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Friday, August 14, 2009

The pity of war, the pity war distilled

On holiday in Brittany I had to hide "D-Day" by Anthony Beevor whenever the German family next door dropped round. I'm sure they think we're obsessed with the fifty year old past. I suppose I am. In my defence it's the way I was brought up, at the teat of the nation's sustaining myth. I can't claim to follow every thrust and counter thrust of the Normandy campaign. Earlier today I drove up through the bocage and tried to relate this peaceful, tidy landscape to the killing ground described in the book. I couldn't.

What I love in Beevor's books are the gripping details of human nature under unrepeatable duress. The mid-western farm boys who had little concept of a world beyond Kansas but were profoundly moved by the sight of Normandy cows desperate to be milked. The fact that the invaders stripped dead German soldiers naked for the souvenir value of their uniforms. And the head-spinning story of the three French whores who had set up a brothel in a burned-out landing craft on the invasion beach on the evening of D-Day.