Week eight reading

For week 8, please analyze what you think were the two most important factors in preparing for D-Day. This was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of the world, and planning was at least half the battle. 

D-Day, Bevor, pages 31-50
Crusade, Eisenhower, page 220-252
Ambrose, Intelligence Community
Stephen Ambrose, "Eisenhower, the Intelligence Community, and the D-Day Invasion"
Ron's Response
What were the two most important factors in preparing for D-Day? It is a question that one can look at through many different layers. I'm having a hard time pinning down two factors because of the issue of magnitude. On an individual level, I feel that the leadership of Eisenhower definitely ranks right up there at the top of the list. His ability to be a decisive leader while also a very democratic one is something that makes him one of the best generals ever in the history of the world, in my opinion. I enjoy the writing of historian Stephen Ambrose and in one of his books he talks about how democracies are capable of producing great armies. I believe that Eisenhower's leadership enabled this to take place and his leadership allowed many other factors to become part of the successful invasion. This is inline with the question because there is a tremendous amount of research out there that shows that teaching methods, tools and resources are important, but none so much as the actual teacher in that classroom. We are the Eisenhower's of our student's successes and failures because we marshal the resources and allocate them as we see fit, but I'm willing to go out on a limb that each one of you reading this also has a relatively democratic classroom where the students are not merely subjects to your rule, but partners in the process of learning. Great soldiers are scarce but more prevalent with great leadership. Great students can exist on their own, but great teachers create an atmosphere where everybody elevates beyond their "expected" level of success. 

I spent so much space arguing for Eisenhower and the troops that I'm not sure how to layout the rest of my point. Intelligence and industrial might are the other two most important factors that led to the success of D-Day, Overlord, and the victory in  Europe. I'm going to try and tap dance down the middle and the only way to do that is to declare "alliance" as the second most important factor. As our readings pointed out, the industrial might of the United States made our soldiers the best equipped on the battlefield. Not just each individual soldier, but the entire logistical support system he had behind him. Supplies, medicine and rations were prevalent thanks to the U.S. industrial might. Most of that might just have laid waste in the sea, however, if not for an absolute triumph by British intelligence. Keeping the Germans guessing, exploiting their poorly structured military chain of command, and being the puppet master of German intelligence was a decisive move that reduced the number of question marks for Allied leadership. Might in both is rarely achieved and, in reality, neither the British or the Americans possessed it all until they were in complete alliance with one another. The two nations have always had a special relationship with one another but it's been one long dominated by mistrust. That mistrust still existed in WWII, let's not get over-romanticized here, but the ability to trust and keep the bigger picture in mind helped this alliance survive the stresses of war,  ego and self-interest. The alliance was essentially a transfer of "superpower" status from the British to the Americans, but I believe that, at the time, both nation had the ideal balance of confidence and humility that enabled it to work so strongly together. Had that not existed, and had those demons of ego, stress and selfishness dominated, the alliance would have looked more like the one that existed between the Axis leaders.

Matti's Response
  1. Planning on both sides of the war can be considered the two most important factors in the success of D-Day. The German’s knew an attack was coming and planned as they saw necessary. This entailed placing troops up and down the coast of France. Hitler was afraid to combine all of his forces in to one area due to his fear that if all combined forces were one area they could be over run. Therefore the French coast was littered with smaller forces than would be necessary to stop the Allied Invasion. The Allies as well put much thought into their planning. The generals planned the most ornate and elaborate amphibious, the biggest of the time. They held the invasion during a storm and attacked not at the expected location but instead on the coast of Normandy. The generals were able not only to plan key military strategy by planning the invasion in levels of bombings and attacks but were able to incorporate the element of surprise. The combination of these plannings, ultimately were the two key factors in the success of D-Day.


Week seven reading

Terkel, The Good War (108-165)    

This week we are returning home to look at the impacts of the war on the civilian population.  This is important to understand the full picture of the story and to remind us that World War II had a profound impact on the world, not just the military. 

Ron’s Response


1. What are some of the ways that women saw drastic changes during the war?  What role did they play in the wartime economy?  How did the wartime economy impact them?          
Women probably were the group that saw the most drastic changes during the war of any group in the United States, as well as around the world. With so many men off and fighting or supporting the war, the women were called upon to keep the factories rolling and supply the war. The United States pushed the Allies to win WWII because of our massive ability to supply the troops with weapons and supplies. The industrialized processes were hard at work and women provided much of the labor needed for this massive production effort. From the accounts in Terkel’s book as well as other accounts I’ve read, most of the women didn’t realize what was changing at the time. When they look back upon it they realize they felt an awareness, but when everything is flipped on its head you don’t know if it’s something different on a permanent basis or just temporary. Women suddenly were making their own incomes and they were incomes you could live off of, not just supplementary farm work. Women purchased items needed for their lifestyle and the survival of their families, but many also had disposable income enough for purchasing additional items. This set the scene for a post-war boom in consumerism and also gave women a reason to continue working once the war was over. When I teach this to my students, they always say it’s like a genie you let out of the bottle and can’t put it back. Men kept women out of the workplace for so long saying that they didn’t need to work, and once women got to work and earn their own paycheck—once they got to do work that was more than just chores-they discovered new freedoms and economic power that they would not easily give up on no matter how much people wanted things to go back to how they were before the war. The wartime economy fundamentally impacted the role of women in society and provided them the experience to see what a more gender equal world looked like fueling the feminist movement of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

2. In what ways were children and teenagers involved in the war effort?  How did it impact their daily lives?
It must have been very interesting to be a child or a teenager during the war because of the unique perspective of age not to mention the various ways in which you interpreted the information given to you. Watching the news reels at the movies of the war would have made it seem glorious and like something you wanted to go and participate in once you were old enough. It also would have inspired a lot of the home front efforts kids and teens were a part of including collecting scrap metal, household supplies and helping Mom manage the rationing coupons. Children and teens are very good at seeing through the B.S. spewed forth by adults as well and I found it very interesting to read the account of Mike Royko about how men and women were treated who were not off fighting. He spoke about what he saw from the perspective of an adult, but it was based on his childhood experiences and the things that stuck out in his mind. He was very tuned in to the social pressures put upon men and women stuck at home and how adults maintained social order in a time of extreme stress. Older teens often were called upon to work in factories or take care of younger siblings while their Moms went off to work. I don’t think that children and teens of the 1940s really saw the war as drastically impacting their life at the time, only as they look back. The Minnesota Historical Society has a great display on “The Greatest Generation” and so many of the accounts written by adults, thinking back to that time period, was that they didn’t know life any different so it didn’t seem weird to them until later on once they saw life without the war.  

Matti’s Responses
2. Peggy Terry said that World War II “gave a lot of people jobs.  It led them to expect more than they had before” (112).  What do you think these women’s expectations were?  To what extend were they realized during and after the war?
I think that women, many of them for the first times in their lives, finally began to see themselves as useful. They had a job, just like their husbands, they were good at them, they brought home money and still managed to put a decent dinner on the table. In the workplace, even if conditions were terrible, there was some form of respect for them. No longer would they need to be the subservient creatures of society, they could do it on their own and they for the first time experienced the feeling of being independent. These women once they had a taste, grew to expect this feeling of independence. They wanted to feel secure that if anything ever happened be it divorce, death or a war they wanted to be able to bread on the table and they began to expect they would always be able to. After the war women were expected to “go back to the kitchen”. Many women did but many of them did not. These expectations helped many women to fuel the coming women’s rights movement but for those who went back to their domestic work often found their psychological and daily expectations of being independent were not met.

2. In what ways were children and teenagers involved in the war effort?  How did it impact their daily lives?
The phrase it takes a village to raise a child in my opinion explains why WWII so drastically affected the generation of young children it produced. The values of war such as discipline, honor and respect, caused many a child to grow up faster than expected. It might have kept some out of trouble but it also stripped away much of the innocence of their youth. It took away their ability to learn from mistake rather than just grow up doing things because to not do something is dishonorable. The good guy bad guy point of view as well lead to many of the group defined problems such as the zuit-suit sailor conflicts. This culturally caused many of the children to grow up with this constant idea of its “us” and “them”. Many racial stereotypes, some that even remain today among the older generations  can be traced to this idea of “us” and “them.”


Week Six Reading

Stokesbury (217-260, 275-309)

This is a time to explore whether the Allied victory or Axis defeat was inevitable based on the numbers game. The questions this week will lead to a selection of decisions that have occurred from 1936-1942 that affected the end result

Ron’s Responses 
2. Stalingrad is the turning point on the Eastern Front. Why would a military commander try to avoid fighting in a city like this one?           

Urban combat is one of the most difficult undertakings of a military using traditional tactics because those tactics were designed for field warfare. In an urban setting, there are an infinite number of bunkers, shelters, ambush points along with numerous elevated positions. It’s much easier to defend a city than it is to conquer a city, however, and the people of Stalingrad proved this to be the case. As Stokesbury puts it, ““City fighting is a nightmare for troops and commanders alike; for the troops all the skills developed in open country are negated. The need for constant alertness saps vitality, and even perpetual caution is not proof against sudden surprise, the sniper, the mine, the booby-trap, the man who leaps around the corner and shoots first, the grenade that comes sailing in out of nowhere. Commanders lose control of their battles and watch their forces disappear into a choked mess that defies description.” Something that made Stalingrad especially difficult was the fact that it was laid out along several rivers with numerous natural features preventing a solid attack. The surrounding countryside also proved to bring problems for the Germans.  

3. In hindsight, an Allied victory looks inevitable. The production capabilities, the manpower, and the geographic locations of the Allies proved too much for the goals of the Axis Powers. Yet we know that history is not inevitable. Choices play a role. Choices in policy, choices in military strategy, and choices in industry all played a role in reaching the “equilibrium” of late-1942. What three choices by any of the individuals we have read about so far have helped bring us to this point? Explain.

I think an Axis defeat looks inevitable but an Allied victory is not necessarily the case. As we have seen in modern times, and throughout history, defeat is easier to achieve than victory and it still astonishes me that after all those civilian deaths, after all that animosity and intense bloodshed, the leading nations of World War II can sit down and have a guarded peace with one another. I think that the only one who holds the title for “impactful choices” has to be Adolf Hitler. His bumbling on the German side with logistics, military movements and domestic work clearly led to the defeat of the Axis powers. Numerous tactical errors made during the assaults on Moscow and Stalingrad stick out in my mind as turning the tide of the war. The Soviets were on their heels as Hitler drove east but then held back at considerable cost to both sides. Similarly, Hitler’s inability to trust his senior generals and pure ego that forced him to micromanage every situation, was a choice that led to this tilt in the equilibrium. As a civilian leader, Hitler should have stuck with these affairs because then he might not have made his third and, in my opinion, his most crucial mistake in shifting the tide of the ear. A lack of long-term economic development in a time of economic stress and, potentially, economic strength, reflects poor leadership and foresight. Hitler clearly did not foresee the war lasting as long as it did otherwise why would he have not been prepared to keep it well supplied.

Favorite quotes for the week…

“One of the remarkable aspects of wartime planning was that governments seldom seemed to apply their own experience to their enemies’ situations. The British knew they had not broken under the German bombing but they assumed the Germans would break under their bombing.”

Speaks to a lot of elements of the human psyche.

“The Americans, committed to precision bombing, became preoccupied with a search for the magic target. Surely, they told themselves, there must be one vital, vulnerable spot in the enemy war machine. Knock out that one specific component, and the Germans would come tumbling down.”

Why does it seem like the Americans are always up to this? I know I have a tendency to try and find a silver bullet, in the absence of one I keep working.

Matti’s Responses
2. Stalingrad is the turning point on the Eastern Front. Why would a military commander try to avoid fighting in a city like this one?           

Fighting in a city is like throwing a tennis ball at your sibling in car, if you get lucky you hit them, if not it could come right back in your face bouncing off of everything in sight. There are many reasons why military officers avoid fighting in places such as Stalingrad. Firstly Stalingrad was a major industrial city. Being a major city meant that not only would there be countless soldiers stationed there to protect it but that they would be well supplied given the city’s ability to readily create weapons, ammunitions etc… Secondly the location of Stalingrad atop a hill made attacking the city more difficult given the fact that it’s not only harder to run up a hill but that it is easier to shoot down one as well. The Russian military also had the upper hand given the fact that they were familiar with the location, if your sneaking around corners with your life on the line it helps if you know where you’re going. The overall savage nature of the Eastern front at this time is another reason why generals would want to avoid battles such as Stalingrad. When the army you are facing is not afraid of carnage, the people are throwing grenades out of windows and you know you are outnumbered from the very beginning there is very much a reason to be concerned. 

3. In hindsight, an Allied victory looks inevitable. The production capabilities, the manpower, and the geographic locations of the Allies proved too much for the goals of the Axis Powers. Yet we know that history is not inevitable. Choices play a role. Choices in policy, choices in military strategy, and choices in industry all played a role in reaching the “equilibrium” of late-1942. What three choices by any of the individuals we have read about so far have helped bring us to this point? Explain.

While there are many successful decisions made by Allied personnel one could argue got us to the point of equilibrium thus far in the war there are three distinct poor decisions that helped to get us there. These poor decisions none the less were made by Hitler, the first of which being his poor decision in strategy when it came to the Battle of Britain. The Battle of Britain is often argued as what could have been the end of the war all together, the French had for the most part been dealt with and all that remained was the need to deal with Britain. Had Hitler achieved victory here the entire conflict might have been settled thus never allowing us to reach the equilibrium point we have reached in our research thus far. Another poor decision by Hitler was the decision to invade Russia. Two front wars historically (especially for the Germans) don’t end well. The attacking of Russia in and of itself was an optimistic idea in the first place, but to do so when another front was active in the west was a terrible strategic blunder. However it was this blunder that allowed for the spreading out of German forces and was a major contributor to the capping off ( and eventual decline) of the German empire. The third blunder that Hitler made was the decision to declare war on the United States just after Pearl Harbor. The US might have eventually declared war on Hitler but declaring war on them was essentially inviting them to come fight the Germans when they already were busy with a two front war. Had Hitler not declared war it is arguable that the US might have been more focused on the Pacific theater but the US’s direct involvement in the European theater would largely aid in the reaching of the equilibrium point we are currently discussing.


Week five readings

Terkel, The Good War (166-188)
Band of Brothers (15-41)    

Our focus this week is adjusting to the military lifestyle (or not). The military was a very foreign experience for many WWII Americans. Please choose two questions to respond so.

Ron's Response
3. Over 16 million Americans served in the military during WWII. Who were they?        

The over 16 million Americans who served in World War II truly were a cross-section of the United States population. Some of them were young men (boys) who were off for the glory and adventure they felt war would bring them while others went with nothing but a sense of dread for what they felt was an impending doom. Some tried hard to avoid serving and were compelled to do so while others went with a conviction that the best way to survive a war was to be the best and surround yourself with the best. We don’t like to talk about those who were less than bold. We don’t want to believe that people hated to be there and hated it the whole time. War stories are often about triumph, whether accidental or intentional. We all know from real life that triumph is not always the case. Even within a winning campaign there are many stories that are less than glorious. I know that as Matti and I were examining soldiers for her project we wanted somebody with a “good story.” I found it rather striking that several soldiers had less than spectacular stories. There was a Silver Star recipient that had some of his fellow soldiers refuting the award many years later because act was one of stupidity they felt rather than one of bravery. There was also a General (the highest ranking officer in the Normandy cemetery) who was killed by friendly fire and had recently had his leadership questioned for his poorly executed tactics during the campaigns in Africa. After I read the first two chapters of Band of Brothers I had the urge to watch the first episode of the HBO series again. I ended up watching the first three episodes. I am always struck by the vast variety of characters portrayed in the series. I am also struck by the randomness at which soldiers are killed. Bad luck, dumb luck, good luck seem to determine who makes it through and who doesn’t. That sheer randomness is why I think veterans talk about the true heroes being the ones who didn’t get to come home. You experience all of that and come out alive while the guy next to you doesn’t and you can’t explain what you did differently than he did.

4. Military training was about more than just learning a job. What else did soldiers learn in training? Were these lessons important?

I tell this to students when we are in class and during big projects—it’s not end project but the process to get there that you’ll most learn from in the end. It’s another take on the “It’s the journey, not the destination” philosophy which is true with our experiences and true with the overall experience of life. Military training in general, but especially in a time of war, is about very intense experiences in a short period of time. There are a lot of opportunities for learning at every step along the way and those who learn the wide variety of lessons fast survive while those who cannot adjust do not make it through training. The soldiers of Easy Company learn all the skills of being a paratrooper but they also learn about getting the most out of themselves mentally and physically. Something else they learn is that leadership, while it must be followed, it is not always something you can believe in. While that’s a cynical view, I think it brings soldiers the lesson that there are not always easy to identify principles that you are fighting for. The big picture can get lost when the immediate picture is clouded. When you are around such a diverse group of people with all sorts of different experiences a lot of lessons about values, acceptance, compliance and social expectations come out. Add the pressure valve of war and those lessons are not only magnified but they are contorted.