By Max Hastings
PROPAGANDA IS AN inescapable ingredient of modern conflict. In the Second World War, it was considered essential for the struggle to defeat the German army that the peoples of the Grand Alliance should be convinced of the qualitative superiority of their fighting men to those of the enemy. One dogface or one tommy was worth three wooden-headed krauts. Hitler’s robots could never match the imagination and initiative of Allied soldiers on the battlefield.
The image of the European war conveyed to the American and British public at home was of dogged, determined Allied soldiers struggling against odds towards final victory: “Forget about the glorified picture of fighting you have seen in the movies,” declared a characteristic war correspondent’s dispatch to The New York Times, “The picture you want to get into your mind is that of plugging, filthy, hungry, utterly weary young men straggling half- dazed and punch-drunk, and still somehow getting up and beating the Germans.” An American pilot was reported telling Bob Hope: “It would be nice . . . to get home . . . and stretch my legs under a table full of Mother’s cooking . . . but all I want to do is beat these Nazi sons-of- bitches so we can get at those little Jap bastards.”
Most men of the Allied armies were openly contemptuous of the fantasies about themselves peddled by correspondents, with such notable exceptions as Bill Mauldin and Ernie Pyle. This reaction makes it more remarkable that for a generation after the moment of victory in 1945, so many myths were perpetuated not only by popular historians, but within the military institutions of the West.
[Max Hastings has written 10 books, including “Overlord: DDay, June 6 and 1944.” May 5, 1985]