THE ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY occasioned another graceful speech from Barack Obama; fresh examples of how the British - who fielded the fifth-most effective army in 1941-1945 – remain world champs at commemorating battle; and some news reports purporting to reveal new revisionist takes on the history of the Second World War.
Brits first. Though my only credential is slight, at best – Adjunct Professor, "War and Society, 1789-1945," UMass, 1986-87 – it seems to me that the stylistic facility of British historians tends to brainwash us poor colonials with a version of the 20th Century that is drenched in Anglocentric bias. I can get good and steamed about this, but then find myself in the situation I faced this past Sunday. The only online news source that provided extended video coverage of the President's speech – and extended video coverage of parachute re-enactments and 24-gun salutes and Carla Bruni – was BBC.com. I paid a long visit to the Beeb, dammit. The sun never sets on a British Empire of ancient bemedalled veterans marching smartly in dark suits and berets that fit them. And their war stories! There are few things better than the fitfully comprehensible first-person report of Angus MacPhyfe about the attack on a key crossroads by The King's Own Regiment of Highland Fusiliers. A national genius, I'm afraid.
And the historiographic revisionism? Nothing new. Same old story since the mid-1970s: man for man, gun for gun, tank for tank, the Western Allies were much inferior to the Wehrmacht. We beat Germany because the Russians did most of the fighting, by far; because we gained air superiority; because our artillery units were good; because we were highly motorized; because we didn't hesitate to kill French people if it meant we could thereby kill Germans; because we had a couple of crack Airborne divisions; and mostly because we could field a sufficient mass of understandably frightened citizen-soldier conscripts who summoned enough courage to keep going forward, artlessly and victoriously.