The Buy Of The Century

The generation that fought World War II also won a housing revolution that promised and delivered a home for $7,990

Years later, after the fall of his financial empire, William Levitt remembered with some satisfaction the story of a boy in Levittown, Long Island, who finished his prayers with “and God bless Mommy and Daddy and Mr. Levitt.” Levitt may well have belonged in this trinity. When he sold his company in 1968, more Americans lived in suburbs than in cities, making this the first suburban nation in history, and his family was largely responsible for that. Read more »

Battlefield Souvenir

It has been a disquieting presence on my bookshelf for twenty-six years now, in four houses and four apartments, a large, handsome volume, bound in white leather and stamped in gold. Its title, also in gold, is in Italian: Leonardo da Vinci S’ul Volo degli Ucelli (Leonardo Da Vinci on the Flight of Birds). It is copy number 152 of a limited edition of 300, and inside, on rich, creamy paper, Leonardo’s drawings and notes are beautifully reproduced and meticulously annotated. Read more »

A Short Walk On Guadalcanal

J. L. O. Tedder missed the battle, but his peacetime pursuits are heroic enough

Every so often one comes across a writer who should be awarded the literary equivalent of the Victoria Cross or the Medal of Honor—one who gazes into the jaws of a hellish assignment and goes forward, resolute paragraph after resolute paragraph, knowing that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, that the end will be cruel and the reward negligible. Read more »

Casablanca

Desperate improvisations in the face of imminent disaster saw us through the early years of the fight. They also gave us the war’s greatest movie.

America’s favorite World War II movie has led a charmed life. While it was being filmed, each looming disaster turned out to be a cleverly disguised blessing, and after its completion everything that could go right did go right. But of all the lucky accidents it enjoyed on its way to screen immortality, the fact that shooting began before there was a finished script may have been the most providential. Read more »

The Biggest Theater

Revisiting the seas where American carriers turned the course of history, a Navy man re-creates a time of frightful odds and brilliant gambles.

Some memories are good and some bad, but the fact is that they change over the years. All of us who were part of it can recall how angry we were about the war against the Axis Powers. We were mad at all of it: Pearl Harbor, enemy atrocities, everything. We were also angry on the personal level at the necessity of going to war, at the consequent disruptions to our lives, at the risks we had to take, the privations, and the all-pervading, constant fear. We hated it, or thought sincerely that we did.Read more »

What To Call It?

It took us longer to name the war than to fight it

Something began at 7:50 A.M. (Hawaiian time), Sunday, December 7, 1941. Most Americans seemed convinced it was World War II. But one man wasn’t so sure. And because he happened to be President of the United States, a lot of brainpower was diverted to the practicalities of nomenclature. Read more »

The Transatlantic Duel: Hitler Vs. Roosevelt

In 1941 the President understood better than many Americans the man who was running Germany, and Hitler understood Roosevelt and his country better than we knew

In the summer of 1940 the fate of the world depended on the duel between two men: Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. It was a duel of nerves, and of wills. Churchill carried it off, because Hitler finally chose not to invade Britain. But even before he made that decision, he and Churchill were aware that this was no longer a duel between the two of them. Before the fall of France, Hitler had gained an ally, Mussolini. Before the Battle of Britain Churchill had gained the support of Roosevelt.Read more »

Secret Treason

He wanted only what every journalist of the time did: an exclusive interview with the Duke of Windsor. What he got was an astonishing proposition that sent him on an urgent top-secret visit to the White House and a once-in-a-lifetime story that was too hot to print—until now.

It was, said one of the few people who knew about it, “the greatest news story on earth.” It belonged exclusively to my father, a prolific writer, but he knew it could not be published. The story presented an appalling picture of the former King of England, the Duke of Windsor. It contained dreadful secrets, including an urgent proposal for President Franklin Roosevelt, a message so damning and dangerous that my father actually feared for his life after he had delivered it.Read more »

My Guns

A MEMOIR OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Seeking the answer to a simple and terrible question: What was it like?

I was born in 1944, toward the middle of October, when a lot of people were getting killed for me, or blown up, or shot, or captured, or worse. Worse? “The shell hit him about here,” said a veteran not long ago, remembering that time and place; “he disappeared.” Read more »

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 »