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WWII sucks

One of the worrying things about WWII is the amount of misinformation out there - a sure sign that WWII historians aren't doing their job. I encountered two incidents in the last few days.

At the War Memorial on Saturday there was an elderly woman who was under the impression that the Dresden was the worst air raid of the war. It wasn't. The controversy about Dresden is not because it was so costly but about whether it was justified. She said that people can only go on what they have been told. Which apparently puts the responsibility on me.

The second was in a blog in a thoughtful discussion of the situation in Iraq. Comparing the situation in Iraq to that of Europe in 1944, there was a statement to the effect that there was no local resistance to the US Army in France in 1944. This is untrue; there were numerous acts of sabotage directed against US troops, especially during the Lorraine Campaign. A better known example is the British in Greece, who ran into a full scale civil war. "Liberation" is a nice sounding term that covers up a costly and messy reality that, like WWII in general, doesn't get anywhere near the study it deserves.

The Southwest Pacific has its share of this. I've got here a recently published book called Desert Sands, Jungle Lands about Major General Eather, written by a distant relative of the general's. It's not too bad, certainly a lot better than that one of Brigadier Potts a couple of years back that claimed that his success as a general was due to a private school education, and repeated the old yarn about the Battle of Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton. Honestly, how many of the people there do you think went to Eton? That book went straight into the recycling. This one is based principally on the man's diaries. The author has also read the war diaries of the units concerned.

There's one of the common misconceptions on page 129: In early 1943, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington issued General MacArthur with a directive for Operation Cartwheel This is completely true. The Joint Chiefs did indeed issue such a directive. But it is also misleading, promoting a top-down view of the war that was not the case. A reader could infer that the Joint Chiefs drew up the plan and ordered it carried out, but the plan was actually the work of MacArthur and his staff and others in the Southwest Pacific. Certain delegates from MacArthur's command took it to Washington where they met with the representatives of the other Pacific theatres and Joint Staff planners in what was known as the Pacific Military Conference. Debate centred around whether the resources that they claimed were required could be spared and in the end it was decided that they could not. The Joint Chiefs approved a directive authorising only the next stage of Cartwheel and sending some reinforcements. All the while, the operations in question were actually under way in both the South and South West Pacific theatres.