Quote of the Moment: Eisenhower, duty and accountability

June 13, 2007

Eisenhower's unused

This quote actually isn’t a quote. It was never said by the man who wrote it down to say it. It carries a powerful lesson because of what it is.

A few days ago I posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy to establish the toehold in Europe the Allies needed to march to Berlin, and to end World War II in Europe. As a charge to the troops, it was okay — Eisenhower-style words, not Churchill-style, but effective enough. One measure of its effectiveness was the success of the invasion, which established the toe-hold from which the assaults on the Third Reich were made.

When Eisenhower wrote his words of encouragement to the troops, and especially after he visited with some of the troops, he worried about the success of the operation. It was a great gamble. Many of the things the Allies needed to go right — like weather — had gone wrong. Victory was not assured. Defeat strode the beaches of Normandy waiting to drive the Allies back into the water, to die. [Photo shows Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, on the eve of the invasion. It was these men whose courage he lauded. Update: Someone “took hostage” the photo I linked to — a thumbnail version is appended; I leave the original link in hopes it might be liberated] eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

Eisenhower wrote a second statement, a shorter one. This one was directed to the world. It assumed the assault had failed. In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own).

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.
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National History Day live webcast, June 14 (2008)

June 13, 2007

8:30 a.m. Eastern time, here: http://www.history.com/classroom/nhd/

Here’s the History Channel blurb:

National History Day – Live Webcast
Thursday, June 14th at 8:30am ET

National History Day is a year-long education program that engages students in grades 6-12 in the process of discovery and interpretation of historical topics. Students produce dramatic performances, imaginative exhibits, multimedia documentaries and research papers based on research related to an annual theme. Click the links [on the History Channel site] to view the Awards Ceremony during a LIVE Webcast on Thursday, June 14th at 8:30am [EDT]. The History Channel is a proud sponsor of National History Day.


Accuracy, more valuable than gold

June 13, 2007

When was the last time you saw something like this, “This is the way science should always work,” in a history journal?

If it were your error, would you be big enough to publicize it loud and far, as Dr. Hall has done?

Is there some medal for honesty that we could award Dr. Hall?


“Mister! Let’s watch a movie!”

June 13, 2007

Especially near the end of the school year, every teacher gets requests to “show a movie.” My collection of videos on specific history events is not what they have in mind. Short subjects related to the course don’t qualify, either.

The kids want an escape from classwork. I just can’t justify it.

But there have been times that I wondered whether a movie wouldn’t be appropriate to explain some part of history or economics. For example, in one economics class, the entire group was stumped by the concept of a “run on the bank,” of the sort that prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to declare the “bank holiday” in March 1933. I wished at that moment that I had a copy of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to show both the economic conditions that prevailed in much of America at the time, and to show what a run on a bank looks like.

Then I started wondering about all the other stuff that movie could illustrate.

I’ve never used it.

But I stumbled on this site, Teach with Movies, which features a set of lesson plans and other material to use with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The site claims to have lesson plans for 270 movies. There is a membership charge, but it’s a charge clearly aimed at encouraging teachers to buy: $11.99.

I had a principal who complained about showing videos — which struck me as very odd — and his complaints escalated until he passed out copies of copyright rules. In discussion, it finally became clear to me that he was opposed to running Hollywood, entertainment movies in classes. He didn’t bother to distinguish between my showing of the life of Theodore Roosevelt from PBS from “Beverly Hills Cop” — but he’s gone. I find I share his general revulsion for just slapping in a Hollywood movie to keep the kids quiet.

In the last year I’ve been asked to step in to show “Hitch” in a business communication class, and “The Money Pit” in a Spanish class. “Iron Monkey” could be related to world geography. These exercises generally are wastes of time, and of course, money.

But I also was asked to monitor a showing of “Charley” for a psychology class, and “Napoleon” for a world history class. The psychology class had several questions to pursue closely related to the course; the kids were generally lulled to sleep by Napoleon.

But why not, with careful groundwork, show “It’s a Wonderful Life” in economics, as supplement to the units on banking, the depression, the creation of the Fed, and general history?

Teach with Movies? Great idea. Have you used this site? Anybody know how well it works?


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