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THE START OF World War 2 woke me up early on the morning of September 1, 1939. A newsboy in the street below was squawking, "Extra, Extra!" My twin brother, Jim, and I leaned out the dormer windows of our upstairs bedroom in Pekin, Illinois (halfway between Chicago and St. Louis), and learned the news that would shape the world-and, 62 years later, this book.
Fascination with the war has reached a peak of sorts this year. It seems to have started in 1998 with Saving Private Ryan and Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation books. And now the war is being celebrated, if that is the word, by other movies (Pearl Harbor, etc.), other books, an HBO television series, a new museum in New Orleans and an unseemly quarrel over the location of a World War 2 monument in Washington, D.C.
I seem to have been preparing myself to edit this book for most of my life. I remember precisely where I was at the critical moments of the war: listening intently to the radio on December 7, 1941, after asking the question so many Americans asked: "Where is Pearl Harbor?" In 1944, at the age of 15, I went to work for a daily newspaper and followed D-Day, VE-Day and VJ-Day-and everything in between-on the United Press Teletype in our office. We were alerted to breaking stories by a bell in the machine: one ding for a bulletin, five dings for a flash (D-Day). The entire staff hurried to read the story when that bell sounded (a very Pavlovian reaction).
In fact, only staff members were allowed near the Teletype, according to a sign on the wall nearby. It was a War Department regulation. Advance notice of military developments was sometimes sent to help editors plan their editions, and this was inside news that visiting "civilians" weren't supposed to know.
Whatever self-importance that gave me quickly evaporated, however, when I occasionally was assigned to write a story about a Pekin boy who had been killed. It meant calling the family, asking a mother or father about their dead son, wondering if they had a photograph. The courage of those families, the clear conviction that he had died in a noble cause, has stayed with me ever since.
After the war, I (and my twin) enlisted in the Navy, and I spent 18 months on a light cruiser, the USS Dayton (CL-105), mostly in the Mediterranean. The shooting was still going on in a few places: We were fired on by Greek Communists in the hills outside Athens, and one of our Sixth Fleet destroyers rammed an unswept World War 2 mine in the Adriatic, killing several sailors.
What impressed me most, however, was the appalling residue of war: the ruined villages of Italy and France and North Africa, with only a single lane of the main street cleared of rubble; the sad, sunken ships in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt; the acres of temporary cemeteries at what seemed like every turn of the road. Many years later, after all those villages had long been rebuilt and the dead sent home, I was stationed as a journalist in Europe and marveled at buildings in cities like Leningrad and Munich that still carried shrapnel gouges from the war.
All of these impressions and memories were stored up inside me when we began work on this book. Our search for photographs, under the direction of picture editor Christina Lieberman, covered the globe. We found amazing coverage of the Soviet war in a collection in London, where the Imperial War Museum was also a treasure trove. The Australians turned out to have fine photographs, unfamiliar to us, of the South Pacific. The Germans were cooperative; the Japanese less so, but that attitude is consistent with their minimal acknowledgment of the events of the period. The Life archive at home yielded great pictures that were part of the magazine's superlative but, back then, routine weekly coverage.
The bravery of the photographers who created this book is impossible to exaggerate. Readers should constantly remind themselves that when many of these pictures were made, the air was filled with the deadly buzz of bullets, the boom of incoming artillery, the screams of the wounded. And yet the photographers poked up their heads or, at the very least, their cameras to do their jobs. I have been in combat (with the Israeli Army), and I confess with no embarrassment that when mortar rounds landed nearby, I thought only of self-preservation and dove into a bunker. The photographer with me stayed aboveground to document the pandemonium.
In addition to the 665 photographs, our book offers eight original essays on the war, its origins and its aftermath. The authors are eminent historians. I was struck by some of their personal memories of the war. John Eisenhower, who writes on 1945, inquired first about 1944 as a possible subject. When I explained that the year had already been assigned, he genially remarked: "Well, it's just as well. I guess I shouldn't do 1944 because then I'd have to write about Dad." Dad, I realized after a moment's reflection, was Supreme Commander (and later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower, and it was a shock to hear this mythic historical figure referred to in such a simple, loving way. The author who accepted the 1944 chapter, Sir John Keegan, recalled to me in vivid terms the awesome roar of American planes flying low over his home in southeastern England on D-Day.
If there is any lesson in this book, for America at least, it is one you've heard before but which bears repeating: the astounding way the country rallied, from farm to factory to kitchen to battlefield, to help subdue a monstrous tyranny. It was our finest hour too. Now, what can we do in the 21st century to reignite that feeling of purpose and dedication and triumph?
Excerpted from Life: World War II by Richard B. Stolley Copyright © 2001 by Time, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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|Editor's Note: "It Was America's Finest Hour Too"||6|
|1919-1939: All Roads Led to War||9|
|Four Blunders That Doomed the World||10|
|1940: France Falls and Britain Teeters||49|
|Hitler's Generals Are Astounded||50|
|Then/Now: The Soviet Union: Rise and Fall||70|
|Biography: Winston Churchill: British Bulldog||80|
|1941: Finally, America Is Forced Into War||87|
|The Killing Moves Around the Planet||88|
|Biography: General Erwin Rommel: Martial Artist||98|
|Then/Now: Crimes Against Humanity: Defining Justice||102|
|Biography: Franklin D. Roosevelt: Wartime Mr. President||136|
|1942: Two Victories Reverse the Momentum||141|
|The Beginning Comes to an End||142|
|Biography: The Sullivan Brothers: Brave Men||164|
|Then/Now: The United Nations: Keeping the Peace||174|
|Biography: Joseph Stalin: Russian Man of Steel||184|
|1943: From Atoll to Air, the War Grinds On||197|
|A Deadly Game of Leapfrog||198|
|Then/Now: The Rise of Airpower: Flight and Fight||208|
|Biography: Benito Mussolini: Italy's Fascist Father||234|
|Biography: Richard Ira Bong: American Flying Ace||240|
|1944: Tyranny on the Brink of Defeat||247|
|A Desperate Last-Ditch Resistance||248|
|Biography: Charles de Gaulle: A Nation's Savior||276|
|Then/Now: Women in the Workplace: Rosie Remembered||280|
|Biography: Richard Sorge: Seductive Soviet Spy||296|
|1945: Splitting Atoms End the War||303|
|The Invasion That Never Was||304|
|Then/Now: The Founding of Israel: Promised Land||326|
|1946-2001: The War's Aftermath||341|
|Red Scares, Baby Harvest, Fatter Paychecks and Learning to Pull Together||341|
|Index to Pictures||348|
Posted August 27, 2002
Posted January 25, 2002
I just got this book this afternoon, and can not close it! This is a definate must-have book for any household. What a great momento of our times and those before us! I would recommend this book to anyone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.