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Ed Driscoll

Seizing the High Ground

June 6th, 2014 - 12:29 pm

Commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day, “Rangers Lead to Way at Pointe du Hoc,” Austin Bay writes, noting that Pointe du Hoc on Normandy’s northern coast was D-Day’s ‘high ground:’”

Their heroic action exacted a stiff price. By June 8, two-thirds of the original assault force was killed or wounded.

However, you wouldn’t know too much about Pointe du Hoc if your historical sources were Cornelius Ryan’s bestselling “The Longest Day” and the blockbuster movie of the same name directed by Daryl Zanuck.

In his well-documented biography of Ranger commander Earl Rudder — “Rudder: From Leader to Legend” — historian Thomas M. Hatfield excoriated Ryan for repeatedly sacrificing “facts for dramatic effect.”

Scaling sea cliffs under fire is incomparably dramatic. However, the German guns were not in the casemates. “Sacrifice for nothing” became Ryan’s ironic storyline.

It is historically inaccurate, to the point of falsehood.

In Hatfield’s view, Ryan was not a professional historian but a man grinding out a book to meet a publication deadline. Ryan admitted he relied on one Ranger veteran for his entire D-Day account, a sergeant who manned an observation point over a mile from the most critical combat on Pointe du Hoc. Professional military historians seek multiple sources, to include after-action group interviews.

Earl Rudder, who later became president of Texas A&M University, was a superb special operations commander, but a man not given to grandiose language.

Ryan’s interview of Rudder didn’t produce the sizzle Ryan sought. Ryan asked Rudder where and when he arrived in Normandy. Rudder: “Omaha Beach, H-Hour.” Ryan asked if Rudder had lost friends in the battle. Rudder: “Yes, many.” Was Rudder wounded? “Yes, twice.” Ryan appealed for a dramatic moment. Did any single incident stand out in Rudder’s mind? “No.”

One moment? The battle for and on and over Pointe du Hoc was two-and-a-half days of endless suffering, death, violence and chaotic hell, yet Rudder and his Rangers had succeeded in achieving their critical mission.

Hatfield noted that a man with solid Hollywood connections helped correct the record. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan held a ceremony at Pointe du Hoc. With Rudder’s widow and 2nd Ranger vets at his side, Reagan said: “Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion, to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. … These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the men who helped free a continent.”

Read the whole thing. Regarding the rangers at Pointe du Hoc, in his latest G-File, Jonah Goldberg writes:

A few years ago, NR did a French riverboat cruise that included a day trip to Normandy. It was really an amazing experience and if you ever get a chance, I highly recommend it. Anyway at one point I wandered down by myself to the observation area at the top of Pointe du Hoc. If you didn’t know, Pointe du Hoc is the highest spot between Utah and Omaha beaches and the Germans had artillery batteries there that could hit both beaches. When you’re up there even a military know-nothing like me can immediately see its tactical significance. Army Rangers attacked and seized Pointe du Hoc in one of the most legendary tales of heroism in World War II. They had to scale these 100-foot cliffs while under fire. You can read all the details elsewhere. Anyway I walked down and looked down the cliff side on my right and my left, and then muttered a bit too loudly “How the [expletive deleted] did they do that?”

About five minutes go by and one my fellow NR speakers, Bing West, wanders up. Now you should know something about Bing. The technical term for Bing is badass Marine. He led over a 100 combat patrols in Vietnam and — in his sixties — embedded with Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied war at RAND and Princeton and was a high-ranking official in Reagan’s Defense Department. Suffice it to say, he has a significantly better grasp of military tactics than I do. Anyway, he didn’t see me. But I watched him as he looked down both sides of the cliff, studying the path of the Rangers assault. And then, he muttered, a bit too loudly, “How the [expletive deleted] did they do that?”

Flawed though its historical accuracy may be, as a piece of blockbuster Hollywood moviemaking, Darryl Zanuck’s film version of the The Longest Day holds up pretty well — I watched the Blu-Ray version a few months ago, and enjoyed it immensely. Made almost a half century before Saving Private Ryan, it was Hollywood’s first big budget memorial to D-Day. Released in 1962, it was fortunately made before a sea change occurred amongst American liberals that caused them to despise the military — or as Hollywood screenwriter and PJTV alumnus Lionel Chetwynd was famously asked by a studio executive when he proposed a D-Day-style picture, “Who’s the real enemy?”

Many years later, when Chetwynd was a successful Hollywood writer specializing in historical dramas, he told the Dieppe story during a Malibu dinner party — as a sort of tribute to the men who died there so people could sit around debating politics at Malibu dinner parties. One of the guests was a network head who asked Chetwynd to come in and pitch the story.

“So I went in,” Chetwynd told me, “and someone there said, ‘So these bloodthirsty generals sent these men to a certain death?’

“And I said, ‘Well, they weren’t bloodthirsty; they wept. But how else were we to know how Hitler could be toppled from Europe?’ And she said, ‘Well, who’s the enemy?’ I said, ‘Hitler. The Nazis.’ And she said, ‘Oh, no, no, no. I mean, who’s the real enemy?’”

“It was the first time I realized,” Chetwynd continued, “that for many people evil such as Nazism can only be understood as a cipher for evil within ourselves. They’ve become so persuaded of the essential ugliness of our society and its military, that to tell a war story is to tell the story of evil people.”

The “Greatest Generation” phrase was invented by Tom Brokaw to put a Band-Aid over the wounds caused by his fellow leftists’ shameful treatment of the military starting in the Vietnam War. But for these men, the term was truly applicable.

Especially when compared to today’s generation. Or as Noah Rothman writes at Mediaite today:

Even the president’s allies in the media have taken to shaming these apolitical soldiers for correcting the record and embarrassing the White House in the process. “Did Sergeant Bergdahl desert the Army or did the Army desert him?” asked an inquisitive post published in Think Progress. You can guess the answer.

But the final act in this disgraceful production commenced on Friday when a number of world leaders gathered on the beaches of France to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the end of World War II. There, the blood of tens of thousands of young Allied men was remembered in interpretive dance.

Reminiscent of Olympic opening ceremonies, hundreds of performers descended on the beach where they gesticulated and gyrated in fashions supposedly evocative of the struggles endured by those soldiers who slogged across the battlefields of Europe. Playing the role of Meredith Vieira was NBC’s Todd, who helpfully explained to the audience that this or the other spasmodic display was actually representative of the 1943 invasion of Sicily or the French resistance movement. Who’d have guessed?

The headline on Rothman’s post is “D-Day Interpretive Dance Caps Off Month of Disrespect for Vets,” which sounds like something out of the Onion, but as British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge famously noted, there’s no way for any satirist to improve upon real life for its pure absurdity. And he said that a half century before MSNBC, the Obama administration, and its media defenders.

And interpretive dancing on the beaches of Normandy.

Update: In his commemoration to D-Day’s 70th anniversary, Mark Steyn writes, “I was listening to President Obama explain yesterday from Brussels that the deserter he brought home from the Taliban this week was just a ‘kid’. In fact, he’s 28 years old. I remember walking through the Canadian graves at Bény-sur-Mer a few years ago. Over two thousand headstones, but only a handful of ages inscribed upon them: 22 years old, 21, 20… But they weren’t ‘kids’, they were men.”

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