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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: WWII, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 58
1. Remembering the original On the Town during World War II

A stunning new production of On the Town, directed by John Rando, opened in October at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway. It transports a viewer back to the golden age of American musical theater, when highly skilled orchestras delivered a robust sound while extended segments of dance were central to telling the story.

Carol J. Oja’s Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War explores the very first production of On the Town, which opened in December 1944, towards the end of World War II. It marked the Broadway debut of a soon-to-be-famous creative team, with Leonard Bernstein as composer, Betty Comden and Adolph Green as lyricists and book-writers, and Jerome Robbins as choreographer. There were many audacities to this youthful production. The star was the gorgeous Japanese-American dancer Sono Osato, even as her father was among the Japanese nationals interned in the United States. The stage manager was Peggy Clark, who was among the earliest women to serve in that role on Broadway. The cast included six African Americans, who were intentionally presented as part of a multicultural citizenry, avoiding pernicious racial stereotypes of the era.

Headline image credit: Theater spotlights. CC0 via Pixabay.

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2. Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War to remember those who have died in the line of duty. It is observed by a two-minute silence on the ’11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month’, in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente on 11 November, 1918. The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. In the UK, Remembrance Sunday occurs on the Sunday closest to the 11th November, and is marked by ceremonies at local war memorials in most villages, towns, and cities. The red poppy has become a symbol for Remembrance Day due to the poem In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

You can discover more about the history behind the First World War by exploring the free resources included in the interactive image above.

Feature image credit: Poppy Field, by Martin LaBar. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.

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3. War poetry across the centuries

‘Poetry’, Wordsworth reminds us, ‘is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’, and there can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war: hope and fear; exhilaration and humiliation; hatred—not only for the enemy, but also for generals, politicians, and war-profiteers; love—for fellow soldiers, for women and children left behind, for country (often) and cause (occasionally).

So begins Jon Stallworthy’s introduction to his recently edited volume The New Oxford Book of War Poetry.  The new selection provides improved coverage of the two World Wars and the Vietnam War, and new coverage of the wars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Below is an extract of two poems from the collection.



 On the Late Massacre in Piedmont* (1673)

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,
Forget not; in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
and his Latin secretary, John Milton.
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant, that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

* The heretical Waldensian sect, which inhabited northern Italy (Piedmont) and southern France, held beliefs compatible with Protestant doctrine. Their massacre by Catholics in 1655 was widely protested by Protestant powers, including Oliver Cromwell and his Latin secretary, John Milton.



The Heroes (1955)

I dreamed of war-heroes, of wounded war-heroes
With just enough of their charms shot away
To make them more handsome. The women moved nearer
To touch their brave wounds and their hair streaked with gray.
I saw them in long ranks ascending the gang-planks;
The girls with the doughnuts were cheerful and gay.
They minded their manners and muttered their thanks;
The Chaplain advised them to watch and to pray.
They shipped these rapscallions, these sea-sick battalions
To a patriotic and picturesque spot;
They gave them new bibles and marksmen’s medallions,
Compasses, maps, and committed the lot.
A fine dust has settled on all that scrap metal.
The heroes were packaged and sent home in parts
To pluck at a poppy and sew on a petal
And count the long night by the stroke of their hearts.

Image credit: Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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4. All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Anthony Doerr

This book guys, oh this book.

It starts in Saint Malo, with the Allied bombing. Hiding in her house is Marie-Laure, 16 and blind. Hiding in a basement with the rest of his unit is Werner, 18 and a German soldier. It then jumps back to Marie-Laure growing up with her father in Paris, losing her eyesight, spending her days in the Museum of Natural History where her father works. It jumps back to Werner, growing up with his sister Jutta in a children’s home, destined at 15 to go work in the same mines that killed his father, until his skills with radios and mechanics mark him for something greater.

It occasionally flashes forward to the “now” of the bombing and for the most part alternates between their two stories. Occasionally other stories interrupt. There is a storied diamond, spirited away from the museum before the invasion that the Nazis are looking for and Marie-Laure may or may not have. There is Jutta in the children’s home. There is the after. There is Marie-Laure reading 10000 Leagues Under the Sea in Braille, her uncle who hasn’t left the house since returning from WWI. There is Werner trying to survive the Nazi Youth academy. Huddled with his sister and his short-wave radio, listening to a French professor broadcasting science lessons to children. There is the resistance--Marie-Laure helping it, Werner tracking it and ending it.

The chapters are short--usually only a few pages, but the writing is so magical. I love Doerr’s rhythm. Each sentence is perfect. Most of them are short, like the chapters, but contain so much. I like that, despite the dual stories and occasional jump in time, it’s a fairly straight forward story, but perfectly executed. This is one of the best, if not THE best book I’ve read this year, maybe longer. It’s not the story is mind-blowing (although the story is very good) but just the language and rhythm and overall, such perfect writing. I wanted to show you some, but individual sentences don't stand out, it's how it all adds up.

Such, such perfect writing.

This book guys, oh this book.

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5. “How absurd!” The Occupation of Paris 1940-1944

By David Ball

In the Epilogue to his penetrating, well-documented study, Nazi Paris, Allan Mitchell writes “Parisians had endured the trying, humiliating, and essentially absurd experience of a German Occupation.” Odd as it may sound, “absurd” is exactly right. Both the word and the sense of absurdity come up again and again in the diary kept by a remarkable French intellectual during those “dark years,” as he called them. For the absurd is not only laughable: it can be dangerous. Here is a sampling of the absurdities Jean Guéhenno noted in his Diary of the Dark Years 1940-1944.

24 October 1940

Pierre Laval

French politician Pierre Laval (1883-1945) as lawyer in 1913. Agence de presse Meurisse‏ Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday evening all the newspapers were shouting out the great news: “M. Pierre Laval has met with the Führer.” . . . For what price did he sell us down the river? As early as 9 PM, the English radio was announcing the conditions of the deal: but what can we really know about it? Did the Marshal reject them? Are we going to be forced to put all our hopes on the resistance of that old man? This tyranny is too absurd, and its absurdity is too obvious to too many people for it to last.

For we have been plunged into vileness, that much is certain, but still more into absurdity.

29 November 1940

The newspapers are lamentably empty. This morning, however, I find the speech that Alfred Rosenberg, the high priest of Nazism, delivered yesterday from the podium of our Chamber of Deputies. For it is from there that Nazism is to hold sway over France . . . The history of the 19th century, he claims, is nothing but the struggle of blood against gold. “But today, blood is victorious at last . . . which means the racist, creative strength of central Europe.” I am recopying it exactly . . . Race? Claiming to rebuild Europe on a fable like that — how absurd!

7 January 1941

. . . my deepest reason for hope: it’s just that all this is too absurd. Something as absurd as this cannot possibly last. It seems to me I can read their embarrassment on the faces of the occupying forces. Every day, they are increasingly obliged to feel like foreigners. They don’t know what to do in the streets of Paris or whom to look at. They are sad and exiled. The jailor has become the prisoner. If he were sincere and he could speak, he would apologize for being here. No doubt that pitiable revolver he carries at his side reduces us to silence. And so? For how long will he be carrying it — will he have to carry it? For, without a revolver . . . Will he be condemned to wear it forever and live in this exile, without any other justification, any other joy than that little revolver?

10 February 1941

Every evening at the Opera, I am told, German officers are extremely numerous. At the intermissions, following the custom of their country, they walk around the lobby in ranks of three or four, all in the same direction. Despite themselves, the French join the procession and march in step, unconsciously. The boots impose their rhythm.

11 March 1941

M. Darlan is proclaiming “Germany’s generosity.” It is the height of absurdity: these vanquished generals have become our masters, and because of their very defeat, they must fear England’s victory and the restoration of France above all.

17 September 1941

I went on a trip to Brittany for a change of air and to try to get supplies of food, for life here has become increasingly wretched . . . Everywhere I found the same absurdity . . . On the sea, on the moors, in the forest, . . . just when I was going to forget about him, suddenly the gray soldier was there in front of me, with his rifle and his face of an all-powerful, barbaric moron. But it is impossible that he himself cannot feel how vain is the terror he is wielding. The sailors of Camaret make fun of him openly . . . He will go away as he came; he will have gone on a long, absurd trip.

Paris Opera Palais Garnier

Paris Opera Palais Garnier by Smtunli, Svein-Magne Tunli. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

22 February 1943

. . . those officers one meets around the Madeleine and the Opera in their fine linen greatcoats, with their vain, high caps, that look of proud stupidity on their faces and those nickel-plated daggers joggling around their bottoms. Then there are [the] busy little females — those mailwomen or telephone operators who look like Walkyries: one can sense their vanity and emptiness. The other day on the Place de la Concorde in front of the Ministry of the Navy I stopped to watch the sentries — those unchanging puppets who have stood there on each side of the door for more than two years, without drinking, eating or sleeping, like the symbol of deadly, mechanical [German] order right in the middle of Paris. I stood looking at them for a while as they pivoted like marionettes. But one tires of the Nuremberg clock . . .

29 May 1944

A torrent of stupidity. Two movie actors had put on Racine’s Andromaque in the Édouard VII Theater. Their interpretation of the play seemed immoral. Andromaque has been banned. This morning, the newspapers are publishing the following note: “The French Militia is concerned about the intellectual protection of France as well as public morality. That is why the regional head of the for the Militia of the Paris region notified the Prefect of Police that it was going to oppose the production of the scandalous play by Messieurs Jean Marais and Alain Cuny now playing at the Édouard VII Theater. The Prefect of Police issued a decree immediately banning the play.

David Ball is Professor Emeritus of French and Comparative Literature, Smith College. He is the editor and translator of Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris.

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6. Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Theodora Tenpenny may live in Manhattan, but it's not a glamorous existence for her.  She lives in a ramshackle house with her absent minded math genius mother and her grandfather Jack.  But right on page 4, Jack is killed and leaves Theo only with the dying message of "Look under the egg."

Not much for a 13 year old who is trying to keep it together to go on.  So between gardening, taking care of her chickens and pickling for food, scanning the streets for useful objects and caring for her mother, Theo needs to unravel what her grandfather's wishes were.

Theo is up in her grandfather's art studio one day trying to figure out the mystery when a mouse runs up her leg and she jumps up and spills some rubbing alcohol on one of Jack's paintings - the painting unlike his other paintings.  The egg.  As Theo desperately tries to clean the rubbing alcohol off, the colors smear and smudge and she is devastated at losing this last bit of Jack.  But when she looks closely she realizes that under the egg, a different painting is revealing itself.  Could this be what Jack's dying words were about?

Theo is at a neighborhood diner owned by a friend of Jack's where she forms an unlikely friendship with Bodhi - another 13 year old who has just moved down the block and happens to have Hollywood parents.  Where Theo's existence is positively Little House on the Prairie, Bodhi's is the Jetsons in comparison.  Theo surprisingly lets Bodhi in on the secret painting, and soon with Theo's art history knowledge and Bodhi's internet skills, they are on the trail to the truth.

Woven into the text are explanations of fine art, as well as bits of history involving WWII.  There are also real life bits of NYC living including the Staten Island Ferry, Grace Church, the Met and the Jefferson Market Library.  All of these true things had me actually google Spinney Lane to see if it was one of those Manhattan streets I've walked by a million times but not walked down.

This is a solid summer mystery with a really fantastic sense of place.

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7. What can poetry teach us about war?

There can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war. Jon Stallworthy’s celebrated anthology The New Oxford Book of War Poetry spans from Homer’s Iliad, through the First and Second World Wars, the Vietnam War, and the wars fought since. The new edition, published to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, includes a new introduction and additional poems from David Harsent and Peter Wyton amongst others. In the three videos below Jon Stallworthy discusses the significance and endurance of war poetry. He also talks through his updated selection of poems for the second edition, thirty years after the first.

Jon Stallworthy examines why Britain and America responded very differently through poetry to the outbreak of the Iraq War.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Jon Stallworthy on his favourite war poems, from Thomas Hardy to John Balaban.

Click here to view the embedded video.

As The New Oxford Book of War Poetry enters its second edition, editor Jon Stallworthy talks about his reasons for updating it.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Jon Stallworthy is a poet and Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Oxford University. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of many distinguished works of poetry, criticism, and translation. Among his books are critical studies of Yeats’s poetry, and prize-winning biographies of Louis MacNiece and Wilfred Owen (hailed by Graham Greene as ‘one of the finest biographies of our time’). He has edited and co-edited numerous anthologies, including the second edition of The New Oxford Book of War Poetry.

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8. Life in occupied Paris during World War II

By David Ball

If you were a fifty-year-old intellectual, a well-known writer of left-wing articles and literary essays, and your country was occupied by the Nazis and its more-or-less legal government collaborated with them — and now the editor of the leading literary magazine of the time pressed you to contribute an essay to his review, would you do so? Just an essay on Voltaire for the Nouvelle Revue Française, mind you, nothing subversive. Anything at all suspect would be censored anyway.

The answer, for the overwhelming majority of French intellectuals in 1940-44, was “Write the article, of course!” And keep writing, whatever happened to France. Not about the war, of course, or the Occupation—you couldn’t do that—but novels about personal relationships, plays, literary articles and criticism, why not? André Gide kept on publishing his Journal; Sartre finished Being and Nothingness, wrote No Exit and saw it produced on the Paris stage; Simone de Beauvoir published a novel and a philosophical essay; utterly non-fascist writers like Colette, Jean Anouilh, and Marcel Aymé contributed to actively pro-fascist journals. In short, judging from what they wrote at the time, most French writers seem to have lived through four years of Nazi occupation without noticing it. You would think they had never seen the swastika floating from the Eiffel Tower, nor the huge banner hanging over the front of the Chamber of Deputies which housed the French parliament before the war: DEUTSCHLAND SIEGT AN ALLEN FRONTEN (“Germany is winning on all fronts”), nor the booted German soldiers who paraded down the Champs-Ėlysées every day. And apparently never read about the execution of hostages or Résistants reported in the daily papers or on posters in the Paris Metro, and never heard about friends and acquaintances arrested and deported “to the East.”


Paris, deutsche Parole am Bourbon-Palast. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2004-0216-500 / CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

Jean Guéhenno, whose portrait I have sketched in the first paragraph, was a notable exception. His answer to Drieu La Rochelle, a literary acquaintance of his and the ardently fascistic writer who edited the Nouvelle Revue Française from 1940 to 1943, was silence — and inner rage, which he noted in his diary: “We have no means of telling these gentlemen what we think of their activity. At least they might leave us in peace.” (24 January 1941)

He had resolved to remain silent, not to write a word for a publishing industry under Nazi control, not to “play our jailors’ game,” as he later put it, “to appear as if we were still living and enjoying ourselves as we used to, in the time when we were free.” He remained silent, but he wrote. He kept his diary, where he noted details of ordinary Paris life under occupation (some extraordinary ones, such as the first round-up of Jews in Paris), his thoughts on French literature (especially the great texts he was teaching), and above all his anger at the stupidity, cowardice, and vanity of those of his fellow countrymen who played along with the Nazis, the politicians (Pétain, Laval and company) and “the species of men of letters, [which is] not one of the greatest species in the human race. The man of letters is unable to live out of public view for any length of time; he would sell his soul to see his name ‘appear.’” (30 November 1940) Guéhenno also worked away at his two-volume biography of Rousseau, “the exemplary life of a man who does not surrender,” he notes (17 July 1940) — the very image of Jean Guéhenno himself. He would publish his diary and the Rousseau biography when the war was over and France was free.

Paris, Parade deutscher Soldaten . Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-751-0067-34 / Kropf / CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

Paris, Parade deutscher Soldaten . Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-751-0067-34 / Kropf / CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

Guéhenno was too well known as an anti-fascist intellectual ever to join one of the Resistance networks which soon sprang up in occupied France. It would have meant his arrest and that of his comrades. He was under surveillance, and he knew it. He taught in some of the elite schools of France, but just being who he was and teaching French literature as he always had was enough to get him “demoted” by the Ministry of Education of the Vichy government. In the last year of the Occupation, he did meet with other writers (his friend François Mauriac, for example) and discuss what they could do, as writers, to keep the spirit of freedom alive in France. They distributed underground literature in Paris. In 1944, Ėditions de Minuit, the remarkable underground publishing house which managed to print so much free-spirited French prose and poetry clandestinely during the last three years of Nazi occupation, put out part of Guéhenno’s diary under the title “In the Prison.” He signed it “Cévennes,” the name of the mountain range in central France where Protestants had hid to resist persecution four centuries earlier. (It also echoed “Vercors,” the name of the mountains where the Resistance had concentrated thousands of armed men, and the pseudonym of Jean Bruller, who founded the house; his novella “The Silence of the Sea” was the first work it published.)

It was a pleasure to live with this honorable, stubborn, cultivated and passionate man for a few years, translating, annotating and presenting his Diary of the Dark Years: 1940-1944 so that today’s English-speaking readers could understand this unique piece of testimony to the inner and outer life of a French intellectual under Nazi Occupation.

David Ball is Professor Emeritus of French and Comparative Literature, Smith College. He is the editor and translator of Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris.

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9. Hollow City

Hollow City Ransom Riggs

This sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children picks up exactly where the last one left off. Having been a few years between books, it was a little confusing in the beginning as I tried to remember plot details and the world that Riggs has built.

Jacob and his friends are out of the loop, but still in the 1940s, traveling from their island to London, trying to find another ymbryne who can hopefully fix Miss Peregrine. Along the way they discover more about the Peculiar world, finding other loops and allies, all the while fighting hollows and wights. Of course, once they get to London, they still have to find another ymbryne (it’s not like they’re in the phone book) and deal with the dangers that the Blitz creates when you’re no longer in a timeloop. It all concludes in another wrenching ending that will leave us waiting desperately for the next book.

I do still love the interplay of the photos and the text, but I feel like the photos didn’t work quite as well--maybe because Riggs used all his best ones in the first book, of what needed to be illustrated wasn’t as peculiar, or because I was already used to it from the first book. I’m not sure why. I didn’t NOT work, it just wasn’t as awesome as the first book in that regard. It is still really well designed as a book though. I like the brown papers marking new chapters--it really adds to the feel created by the photographs and the story--retro paranormal, as well.

I did like the further exploration of the world, and the problems with their weird place in time--being out of a loop, but not being in the present creates issues. Some of the things I liked about the first one aren’t here there-- there’s not that is he/isn’t he on Jacob’s reliableness as a narrator. There’s not the slow reveal of this other world, or the slowly building tension--this is a lot more fast-moving action-- and I think that’s where the story needed to go, but it didn’t wow me in the same way. That’s not to say I didn’t like it--I liked it a lot, I just wasn’t as absolutely floored by it the same way I was floored by Miss Peregrine. I do look forward to getting back into the this world with the next book--I just hope it doesn’t take two years before it comes out!

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10. Pure Grit - a review

Today is a perfect day to highlight Mary Cronk Farrell's latest book which chronicles the actions of Army and Navy nurses serving in the Phillipines during WWII.  Although amazingly, none of the nurses perished during their harrowing years on the forward battle lines and in prison camps, their service to their country and the fighting men was nothing short of heroic.

Farrell, Mary Cronk. 2014. Pure Grit: How American WWII Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. New York: Abrams.

Pure Grit is a narrative nonfiction account, told with compelling human details. Photographs, quotes, correspondence, newspaper accounts, maps and military records were combined to create a gripping story that breathes new life into a little-known story that is fading from our collective memory.  Farrell was very fortunate to have interviewed the last surviving nurse of the seventy-nine who were taken as POWs by the Japanese.

Containing a Foreward, Introduction, Glossary, List of Nurses, Select Timeline, Endnotes, Bibliography, Web Sites for More Information, Acknowledgments, Image Credits and an exhaustive Index, Pure Grit could easily be considered a scholarly treatise on the topic — but Farrell has chosen to present her topic in a manner that simply cannot be ignored: a gripping story with personal and human details that will appeal to anyone over age 12 with even a passing interest in history.  Highly recommended.

Links of interest:

As you enjoy today's kick-off to the summer season, perhaps celebrating with friends or family or enjoying a well-deserved day off from work, consider participating in the National Moment of Remembrance.

From the U.S. Dept. of Veteran's Affairs:
...in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579 ...
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

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11. Monuments Men and the Frick

By Stephen Bury

At rare moments in time a library can have a singular impact on history. The recent release of George Clooney’s film Monuments Men (2014) has triggered an interest in the role that the Frick Art Reference Library played in the preparation of maps identifying works of art at risk in Nazi-occupied Europe. For the first time in history a belligerent was taking care of cultural treasures in a war zone.

Bill Burke and Jane Mull, members of the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, working with Gladys Hamlin, draftswoman, at the Frick Art Reference Library on a map of Paris. circa 1943-44. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Photographs. [National Archives photograph]

Bill Burke and Jane Mull, members of the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, working with Gladys Hamlin, draftswoman, at the Frick Art Reference Library on a map of Paris. circa 1943-44. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Photographs. (National Archives photograph)

Initially, the concern was that Allied bombing might damage or even destroy irreplaceable cultural treasures. This was articulated first by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) who in June 1943 accepted Helen Clay Frick’s offer of the use of the Frick Art Reference Library, 10 East 71st Street, New York, which Helen had founded in 1920, in their endeavors. This was the only time in its history that the Library was closed to the public (15 July 1943- 4 January 1944).

Under the auspices of William B. Dinsmoor (1886-1973), Chair of ACLS Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, which predated the Roberts Commission, lists of cultural treasures were drawn up at the Library using its guidebooks — Baedeker, Touring Club Italiano, Guide Bleu etc. — and other resources, supplemented by what could be seen as an early form of crowd-sourcing, i.e. questionnaires sent out to academics and others who had recently visited Europe. Lists of monuments and art objects were compiled and marked on maps of the relevant area — the maps supplied by the Library of Congress, the Army Map Service, or the American Geographical Society. Some of the monuments were rated higher in importance than others: it is interesting to speculate what the criteria might have been. The monuments were numbered and their locations marked on a gridded tracing paper overlay over the map. These were re-photographed by the Library photographers, Ira Martin and Thurman Rotan. The photographic studio where this was done is now the Library’s conservation facility.

Questionnaire image_Page_4

Sample questionnaire from the ACLS Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures, c.1943. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

Used by bomber pilots and navigators, then by soldiers on the ground directing artillery after the invasion of mainland Italy in September 1943 and France in June 1944, the maps were also incorporated into the Army’s Civil Affairs handbooks, which were issued to all officers on the ground. Later the lists and maps of treasures were used in the continuing struggle to return looted and confiscated portable treasures the rightful owners and their heirs. The Library’s resources including its Photoarchive are still used today for this very purpose.

Some 700 “Frick” or “Treasure” maps were made, and in a letter, dated 12 October 1943, to Dinsmoor, Monuments Man, Theodore Sizer praised their usefulness in the field and the work of “those magnificent women in the Frick”.

Dr. Stephen Bury is the Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian of the Frick Art Reference Library, New York, and is the Advisory Editor of the Benezit Dictionary of Artists.

Oxford Art Online offers access to the most authoritative, inclusive, and easily searchable online art resources available today. Through a single, elegant gateway users can access — and simultaneously cross-search — an expanding range of Oxford’s acclaimed art reference works: Grove Art Online, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, The Oxford Companion to Western Art, and The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, as well as many specially commissioned articles and bibliographies available exclusively online.

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12. Britain, France, and their roads from empire

After the Second World War ended in 1945, Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, even after the destruction of the war. Their imperial territories extended over four continents. And what’s more, both countries seemed to be absolutely determined to hold on their empires; the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers, and writers who promised to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. But despite that, within just twenty years, both empires had vanished.

In the two videos below Martin Thomas, author of Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire, discusses the disintegration of the British and French empires. He emphasizes the need to examine the process of decolonization from a global perspective, and discusses how the processes of decolonization dominated the 20th century. He also compares and contrasts the case of India and Vietnam as key territories of the British and French Empires.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Martin Thomas is Professor of Imperial History in the Department of History at the University of Exeter, where he has taught since 2003. He founded the University’s Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, which supports research into the impact of armed conflict on societies and communities. He is a past winner of a Philip Leverhulme prize for outstanding research and a holder of a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship. He has published widely on twentieth century French and imperial history, and his new book is Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire.

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13. Teaser Tuesday: Gamelan––Growing up under Japanese Occupation

I’ve been researching and trying to write a story based on my family’s experience in World War II for about ten years now, ever since Dad started to open up about his experience. For ten years we’ve been sitting down with each other, talking about events, locations and his experiences, getting clear about the “when” and “wheres” of his time as a prisoner. When we first sat down together, it was difficult for him to remember just how many prisons he was in and how long he had been a prisoner. But, together, we pieced the puzzle together. I’ve read that “why” isn’t a very spiritual question. I kind of like that insight.

I’ve tried five different times to write the story as a novel. And, well…it just wasn’t happening. Each attempt fell apart for one reason or another. And then, after I’d taken only a few storyboarding classes at Art Center at Night, creative fireworks went off and I saw the whole story. I like to write my novels cinematically, so I guess the transition to screenplays is natural, even as I have a lot to learn. Part of the reason why this story hasn’t come together as a novel has to do with the fact that the scope of the story has seemed so epic to me, spanning several generations, and like my screenplay writing instructor said, “that’s the trouble with true stories”…all the details. The story needed focus and that’s what I’ve been working very hard on over the past few months. Here is the opening scene from Gamelan.


A bamboo and barbed wire fence. An old, white man’s emaciated wrinkled, shaky hand clenches three cigarettes. The boney, but steady hand of HANS (19) takes the cigarettes from the old man.

HANS hammers a crooked nail into a rough-hewn wooden plank.


Liberty is something you can’t understand until it’s taken away. You become a different person. You become a prisoner. You learn what it is to survive.

Last weekend my family had a reunion where we celebrated Dad’s 90th birthday!

Happy Birthday Dad! 


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14. Ezra Pound and James Strachey Barnes

By David Bradshaw and James Smith

The extent of Ezra Pound‘s involvement with Italian fascism during the Second World War has been one of the most troubling and contentious issues in modernist literary studies. After broadcasting on the wartime propaganda services of the Italian Fascist state and its successor, the Republic of Salò, Pound was indicted for treason by the United States government and arrested at the end of the war, eventually being found unfit to stand trial and instead committed to a psychiatric hospital. These episodes have obviously led to a number of major questions for scholars. Was Pound really insane? Were his actions really treasonous? Or did these broadcasts reveal the extent of Pound’s true sympathies for fascism and anti-Semitism?

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound

Our research has tried to shed new light on these questions by exploring Pound’s relationship with James Strachey Barnes (1890-1955), an Italophile Englishman who also broadcast propaganda for Mussolini during the Second World War. Barnes is a figure who occasionally pops up in the footnotes of modernism – he was a cousin to Lytton Strachey, acquainted with Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot, and the inspiration for one of the characters in D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. Barnes was also one of the major intellectual supporters of Italian fascism, writing a number of books in support of the fascist cause, running a pro-fascist think-tank, and meeting Mussolini on several occasions. This culminated in his propaganda work in Italy during the Second World War, where he compiled hundreds of broadcasts with titles such as “Thank God for the Blunders of our Enemies,” with the overall aim (as he stated) of “inciting the English people to revolt against their Government.”

Pound and Barnes are known to have been friends and work-associates during the war, but despite the obvious significance of this relationship Barnes has only been a peripheral figure in Pound scholarship, and indeed little-remembered at all in the history of the inter-war radical right. One of the major problems is that the war (particularly the latter stages) remains one of the least-documented periods in Pound’s life, and almost all of Barnes’s personal papers were destroyed by his family after his death. But importantly, our research for the article found that enough documents still exist to allow us to begin to reconstruct the relationship between Barnes and Pound. The most significant of these was Barnes’s unpublished diary covering the period of 1943-5 (which eventually surfaced in the possession of his daughter-in-law, who was then living in Lund, Sweden), but we also drew upon a sequence of letters between Pound and Barnes held in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, as well as various government files held at the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

From these documents a picture emerges not just of Barnes’s extensive collaborations with the Italian propaganda apparatus, but also of how this was often conducted with Pound’s close advice and support. And vice-versa. We now know that Pound followed Barnes’s broadcasts and offered detailed advice about their tone and content, and that Pound would often stay with Barnes in Rome and engage in long discussions on economics. When the Allies invaded the Italian mainland in September 1943 Barnes and Pound made plans to flee Rome together, with Barnes even managing to get a fake Italian passport issued for Pound to aid his escape (Pound had fled north before Barnes could get it to him). It was Barnes who lured Pound back to broadcast for the newly-formed Salò Republic, where Barnes and Pound would collaborate on programs said to contain “Pound’s most virulent anti-Semitism.” Barnes’s diary even recorded a letter from Pound to Mussolini, in which Pound promised to “fight” the “infamous propaganda” of the Allies, but warned the Duce that “I don’t need a ministry, but without a microphone I can’t send.”

So what does this mean for our understanding of Pound? Perhaps most crucially, it gives us important new material to reassess the extent to which he was a willing part of the official Fascist propaganda apparatus. Interestingly, after Barnes’s death, Pound attempted to distance himself from his previous association with Barnes, drafting a letter for The Times which stressed “the difference of angle” between the two, emphatically stating that “Pound never WAS fascist…Not only was he not fascist, he was ANTI-socialist and against the socialist elements in the fascist program.” But as much as Pound tried to wash his hands, Barnes’s papers provide a rather different picture, suggesting that, throughout the war, Pound had served as the revered and trusted mentor for a man who dubbed himself “the Italian Lord Haw-Haw.”

David Bradshaw is Professor of English Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of Worcester College. James Smith is a Lecturer in English at Durham University. They are the authors of the paper ‘Ezra Pound, James Strachey Barnes (‘The Italian Lord Haw-Haw’) and Italian Fascism‘, published in the Review of English Studies.

The Review of English Studies was founded in 1925 to publish literary-historical research in all areas of English literature and the English language from the earliest period to the present. From the outset, RES has welcomed scholarship and criticism arising from newly discovered sources or advancing fresh interpretation of known material. Successive editors have built on this tradition while responding to innovations in the discipline and reinforcing the journal’s role as a forum for the best new research.

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Image credit: Ezra Pound US passport photo (undated) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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15. "Which side were you on, Poppie?" Anzac Day excerpt from The House at Evelyn's Pond

 ‘Poppie,’ Megan asked, at a Sunday lunch not long before her tenth Anzac Day, ‘were you in the war they’re talking about?’
‘One of them,’ said Fred.
‘Which side were you on?’

Three months later, on Megan’s birthday, Fred presented her with a notebook: Poppie in the Army.
‘I’m not much of a writer,’ Fred said gruffly, ‘so I did it with cartoons.’
Small figures – ‘me’; ‘Jack’; ‘Corporal Butler’ parade outside their tents in the training camp at Trawool; the Ile de France wends its way to the Middle East; a flea hops across the desert from a camel to the unsuspecting ’me’, who on the following page is standing on a rock in front of a Red Cross hut – in the nuddy, the caption says - while a medico lances his flea boils and small girls giggle. ‘I closed my eyes so they couldn’t see me,’ Fred told Megan, and she giggled too. There are battles with the French Foreign Legion, glamorous pyramids, mosques, and another ship, the Orestes, pointing towards Fremantle, with a question mark thought bubble of Dulcie and two babies, one pink, one blue. ‘That’s your dad,’ Fred explained. ‘The last letter I’d had from Gran said the baby would be coming soon – I reckoned soon was past and the baby must be there, but blow me if I could work out if it was a boy or a girl!’
‘If Daddy was a girl,’ Megan began, starting her next month’s agonising what ifseries, ‘he’d be my mum…’ She looked at Jane and changed tack. ‘Then you found out he was a boy!’
‘And my word, what a day when I got that letter!  But it was some time coming, and I thought, ‘A bloke could go crazy wondering if the baby’s born yet and what it is. So I made up his birthday – February 4, I said, but I was three days early, that was the day your Gran wished he’d been born. Then I thought – ‘A bloke’s got to get to know his kid somehow!’ So every night when I lay down on my mat I said to myself, ‘Now I’m in Coburg again,’ and I said goodnight to your gran, and goodnight to a boy baby called Ian and a girl baby called Sandra. Every February 4th I wished them happy birthday, and in between I talked to the men who had kids and some of the doctors – ‘What do you reckon,’ I’d ask, ‘about what a kid can do when it’s six months old, or one year old?’ ‘Oh, it’ll be crawling,’ they’d say, ‘and laughing, or starting to walk,’ or whatever it was, and I’d think about Ian laughing, or Sandra learning to walk.’
‘What happened to Sandra?’
‘She never got born - I had to wait a long time for my little girl! It was queer when I found out, not saying goodnight to her any more, or happy birthday next time February came around.’
Megan clambered onto his lap, giving the others a chance to blink or surreptitiously wipe eyes.
‘But you should have seen your Poppie smile when that letter came! I still know it by heart: ‘Ian is walking well now; he is a lively little chap and everyone says quite big for eighteen months.’ I carried the letter around with me all the time, till it was all holes from being folded and opened again; you have no idea how I read it! It’s a poor look-out when a bloke’s son is two and a half years old before he even knows it’s a boy, but that’s how it was.’
Megan stared accusingly at Dulcie. ‘Why didn’t you write before?’
‘Don’t you blame your poor Gran! Prisoners didn’t get much mail, it wasn’t her fault.’
‘You weren’t in prison!’ Megan squealed, but calmed on seeing the adults’ faces. ‘Were you very bad, Poppie?’
‘Must of been!’ said Fred. ‘Now let’s get on with this story or your dad’s cows will never get milked tonight.’
The ‘me’ is now on another ship, waving goodbye to his machine gun on the pier; mortars explode in jungle; friend Jack has shrapnel pulled ‘out of his bum’, said Fred, with a wicked look at his grand-daughter, but though Megan knew he’d like her to giggle again, she’d caught her parents’ mood and was still. The pages that they would study later: a prison camp in Java, a railway built through rock and jungle, a hospital hut with skeleton patients and staff, the dark tunnel of a mine – Fred turned as one, saying Megan was too young for that now but he’d thought he might as well put it all in while he was at it.

Over the next few years something opened – not a floodgate, but a trickle of memories that Fred was finally ready to share: snapshot snippets of an unimaginable life. ‘The night before the Japanese invaded Batavia,’ he’d say, ‘Jack and me were billeted in this native hut, made of bamboo. It was fairly pissing down outside, pardon the French, and we were sleeping in muddy straw and duck manure. Jack woke me up and said, “You know, Fred, I have a feeling we mightn’t get out of this.” Then he pulled out his whisky flask: “We’d better have a drink; it could be the last chance we get.” He was right too; it was the last drink we had for a bloody long time. Which reminds me – how about a cold one?’
And Ian would know that the time for probing had passed.

An edited excerpt from The House at Evelyn's Pond, copyright Wendy Orr

available as ebook from: booku.com or ebooks.com

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16. Available Now: Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives

Thought you knew all there was to know about the Second World War? Think again. Today we're celebrating the release of Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives, the new dual biography exploring the lives of WWII's opposing European generals Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel, written by military defense analyst and BBC contributor Peter Caddick-Adams.During the Second World War, British and German

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17. Soldier Bear

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson

With the partition of Poland at the beginning of WWII, members of the Polish army were taken prisoner, either by Germany or the USSR, depending what side of the border you were one. Once Germany declared war on the USSR, the Soviets let the Poles go, hoping they'd join the Soviet army. Many fled south, crossed the border into Iran, and joined up with the British.

One group of Polish prisoners making their way to the British found a bear cub. They name him Voytek and he becomes a private in the Polish army, getting into mischief and causing mayhem, but also helping to haul munitions and keeping everyone's spirits up.

It's a fun, light read, despite the horror of war. While the soldiers see some horrible things and are afraid, the book doesn't dwell there. Usually, Voytek does something silly to make everyone (including the reader) feel better. It's very episodic, which is not my cup of tea at all.

It's based on real events, and the back has photos of the real Private Voytek. There is not, however, any end matter explaining a little more about WWII (the politics at play here are complicated, and not all explained in the text) as well as detailing what parts of the story are true and what parts aren't.

It's funny, and I think kids will like it. Voytek is not the only animal in the unit and his antics, as well as those of Kaska the monkey and the various dogs are sure to delight child readers. It's a great WWII story that will appeal to both boy and girl readers and shows a different theater than we usually see in the literature. (North Africa and Italy.)

I think I would have really liked this one as a kid. As an adult, I don't dislike it, but it also didn't do much for me. Probably because of the episodic plot.

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Renowned psychologist, author, and filmmaker David Cohen returns next week with the release of The Escape of Sigmund Freud, a new book exploring Freud's final years in Vienna and his flight from the Nazi rise.As Hitler seized power in Germany throughout the early 1930s, the Nazis passed a series of decrees intended to limit the personal and financial freedom of Jews throughout the country. Agents

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19. The Lily Pond

The Lily Pond Annika Thor, translated from the Swedish by Linda Schenck

In this sequel to A Faraway Island, Stephie is on the mainland, studying at school and lodging with Soderbergs. Unfortunately, the Soderbergs aren't as warm as Stephie expected. She's to eat her meals in the kitchen and once Mrs. Soderberg keeps her from going back to the island one weekend because she's throwing a big party. Stephie's excited to attend, until she discovers that she's to be hired help, not a guest.

The one highlight of the Soderberg home is Sven, on whom Stephie quickly develops a crush (oh, such a painful storyline to read.)

In addition, on the mainland, Stephie learns that the Nazi threat grows ever closer and even though Sweden is a neutral country, there are more than a few Nazi sympathizers. And, of course, letters from home show how desperate the situation is getting for her parents-- for modern readers who know what the truth ends up being about the fate of some many European Jews, it is heartbreaking to read, and rage-inducing to read the reactions of the Swedish adults Stephie tries to get to help her family.

There are four books in this series and I cannot wait for the next two to come out in the US. Sadly, there was a two-year lag between the first and second one. Maybe they'll speed up the publication cycle because the first two have both won awards? I don't want to wait until 2015 to see how it all turns out!!!

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20. The Girl is Murder - Audiobook Review

Read by Rachel Botchan
Publication date: 19 July 2011 by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN 10/13: 1596436093 | 9781596436091

Keywords: World War II, Girl detective, friendship, mystery
Category: Young Adult Historical
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Source: Purchased from audible.com

It's the Fall of 1942 and Iris's world is rapidly changing. Her Pop is back from the war with a missing leg, limiting his ability to do the physically grueling part of his detective work. Iris is dying to help, especially when she discovers that one of Pop's cases involves a boy at her school. Now, instead of sitting at home watching Deanna Durbin movies, Iris is sneaking out of the house, double crossing her friends, and dancing at the Savoy till all hours of the night. There's certainly never a dull moment in the private eye business.

Alethea's review:

I'm not a Veronica Mars fan (as the marketing taglines for this series insist on singling out that demographic), but there's something about the spunky girl-detective novel that never fails to please me. I'll confess that I have fond memories of a hundred Nancy Drew novels, and am currently obsessed with vintage fashion, which might explain part of why I liked this book. Some of the credit definitely goes to the reader, Rachel Botchan. She really nails not just the New York accents but also the inflections from--has it really been that long?--seventy years ago. I think I would have enjoyed this less had I tried to read it myself.

I'm actually surprised this novel kept my interest, as the beginning of the novel felt really slow. Iris is coping with many changes--not just the typical girl-becoming-woman challenges we expect of a coming-of-age novel. She's transplanted from the posh part of town to the Lower East Side, hears whispers of disapproval and malicious gossip regarding her mother's suicide the year before, and is trying to form some sort of connection with her estranged and now disabled father. It's heavy stuff, lending gravity to the story, and I can't decide whether or not it saves the rest of the book from just being a plot-driven mess.

The main mystery involves the disappearance of a boy from Iris's new school. I really enjoyed the author's skill at portraying the secondary characters: Suze, queen bee of the charmingly named "Rainbow Gang", the high school's resident hooligans, and Pearl, the plump, quiet, and defensive schoolmate Iris struggles to befriend. There's no team of good girls versus the bad girls here: everyone seems to have some bad with the good, even Iris, who makes some really terrible decisions for occasionally noble reasons. Despite all the mistakes they make, I found the characters well-rounded and likable. 

The solution of the mystery did leave something to be desired. I wouldn't call this a traditional whodunit--you're better off reading the original (or even playing the games--they're really good!) if a murder is what you're after. You'll enjoy this more if you like reading about relationships, teen problems and comparing those of today to those of yesteryear, or World War II nostalgia. 

You can find the author online at www.kathrynmillerhaines.com and on Twitter @KathrynMHaines.

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21. Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, translated by Laura Watkinson

5 Stars Soldier Bear Bibi Dumon Tak Laura Watkinson Philip Hopman Eerdmans Books for Young Readers .................... When a group of Polish soldiers stationed in Iran during World War II trade a penknife, a tin of beef, and some money for an orphaned bears cub, it’s the start of a very special friendship—and a remarkable [...]

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22. Another Oswald Mosley Sighting

Last month, I wrote about how often Oswald Mosley turns up these days on Masterpiece Theatre. That was prompted about his appearance in The FitzOsbornes in Exile. Now, just weeks later, Mosley shows up again in the very next World War II novel I read, Code Name Verity. It's not going to be long, and he's going to need a rest. He wore out his welcome in his lifetime. He ought to be careful about doing it again.

Code Name Verity is a WWII spy story. No sooner do I get into it (and I am into it), then WW II undercover activity makes the news. I, for one, want to know what that carrier pigeon was doing. He'd better not have been bringing a love note or a shopping list back from France, that's all I can say.

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23. The familiar face of Winston Churchill

By Christopher M. Bell

The steady flow of new books about Winston Churchill should confirm that the famous wartime prime minister is now the best known and most studied figure in modern British history.

Churchill, a tireless self-promoter in his own time, would undoubtedly have taken a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that the legend he helped to craft would endure well into the twenty-first century. Unlike most politicians, he was deeply concerned with how he would be remembered – and judged – by history. And, although the verdict today is by no means universally positive, there is no doubt that he has achieved a level of fame that few can rival.

Academic historians (like me) spend so much time immersed in the study of the past that we cannot help but see it as a crowded place full of familiar faces. And a figure like Churchill is impossible to ignore: his memory, like the man himself, positively demands our attention. But the full-time historian is generally able to tune Churchill out when necessary: for most of us, he remains just one of the many historical actors we must look at to understand the past.

For the public at large, however, the past is a very different place. Most people approach it as they would a party full of strangers: instinctively scanning the crowd as they enter in hopes of spotting a familiar face. But the more time that passes, the more unfamiliar the past becomes – and the fewer faces we are likely to recognize. Our collective historical memory is subject to a natural sort of attrition process. Most of Britain’s leading politicians, statesmen and warriors of the early twentieth-century, many of them household names in their own time, are now barely remembered at all. Lord Kitchener’s famous recruiting poster from the First World War is still instantly recognizable, but every year there are fewer and fewer people who can put a name to the face of a man who in 1914 was better known – and certainly more widely admired – than Churchill.

The process has distinctly Darwinian overtones, as the most famous figures of yesteryear gradually displace their lesser-known rivals – and eventually each other – in the competition for a place in our collective memory of the past. Only a handful of famous twentieth-century Britons can share the historical stage with Churchill and demand anything like equal billing. And even they do not seem to share his seeming immunity to the passage of time. Neville Chamberlain, for example, remains an iconic figure, although for many he is not an important historical actor in his own right so much as a supporting figure in a better-known, and implicitly more important, story: Churchill’s triumphant rise to power in 1940.

Britain has good reason to look back on the Second World War as the “People’s War”, but the fact remains that only one of “the people” could be reliably identified today in a police line-up. And he is recognizable precisely because of his role in this great conflict. Churchill’s near-mythical status was ensured by his leadership in the critical months between the army’s evacuation from Dunkirk and the Royal Air Force’s victory in the Battle of Britain. At a time when Britain’s defeat seemed not only possible but imminent, Churchill rallied and inspired the people as no other contemporary politician could have. In Britain’s national mythology, he almost single-handedly changed the course of the war by sustaining the morale of the British people at the height of the Nazi onslaught, and in so doing ensured Hitler’s ultimate downfall.

Even in 1940, there was already a tendency to regard Churchill as the personification of Britain’s collective war effort and the embodiment of the nation’s heroic defiance of Nazi Germany. Churchill himself once attempted to put his role into perspective when he declared that “It was a nation and a race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.” How far Churchill really believed this is debatable. In his speeches and memoirs he consistently downplayed the doubts and fears that pervaded Britain after the fall of France. But he knew better than anyone how close Britain may have come to a negotiated peace with Hitler in 1940 – and how important was his role in preventing this.

As more and more of Churchill’s contemporaries have receded and then disappeared from public memory, the popular association of Churchill with this defining moment in Britain’s history has only grown stronger. He may soon be, if he isn’t already, the last (recognizable) man standing in the history ofBritainduring the first half of the twentieth century.

Churchill believed that history was made by “great men”, and it is hard to imagine him being troubled by this trend. Historians might lament the public’s disproportionate interest in any one particular individual, but this is not to suggest we don’t need any more books about Churchill. The central place he enjoys in our memory of the twentieth century makes it all the more important that the record is as full and accurate as possible. The challenge is to populate that history with real people, and recognize that Churchill was also a supporting character in their stories.

Christopher M. Bell is Associate Professor of History at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy between the Wars (2000), co-editor of Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective (2003), and author of Churchill and Sea Power (2012).

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Slideshow image credits: all images by British Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (1, 2, 3, 4).

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24. How Nazi Germany lost the nuclear plot

By Gordon Fraser

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, neither the Atomic Bomb nor the Holocaust were on anybody’s agenda. Instead, the Nazi’s top aim was to rid German culture of perceived pollution. A priority was science, where paradoxically Germany already led the world. To safeguard this position, loud Nazi voices, such as Nobel laureate Philipp Lenard,  complained about a ‘massive infiltration of the Jews into universities’.

The first enactments of a new regime are highly symbolic. The cynically-named Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, published in April 1933, targeted those who had non-Aryan, ‘particularly Jewish’, parents or grandparents. Having a single Jewish grandparent was enough to lose one’s job. Thousands of Jewish university teachers, together with doctors, lawyers, and other professionals were sacked. Some found more modest jobs, some retired, some left the country. Germany was throwing away its hard-won scientific supremacy. When warned of this, Hitler retorted ‘If the dismissal of [Jews] means the end of German science, then we will do without science for a few years’.

Why did the Jewish people have such a significant influence on German science? They had a long tradition of religious study, but assimilated Jews had begun to look instead to a radiant new role-model. Albert Einstein was the most famous scientist the world had ever known. As well as an icon for ambitious young students, he was also a prominent political target. Aware of this, he left Germany for the USA in 1932, before the Nazis came to power.

How to win friends and influence nuclear people
The talented nuclear scientist Leo Szilard appeared to be able to foresee the future. He exploited this by carefully cultivating people with influence. In Berlin, he sought out Einstein.

Like Einstein, Szilard anticipated the Civil Service Law. He also saw the need for a scheme to assist the refugee German academics who did not. First in Vienna, then in London, he found influential people who could help.

Just as the Nazis moved into power, nuclear physics was revolutionized by the discovery of a new nuclear component, the neutron. One of the main centres of neutron research was Berlin, where scientists saw a mysterious effect when uranium was irradiated. They asked their former Jewish colleagues, now in exile, for an explanation.

The answer was ‘nuclear fission’. As the Jewish scientists who had fled Germany settled into new jobs, they realized how fission was the key to a new source of energy. It could also be a weapon of unimaginable power, the Atomic Bomb. It was not a great intellectual leap, so the exiled scientists were convinced that their former colleagues in Germany had come to the same conclusion. So, when war looked imminent, they wanted to get to the Atomic Bomb first. One wrote of ‘the fear of the Nazis beating us to it’.

Szilard, by now in the US, saw it was time to act again. He knew that President Roosevelt would not listen to him, but would listen to Einstein, and wrote to Roosevelt over Einstein’s signature.

When a delegation finally managed to see him on 11 October 1939, Roosevelt said “what you’re after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up”. But nobody knew exactly what to do. The letter had mentioned bombs ‘too heavy for transportation by air’. Such a vague threat did not appear urgent.

But in 1940, German Jewish exiles in Britain realized that if the small amount of the isotope 235 in natural uranium could be separated, it could produce an explosion equivalent to several thousand tons of dynamite. Only a few kilograms would be needed, and could be carried by air. The logistics of nuclear weapons suddenly changed. Via Einstein, Szilard wrote another Presidential letter. On 19 January 1942, Roosevelt ordered a rapid programme for the development of the Atomic Bomb, the ‘Manhattan Project’.

Across the Atlantic, the Germans indeed had seen the implications of nuclear fission. But its scientific message had been muffled. Key scientists had gone. Germany had no one left with the prescience of Szilard, nor the political clout of Einstein. The Nazis also had another priority. On 20 January, one day after Roosevelt had given the go-ahead for the Atomic Bomb, a top-level meeting in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee outlined a “final solution of the Jewish Problem”. Nazi Germany had its own crash programme.

US crash programme – on 16 July 1945, just over three years after the huge project had been launched, the Atomic Bomb was tested in the New Mexico desert.

Nazi crash programme – what came to be known as the Holocaust rapidly got under way. Here a doomed woman and her children arrive at the specially-built Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination centre.

As such, two huge projects, unknown to each other, emerged simultaneously on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The dreadful schemes forged ahead, and each in turn became reality. On two counts, what had been unimaginable no longer was.

Gordon Fraser was for many years the in-house editor at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva. His books on popular science and scientists include Cosmic Anger, a biography of Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel scientist, Antimatter: The Ultimate Mirror, and The Quantum Exodus. He is also the editor of The New Physics for the 21st Century and The Particle Century.

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Image credits: Atomic Bomb tested in the New Mexico desert. Photograph courtesy of  Los Alamos National Laboratory; Auschwitz-Birkenau, alte Frau und Kinder, Bundesarchiv Bild, Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. Lessons of Casablanca

By David L. Roll

Seventy years ago this month, Americans came to know Casablanca as more than a steamy city on the northwest coast of Africa. On 23 January 1943, the film Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, a tale of doomed love and taking the moral high ground, was released to packed movie houses. The next day, a Sunday, President Franklin Roosevelt ended two weeks of secret World War II meetings in Casablanca with Prime Minister Winston Churchill by announcing at a noon press conference, in a sunlit villa garden fragrant with mimosa and begonia, that “peace can come to the world,” only through the “unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy and Japan.”

The Academy Award-winning movie, of course, became a classic.

Title screen of Casablanca, the Academy-Award winning classic directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Similarly, Roosevelt’s supremely confident proclamation reverberated throughout the world and shortly entered the history books. Choosing just a few words, the president for the first time sought to firmly establish Allied war aims and determine the framework of the peace.

But both the emotional power of the film and the president’s lofty words blurred if not obscured some inconvenient facts. American audiences must have been persuaded that their government, like Bogart’s Rick, would do the right thing by turning its back on the Nazi collaborators (the French puppet government, the Vichy regime) and casting its lot to fight alongside Charles de Gaulle’s Free French. In fact, the Roosevelt administration did not act to cut its ties with Vichy, continued to rely on Nazi sympathizers to run the Moroccan government, and did not officially recognize de Gaulle until October 1944. Like the political and military realities confronting the Obama administration today in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Iran, the situation on the ground in North Africa in 1943 was murky, complicated and ambiguous. It did not lend itself to the high-minded moral clarity that Hollywood screenwriters enjoy.

So too the policy of unconditional surrender announced by the US president at Casablanca, and endorsed by the British prime minister, masked some stark realities. Unless and until the Soviet Union decided once and for all to reject German peace-feelers and its Red Army had achieved sufficient size and strength to break the back of Germany’s military machine, “unconditional surrender” could be nothing more than a hollow slogan. Though the president’s confident rhetoric was ostensibly aimed at lifting the morale of the populations of the United States and Great Britain, it was in fact directed at the man who was conspicuously absent from the Casablanca conference—Joseph Stalin. Roosevelt was aware that many would argue that the unconditional surrender policy would prolong the war by encouraging the Nazis to fight to the last man and woman, but he believed that this danger was outweighed by the need to allay Soviet suspicions that the Americans and British would conspire to negotiate a separate armistice with Germany. Roosevelt saw his policy as another way to convince Stalin of his goodwill, a political and psychological substitute for a second front—a phrase that would keep the Soviets in the war, killing German soldiers by the bushel.

President Roosevelt, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at his side, reading the “unconditional surrender” announcement to the assembled war correspondents. Casablanca, French Morocco, Jan 1943. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

The policy announced by Roosevelt at Casablanca not only failed to acknowledge the essential role of the Soviets, it also did not have the impact on surrender and peace that he intended. Italy would soon surrender under “conditional” terms. Japan would eventually surrender on condition that her Emperor would be retained. And FDR’s dream that he would turn the page on balance-of-power diplomacy in central Europe and broker the postwar peace would be shattered by the man who could not attend the Casablanca conference in January 1943 because he was busy directing the crucial struggle at Stalingrad.

In the years since Casablanca, experience has shown that presidents would do well to emulate Roosevelt by defining war goals and outlining a framework for peace before engaging the enemy (or at least at an early stage of the conflict). Indeed, the failures of presidents Truman, Johnson, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush to do so in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan seriously soiled their legacies.

Still, the lessons of Casablanca run much deeper and are far more nuanced than the articulation of war aims and peace terms. Casablanca—the movie and the conference—teaches us that human conflict, particularly armed conflict, usually does not end on predictable terms and in conformance with unilateral decrees. Often family, clan, or tribal affiliations trump national loyalties making it difficult if not impossible to distinguish between friends and enemies, neutrals and belligerents. Religious and cultural differences befuddle American peacekeepers. These problems test the mettle of the Obama administration today in places like Benghazi, Waziristan, Damascus, and Teheran.

In Casablanca, Rick was led to believe that he had come to that city because of the healthful waters. Told by Captain Renault that he was in the desert, Rick responded, “I was misinformed.” When it comes to waging wars and structuring peace, US presidents and policymakers should humbly revisit the lessons of Casablanca.

David L. Roll is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, LLP and founder/director of the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, a public interest organization that provides pro bono legal services to social entrepreneurs around the world. His latest book is The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler.

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