Week three readings

Stokesbury, A Short History of World War II (123-160)
Normandy Diary of Marie-Louise Osmont (3-39)

Ron’s Response
1. We start to see the role that innovations plays in WWII in this section. Discuss instances where science, technology, and general innovation played a key role.
With the industrial revolution in full swing throughout the leading nations involved in WWII, the knowledge and the tools existed by all to adjust and adapt to a changing battlefield. Each side was well equipped to exert their experience with the engineering process of innovation to out do the other side no matter what they created. One of my students, who has been researching the history of airplanes, showed me a quote basically saying that World War II started with biplanes and ended with jets. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like war I guess and the desire to destroy and defend rather than be destroyed. 

The magnetic mine used by the Germans is a classic example. It was very effective for the Germans until the British got ahold of one and reverse-engineered an effective and relatively inexpensive countermeasure. The war at sea fueled a tremendous amount of innovation on both the tactical level and the tool level. Throughout the war, the British, Germans and United States modified their tactics in the Atlantic. The British reaction to the submarine was the convoy system, an innovative way of handling submarine attacks with armed escorts. The British also developed the Q-Ship as an innovation against submarine attacks. The use of airplanes, the German’s modifications to their submarines and shifting tactics by both sides greatly advanced this form of warfare. Anti-aircraft submarines, acoustic torpedos, and snorkel breathing tools are among the innovations created in a naval war that wrecked great losses to all sides. As Stokesbury outlines, “More than 2,600 ships were sunk, totaling over 15,000,000 tons. The British alone lost about 30,000 sailors of the Royal Navy, and 30,000 of the merchant service. The Germans built 1,162 U-boats during the course of the war; 785 of them were sunk, 156 surrendered at the end of the war, and the rest were either scuttled or otherwise destroyed. Almost 41,000 men served in the U-boats; 5,000 were taken prisoner, and 28,000 were killed” (p. 131).

While science, technology and the spirit of innovation have brought us great things in the world, they have also brought us powerful means of being destructive. The desire to innovate seems to be stoked to higher levels at times of war. This is not just true in WWII, it’s been true for as long as people have fought. Many of our modern conveniences were conceived from these efforts and it’s a sad statement to our human priorities. It seems that our innovative spirit is fueled more to survive through violence rather than to thrive in peace.

2. Comments on “The Normandy Diary of Marie-Louise Osmont: 1940-1944” pages 3 to 39 (including introduction pages)
Something that resonated me even before reading a page of madame Osmont’s diary was the introduction by John Keegan where he states, “Her diary leaves us with a record for which there is no equivalent for the battle of Normandy, and very few from the whole history of warfare.” Keegan goes on to share significant battles where a civilian account, near the middle ground that always exists before great battles, would be a luxury item if it existed. Too often the civilians in just such an area are drawn into what’s going on or pushed out and almost certainly don’t have the time or wherewithal to keep a journal. I think the nature of the occupation of France and the separation across a waterway from the invading force made her journal more possible. The stresses, the fears, the extreme conditions do come through in her diary and really do show how impressive an account this is that it exists at all.

The question I’ll focus on is about the desire for the French to exist and how I might react in a similar situation. It is quite easy to say that one would involve themselves in the resistance movement but quite another to run those very risks in the process. To that end, I believe that madame Osmont is exerting a form of resistance to occupation due to her insistence of leaving her things as they are and working with the occupying troops but also maintaining a distance. She stands up to them, she learns how to manipulate them and she keeps an eye on them. She also listens to them and is civil with them so as to gain their trust and protection when it is warranted. This is certainly not active resistance made to halt the German war machine, but it is a passive resistance that exerts ones humanity and allows one to survive when the alternatives are so grim. She is aware of her limitations, she is hoping to keep her home and property mostly intact and she would like to see her community survive relatively unscathed. She knows that she has no control over this so follows the sage advice of keeping friends close and enemies closer. As if she has a choice, with them patrolling around her home, using her farm and sometimes her home. Nonetheless, she so far has kept herself out of trouble while also becoming more bold with her resistance.

Matti’s Responses
1. The French have a proud and storied history. Seeing the German army occupy their country could not have been easy. A desire by the French to resist was present. The consequences for resisting were serious and immediate. In that situation, how do you think you would react?
To be honest I don’t know that I could actively resist even though my mind insists that it is the most noble and courageous thing to do. Yet I think I would be so afraid of the gruesome consequences that I would just cave to the demands and try to just wait the war out “ under the radar ” so to speak. If any resistance were to come from me I think it would most likely be in the form of passive resistance, things such as pretending to be stupid and performing tasks at a slow pace. Otherwise I imagine myself as possibly trying to befriend some of the soldiers less content with their duties and trying to convince them to keep the other soldiers away from my property. However given my nature I do not believe I could actively resist the demands by the German military as a French citizen facing occupation.

2. We start to see the role that innovation plays in WWII in this section. Discuss some instances where science, technology, and general innovation played a key role.
In World War II the question of who was the best could no longer be determined by size or morale, it could only be determined by who had the best technology. Advancements in several fields changed the nature and tactics of war thus playing a key role in the direction the war would take and the impact it would have on those involved in war. Examples of this can be seen directly from events that took place during the war such as the leap frog like game played between the British and the Germans over submarine warfare. The Germans had created better submarines so the British developed better air craft carriers to counter this. The Germans then developed magnetically charged mines to sink the equally charged British ships and the British in turn developed a method of demagnetizing called degaussing to remove the charge from their ships, countering the Germans. Other innovations such as sonar, radar and new ways to send and intercept messages revolutionized the communications of war and played a central role in the way various operations were handled. The industrial technology side of the war also played a key role in the direction the war would take due to the need for better faster ways for countries to produce new machines.

There is an excellent quote on page 20: “Happy are the dead who do not have to see this sad thing.” Is she talking only about trees?
On page 20 when Osmont states “Happy are the dead who do not have to see this sad thing” Osmont is not only referring to trees but something much deeper. It can be inferred that Osmont is secretly expressing her wish to be among the dead things and not have to experience the horrors the war is inflicting upon all that surrounds her. It can also be assumed she is expressing jealousy towards her late husband who doesn’t have to experience the loneliness, fear and sadness Osmont is subjected to. Osmont sees these trees being unfairly cut down as an expense of the war in much the same way she sees her entire country and way of life being cut down and written off simply as an expense of war.



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