Professor David Gelernter of Yale University is a man of formidable learning with little patience for phonies. He has detected a tidal wave of phoniness in the celebration of “the greatest generation” by folks with a profile that eerily resembles mine: “Too much, too late.”
As a remedy for the phoniness he detects, Professor Gelernter prescribes the teaching of our children the major battles of the war, the bestiality of the Japanese, the attitude of the intellectuals, and the memoirs and recollections of the veterans. I’m already preparing the reading list to comply with Professor Gelernter’s prescription.
Professor Gelernter failed to assign a paper topic for the course he has prescribed. I will assign an essay on the subject of sacrifice. Do we deserve the sacrifice made on our behalf? What we can do to become worthy of it? Is the disparity between those who sacrifice and those who reap the benefit too great to bridge?
The battle of Omaha Beach that occurred sixty-one years ago today of course represents only a small part of Operation Overlord and the other battles that occurred on the Normandy beaches. But the story of Omaha Beach is deserving of special recognition.
S.L.A. Marshall is one of the superb military historians of the twentieth century. He was commissioned to serve as a combat historian with the Army in World War II. By 1960, he was already concerned that “the passing of the years and the retelling of the story have softened the horror of Omaha Beach on D Day.”
In 1960 the Atlantic Monthly published Marshall’s unforgettable essay on Omaha Beach based on the Normandy field notes he had compiled during his service as combat historian: “First wave at Omaha Beach.” (Incidentally, Marshall’s essay was the original source for some of the telling details that Stephen Ambrose lifted for his account of Omaha Beach in his excellent book on D-Day.)
Please read it. Then print it out and save it for your kids as part of the required reading for the course Professor Gelernter has prescribed for them in the event that you, like me, fit the profile in phoniness that he has detected.
UPDATE: The Atlantic has unfortunately restricted Marshall’s article to subscribers only. Free Republic has posted the article here. For a dissenting view on the article, with additional information of interest, see “Marshall attacks!” at War Chronicle. I don’t have the knowledge necessary to sort out the issues, but would appreciate hearing from readers who do. Berkeley Professor J.W. Morris also notes this article on Marshall at History News Network.
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