistance undertook “practical” jobs like collecting intelligence, while in the latter, it was more involved in propaganda). Not surprisingly, the various Resistance groups were divided over strategy, organization, and leadership. Broadly speaking, Communists aimed at sparking a national insurrection when the time was right so that they could eject the Germans from France and install a leftist regime. Many to the right of the Communists objected to this plan because they saw such a move as suicidal (the Germans were much better armed than any Resistance group) and had no wish to further the Communists’ objectives. Arguments about strategy (which were heavily influenced by politics) often intersected with those about leadership. Many Resistance groups understood the advantages of coordinating their efforts through some sort of national association. However, they were reluctant to lose their autonomy and expose themselves to extensive German infiltration. Those who led the larger movements had leadership ambitions of their own. Even resisters who had no such ambition felt trepidations about serving any overseas master, including de Gaulle. Some feared that he was a stooge of the British while others worried about what kind of plans a conservative, Catholic general might have for France’s future.

The story of the Resistance, of course, is inextricably tied to that of de Gaulle and the Free French. Gildea also covers De Gaulle’s story which is nothing short of remarkable. In June 1940, he was a mere brigadier general and former junior minister in the Reynaud Cabinet—without friends or following in Britain. In August 1944, he marched through Paris, the uncontested leader of the French nation. De Gaulle had to overcome a number of opponents and obstacles to achieve this goal. Although they recognized him as the leader of the Free French very early (in late June 1940), de Gaulle’s relationship with the British was always strained, and Churchill often wondered if the Frenchman was worth supporting. The Americans, who always seemed inclined to make a deal with Vichy authorities rather than replace them (particularly in North Africa), expressed much hostility toward de Gaulle. Meanwhile, at least in the early years, de Gaulle struggled to attract soldiers to his Free French force which was always smaller in number than Vichy’s armies (i.e. the Armistice army and the Army of Africa). Once the Allies conquered North Africa (Operation Torch, November 1942), and the Free French were merged with the Army of Africa, de Gaulle faced competition from General Henri Giraud for overall leadership of the Resistance. Finally, de Gaulle’s efforts to subordinate the Resistance to the Free French enjoyed a brief success before suffering a calamitous reverse in June 1943 when his intermediaries with the Resistance, Jean Moulin and Charles Delestraint were captured by the Germans (shortly thereafter, Moulin was either tortured to death or committed suicide after undergoing a terrible ordeal, while Delestraint was held in captivity until he was executed at Dachau in April 1945). De Gaulle’s links to the Resistance never recovered from this disaster.

The only partial reestablishment of ties between the two accounts for the behavior of the Resistance during the Normandy invasion—all groups more or less “went their own way” with only some obeying orders from the Free French (378). The results were often catastrophic as poorly trained and badly armed maquisards were shot to pieces by battle-hardened German troops. In spite of these problems, de Gaulle proved a masterful politician who outmaneuvered his opponents and manipulated the Allies. Most important of all, he fashioned a myth about his relationship to the metropolitan Resistance that had just enough of an air of verisimilitude to convince both the French and the “Anglo-Saxons” of his indispensability. It is this myth, which formed the basis of a post-war consensus in France, that Gildea seeks to counter by stressing the claims of others to pre-eminence, namely those “resisters of dissident communist, foreign and Jewish origin.”

At times, Gildea’s discussion of obscure figures (or those not widely known in the United States), particularly in Chapter 1 (“Awakenings”), can be both exhaustive and exhausting. This kind of detail, however, is obviously a product of his intense interest in the topic. Moreover, it helps convey the diversity of backgrounds and motives that characterized the Resistance throughout its short existence. In investigating both the low (the experiences of individual Resistance members) and the high (the machinations of de Gaulle along with those of his allies and competitors) as well as describing the links between the two, Gildea has done a great service. Surveys of the French Resistance written for an English-speaking audience are far and few between (the only recent work that comes to mind is Olivier Wieviorka’s The French Resistance, which originally appeared in French back in 2013 before being translated and published in the United States in 2016). Americans hoping to learn about the Resistance may find Fighters in the Shadows challenging because of its extensive cast of characters (and the lengths to which Gildea goes to represent their thoughts and experiences). However, Gildea carefully keeps the reader on track, especially in the conclusion of each chapter where he summarizes his arguments. Those who read to the end will be rewarded with a nuanced understanding of the French Resistance in both history and myth.

Hugh Dubrulle

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.