Friends and enemies
Four books of wartime history
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The Lost Airman: A True Story of Escape from Nazi-Occupied France
Seth Meyerowitz with Peter F. Stevens
Some among the French were brave during World War II. If you don’t believe that, read some of the numerous books about civilians in occupied France who sheltered downed Allied airmen. In this one, Seth Meyerowitz uses diaries, declassified reports, and interviews with elderly Frenchmen to piece together his late grandfather’s successful evasion from German capture in 1944, including several close calls in and around Toulouse. It’s a compelling story made a bit less so by instances of what almost has to be speculation on the authors’ part.
The Heart Mender: A Story of Second Chances
In a twist on The Lost Airman’s theme, Andy Andrews writes about an American widow during World War II who falls in love with a wounded German U-boat officer she finds washed up near her home off the Alabama coast. The story, Andrews writes, is true “for the most part,” but some parts must be pure speculation, such as the thoughts of a Nazi fanatic hours before his death. An otherwise lovely narrative gets bogged down at times with lectures on history and forgiveness—and Helen, the widow, really should have turned in Josef, an enemy combatant.
Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan
Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
This installment of O’Reilly’s “Killing” series provides a history of Harry Truman’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and gives the context behind that decision: Allies facing a sadistic enemy that was growing more fanatical as U.S. forces advanced. The authors maintain a readable narrative even as they describe Japanese atrocities and the horrors that soldiers, sailors, and marines faced. The book, though, suffers from a problem that afflicts some other popular histories of the Pacific War: too much MacArthur, not enough Nimitz.
My Fellow Soldiers: General John Pershing and the Americans Who Helped Win the Great War
Carroll tells the story of U.S. involvement in World War I in large part through letters home from the Americans involved—from Pershing down to privates and even civilians, such as volunteer ambulance drivers, who went “over there” before U.S. entry into the war. It’s fascinating to read the thoughts of the young officers and doughboys, including ones who would later become famous. Capt. Harry Truman, for example, gained a reputation for fearlessness under enemy shelling that scattered his unit. To fiancée Bess Wallace he gave the rest of the story: “I was too scared to run and that is pretty scared.”
The subtitle of Tom Clavin’s Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West (St. Martin’s, 2017) isn’t hyperbole. Cowboys in the 1870s arrived at the famous Kansas railhead after long cattle drives, and they had loaded guns and money to spend. Clavin recounts the details (without getting graphic) of how they spent the money: on whiskey, gambling, and ever-present prostitutes—and how the combination sometimes led to violence.
But the cowboys and the cattle drives were important to the city’s economy, and the mission of lawmen like Earp and Masterson was not so much to clean up Dodge as to keep the wickedness south of the “Dead Line” and to keep the city’s famous Boot Hill Cemetery from growing too quickly.
Bat comes across as having a bit higher character than his friend Wyatt. (Clavin credits Bat’s decision not to seek personal vengeance after cowboys killed his brother Ed—but instead arrest the suspects—as a defining moment in the taming of the Wild West.) But both Bat and Wyatt were committed to “lawing” when not making money, and Clavin gives an entertaining and measured account of their run-ins with an array of colorful outlaws. —T.L.
–Please read the next page in this issue’s special Summer Reading section: "Twists and turns"
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