Quote of the moment: Eisenhower’s astonishing D-Day leadership example, “Blame . . . is mine alone”

June 6, 2013

Eisenhower's unused statement on the failure of D-Day

Eisenhower’s contingency statement, in case D-Day failed – image from the National Archives

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.

In preparing for the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower carefully contemplated what would happen if the invasion failed.  What if the Germans repulsed the Allies, and no foothold was established to re-take the main body of Europe from the Germans?

Ike’s answer is a model of leadership:  He would take the blame.  Regardless what happened, Ike took full responsibility for the failure, giving credit to the soldiers who would have sacrificed in vain, perhaps their lives.

The Bathtub recently posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day — 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.

eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

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.

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.

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, sometimes too far, sometimes killing the pilots when the gliders’ cargo shifted on landing;  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); the bombing of the forts and pillboxes on the beaches, which failed because the bombers could not see their targets through the clouds.

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?  Who else in history would have written such a thing?  Is there any indication that Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, or any other commander of a great army in  a world-turning invasion, considered how to save and perhaps salve the reputation of his troops, though they had failed?

Leadership is more than just positive thinking.

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.  In history, little is perfect.  We can excuse his slip of the pen, considering what he had on his mind.

This is much of an encore post.

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General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

Another  angle of the meeting with the troops:  General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944.  Wikipedia image


Typewriter of the moment: Stanley Kubrick’s

June 6, 2013

Stanley Kubrick's typewriter on Instagram, from sophireaptress.

Stanley Kubrick’s typewriter used in “The Shining” on Instagram, from sophireaptress.

It’s an Adler, but Instagram isn’t built for details, you know?

The typewriter is probably on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Kubrick Exhibit, which closes June 30, 2013 (hurry!).

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Fly your flag today? Remembering D-Day, 1944 – 69 years ago

June 6, 2013

First Flag on Utah Beach, June 6, 1944

First Flag on Utah Beach, June 6, 1944 – Photo by Mark Wainwright

Today is the 69th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy in World War II, a date generally called D-Day.  I usually get at least one e-mail request:  No, you don’t have to fly your flag.  This is not one of the days designated by Congress for flag-flying.

But you may fly your flag, and probably, you should.  If there are any D-Day veterans in your town, they’ll appreciate it.

This is mostly an encore post.


Why it’s important to have accurate history and science on the internet: Don’t lie to kids about DDT

June 6, 2013

Great accomplishment by this kid from Hudson, Massachusetts — but troubling, too.  He’s winning a persuasive speech competition, persuading people against history, law and science, calling for a return of DDT.

Andrew Brandt of Hudson MA, persuasive speaking champion

Andrew Brandt of Hudson holds his winning certificate at the regional speech and debate tournament in New Hampshire in April. He was one of seven to advance to the national competition. (Photo/submitted)

Hudson – Andrew Barndt, 13, from Hudson will be traveling to Tulsa, Okla., in June to join more than 500 students competing in a National Speech and Debate Tournament.

Andrew has qualified to compete in the Persuasive Speech category with the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). Home-schooled students aged 12 to 18 compete at local and regional tournaments around the country in the winter and spring, culminating in the national tournament in June.

In April, at the regional tournament in Concord, N.H., 27 students competed in the Persuasive Speech category. Andrew’s speech, “DDT: What You Think You Know May Not Be So,” was one of seven chosen to move on the national competition.

According to the NCFCA, “a persuasive speech is an original platform speech that attempts to persuade the audience to adopt a particular point of view or course of action.”

A competitor will give a speech three times in front of different three-judge panels. Judges can be other parents, members of the community or former competitors. The judges rank them on 17 criteria, including: using outside evidence, relating a clear thesis, demonstrating a logical flow of ideas, incorporating proper vocal technique, having good energy level and making eye contact. The top candidates advance to a final round and the winners are decided. Winners receive a trophy and recognition on the NCFCA website.

Andrew will present his winning speech at the national competition held at Oral Roberts University June 18-22. His speech has three parts: debunking the myth of birds’ eggs being harmed due to DDT, disproving the claim that DDT causes cancer in humans, and pointing out that DDT has saved hundred of millions of lives by reducing mosquitoes that carry malaria. He concludes by urging his listeners to repeal the ban on DDT.

“I’m an avid birdwatcher,” Andrew said. “which is how I became familiar with DDT in the first place.”

According to his mother, Ann Barndt, Andrew also competes in debate. “This year he and his brother, Jonathan, 16, partnered together as a team,” she said. “However, their record was not high enough to advance.”

She said the brothers did enjoy preparing for the tournaments, researching various aspects of the this year’s topic, the United Nations. They plan to partner together again next year.

“As for my future, I’m still thinking about how to merge [bird watching] with a sustainable livelihood,” Andrew said.

For more information about the tournament, visit www.ncfca.org.

At the site of the Hudson Community Advocate, I offered what I hope is gentle but persuasive advice to the kid, from one old debater to another:

I commend the young man on his speaking prowess — but he needs a lot of help with his research chops.

1. Birds eggs are harmed by DDT; worse, that’s just one of four ways DDT kills birds. It also poisons chicks outright, in the eggs, poisons the adults (especially migratory birds), and it disrupts the nervous systems of chicks so that, even when they do hatch, they don’t survive.

2. Although it’s a weaker carcinogen, DDT is listed as a “suspected human carcinogen” by the American Cancer Society, CDC and WHO. DDT’s carcinogenic qualities were evidenced long after EPA banned its use because it kills wildlife systems.

3. While DDT played a role in defeating malaria in some countries, it was overused, and it ceased to be so effective as it was. However, malaria rates of infection and total deaths from malaria now are much, much lower than they ever were with DDT. Since malaria deaths are reduced by more than 75%, it’s incorrect math to claim millions died without DDT, wholly apart from the history.

3.1 DDT has never been banned for use against malaria, anywhere. The U.S. ban on DDT, in fact, allowed manufacturing to continue in the U.S., with all DDT dedicated to export. So the U.S. ban, which saved the bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and brown pelican, among others, also multiplied the amount of DDT available to fight malaria in Africa and Asia.

Andrew must be very, very persuasive, to persuade people that DDT, a deadly and mostly useless pollutant, should be revived. Good luck to him in his tournament, and good luck finding better sources next year.

Mr. Brandt must be excused, partly, for his error.  There remains a dedicated and well-funded disinformation assault on the reputation of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, on the World Health Organization, on malaria fighters, on scientists and “environmentalists,” and this assault largely succeeds in ruthlessly elbowing aside the facts in internet searches, and elsewhere.  Fox News still employs serial-prevaricator Steven Milloy whose assault hoaxes on Carson and science of DDT should be more legendary than they are.  So-called Christian organizations join the political fray, while Christians like the Methodists actually fight malaria with the Nothing But Nets campaign — the workers are too busy to crow, the crowers are too busy to fight malaria.  (One may wonder about this Christian debate group — it caters to the small band of home schoolers.  Their evidence standards aside — standards which would disqualify most of the claims against Rachel Carson and for DDT — one wonders how a speaker would fare in this competition,  who praised Rachel Carson and the EPA for banning DDT, and for keeping the ban.  Accuracy of information is not among the criteria to be used in judging.)

The problem with lying to kids is they often believe the lies.  This isn’t a case of scientific disputes, or conflicting studies or information.  Not a jot nor tittle of Rachel Carson’s research citations has ever been questioned.  What she wrote about DDT in 1962 remains valid today, supported by more than a thousand follow-up studies and contradicted by none.  The destructive nature of DDT on bird populations is not questioned by scientists nor experienced bird watchers.  Where did this well-intentioned kid get led so far astray?

Science communicators?  What’s the solution to this problem?

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