A Place To Be Lousy In

The American army that beat Hitler was thoroughly professional, but it didn’t start out that way. North Africa was where it learned the hard lessons—none harder than the disaster at Kasserine. This was the campaign that taught us how to fight a war.

There was no light. Most of the soldiers in the boats couldn’t see anything, but they knew they must be close because the wind offshore brought the smell of charcoal smoke and dry grass. The first assault troops landed sometime after eight bells. The only sounds they heard were the metallic jingle of their gear and the crunch of their boots on the wet beach. Two shore-based searchlights snapped open to look for aircraft. It took a moment for the enemy to realize that danger was coming at them not from the sky but from the sea.Read more »

The Lion Caged

An outstanding American historian follows Winston Churchill through a typical day during his political exile in the 1930s and uses that single twenty-four-hour period to reveal the character of the century’s greatest Englishman in all its complexity. See Churchill lay bricks, paint a landscape, tease his dinner guests, badger his secretaries, dictate a history, make up a speech, write an article (that’s how he earns his living), refuse his breakfast because the jam has been left off the tray, refight the Battle of Bull Run, feed his fish, drink his brandy, fashion a “bellyband” to retrieve a particularly decrepit cigar, recite all of “Horatius at the Bridge,” take two baths—and await with noisy fortitude the day when he will save the world.

THE GREAT SANCTUARY Read more »

The Dangerous Summer of 1940

For a few weeks Hitler came close to winning World War II. Then came a train of events that doomed him. An eloquent historian reminds us that however unsatisfactory our world may be today, it almost was unimaginably worse.

In the summer of 1940 Adolf Hitler could have won the Second World War. He came close to that. Had he won, we would be living in a world so different as to be hardly imaginable. So let us contemplate that dangerous summer. It was then that the shape of the world in which we now live began to take form. Read more »

Why We Didn’t Use Poison Gas in World War II

In a conflict that saw saturation bombing, Auschwitz, and the atom bomb, poison gas was never used in the field. What prevented it?

Forty years ago, on August 6 and 9, 1945, American B-29s dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing at least 110,000 and possibly 250,000 Japanese and speeding that nation’s surrender. During four years of bitter fighting, World War II had become for the United States virtually total war, in which morality had slowly been redefined to allow the intentional bombing of civilians. Read more »

“To Bring You The Picture Of Europe Tonight…”

In 1938 the European correspondent for CBS was in Austria when the Nazis marched in. He wanted to tell the world about it—but first he had to help invent a whole new kind of broadcasting.

I FIRST MET ED MURROW at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin on Friday, August 27, 1937, He had sent me a telegram three days earlier inviting me to dinner. I was not in the best of moods. After three years as a newspaper correspondent in Berlin, I was out of a job, very nearly broke, and my wife.Tess, was pregnant. Read more »

The News Reaches Churchill

The scene is not America, it is London. It is late evening of December 7, 1941, and Winston Churchill has just heard the news of Pearl Harbor. “So we had won after all,” he said, “England would live, Britain would live; the Commonwealth and the Empire would live.… Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious we should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end. Hitler’s fate was sealed, Mussolini’s fate was sealed.” The next day he went to the House of Commons to make the announcement.Read more »

Churchill’s Dream

The great man’s daughter-in-law draws a portrait of the statesman at the top of his career and at the bottom

FOR A SHORT, fierce time during the war, I knew Winston Churchill very well. After the war and until his death, I saw him less often. But my memories of him at the height of his power have never left me. Winston Churchill was, above all, a romantic whose power lay in his capacity to shape the world to his vision. He led men and women to outdo themselves, to accomplish far more than they had thought they could.Read more »

Winston Churchill And “the Natural Captain Of The West”

Fifty years after FDR first took office, a British statesman and historian evaluates the President’s role in the twentieth century’s most important partnership

Franklin Roosevelt was, and remains, a hero to the British. During his rise to power we were detached from and ignorant of American internal politics to an extent that is not easily imaginable today. The Atlantic in the twenties and thirties was still very wide. The majority, including those politically involved and informed, never crossed it. Very few did so frequently.Read more »

What If?

Conjectural or speculative history can be a silly game, as in “What if the Roman legions had machine guns?” But this historian argues that to enlarge our knowledge and understanding it sometimes makes very good sense to ask …

What if any of the pre-Civil War Presidents had gone mad?

What if Andrew Johnson had been successfully impeached?

What if William McKinley had not been assassinated?

What if there had been no tape-recording system in Nixon’s White House? Read more »

Truman At Potsdam

His newly discovered diary reveals how the President saw the conference that ushered in the Cold War

For the past year and a half, Robert H. Ferrell, a diplomatic historian at Indiana University, has been at work among President Harry S. Truman’s newly opened private papers at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Early last year, working with Erwin J. Mueller, an extraordinarily able library archivist, he uncovered a hitherto unknown personal journal kept sporadically by the President during the 1945 Big Three Conference at Potsdam, Germany. Scribbled on miscellaneous scraps of paper—White House stationery, lined sheets from a tablet, note paper picked up aboard the U.S.S.Read more »