5th Piece of the Puzzle

In this activity, continue working on your final project.

Select a text that you wish to use in your final project and write a brief blog post explaining why you chose it and how you might use it.

For my final project, I would actually select two texts, both written by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the subject of the Normandy invasion. One was seen by thousands of troops, while the other remained (thankfully) unseen for years: Eisenhower’s letter to the troops and his in-case-of-failure draft announcement.

“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day (1944)

This letter is a very important primary source document concerning D-Day. American troops received this letter before landing in France. It is a message to the troops, but Eisenhower also knows this letter will certainly be reproduced in newspapers and, eventually, textbooks. This is one of those moments where the participant knows that “history has its eyes on you.” (Shameless¬†Hamilton plug there!) The letter has to balance optimism with realism, and I think Eisenhower straddles that line quite well. The rhetoric is heroic and soaring, meant to inspire a patriot to storm the beaches. It’s hard not to get swept up in his exclamation points and confident tone.

(If you listen to the audio recording of this speech, Eisenhower’s tone is more restrained and stilted than the letter implies. You can listen here.)

“In Case of Failure”

“In Case of Failure” Message

However, Eisenhower wrote a very different letter on June 5th, 1944. As the title implies, it was meant “in case of failure” of the invasion. Its tone is sobering. Because it is so short, I’ll quote the transcript here:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

It’s a really chilling document, and although it wasn’t distributed, it is another important primary source document because it is a window into Eisenhower’s state of mind.¬†In fact, Eisenhower was so stressed out that he wrote “July 5” instead of “June 5.” (Not surprising, since he was chain-smoking like crazy in the week leading up to this invasion.) It also is a rare glimpse into a “what if” scenario, usually not endorsed by historians but in this case useful to think about to understand Eisenhower’s motivations in writing this.

I like comparing these two documents because they show how the writing of one person can vary wildly, depending on circumstance. The two documents also prove that underneath the bravado of Eisenhower’s more famous letter lies apprehension and anxiety. The “in case of failure” letter also exposes the reality that history was once the present: Eisenhower didn’t know which way history would go, so he had to prepare for both scenarios. There is a wonderful presentism in both of these documents, an experience that can be hard to come by when studying history. Nothing is inevitable, which is a message I’m trying to convey with this “choose your own adventure” project: there are many possible outcomes in the moment.

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