An eminent historian's essays that portray Americans in the panorama of war
In the turbulent history of America each era
has been delineated by a war. Although World War II has
been the backdrop for most of his writing, perhaps no
other historian has focused on modern America at war so
strikingly as Stephen E. Ambrose.
In this fascinating collection of fifteen
essays Ambrose ranges over the many wars that have
enveloped Americans and depicts the personalities of
American leaders during wartime: Custer, Eisenhower,
Patton, Mac-Arthur, Franklin Roosevelt, and Nixon.
"All nations make war in their own way," he
says. "The American way is the theme of these
Two large subjects encompass his research:
First, he is fascinated by the experiences of those who
have gone to war, both the leaders and the led, and, as
he shows in "Just Dumb Luck: American Entry into
World War II," he is intrigued by men who make big
decisions or fail to make them. Generals alone don't win
wars. The infantrymen, as he points out in "SIGINT:
Deception and the Liberation of Western Europe,"
were responsible for winning World War II, not those who
were involved in intelligence operations. Soldiers who
break under strain ("My Lai: Atrocities in
Historical Perspective") also get his fair and
Although many of the pieces in this
collection focus on World War II, Ambrose also explores
the Civil War ("Struggle for Vicksburg: The Battles
and Siege that Decided the Civil War"), the Vietnam
War (an undertaking different from earlier American
wars), and war in general- actual wars of the past as
well as hypothetical wars ("War in the Twenty-first
Century"). He includes one of quite recent times
("The Cold War in Perspective") in which
fighting was not confined to the battlefield.
Because democracies employ teamwork, he
believes they are by far the most efficient governments
for the fighting of war. Ambrose writes that on occasion
he has changed his mind about certain big questions
("The Atomic Bomb and Its Consequences").
Should atomic bombs have been dropped on Japan? Changes
of opinion, he says, come during research, one of the
exciting features of studying history in a free country.
"We change our minds when confronted with new
evidence; they [Communist regimes] change their minds
when confronted with a new dictator."
Ambrose has the gift of making history come
alive. "If I told the story right, I could make them
want to know." One reads his profiles and feels
present as momentous issues are considered and decisions
made. His descriptions of battles and maneuvers allow the
reader to be a participant.
Stephen E. Ambrose was Director Emeritus of the
Eisenhower Center, Boyd Professor of History at the
University of New Orleans, and president of the National D-
Day Museum. He was the author of many books, most
recently The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation: From the
Louisana Purchase to Today. His compilation of 1,400 oral
histories from American veterans and authorship of over 20
books established him as one of the foremost historians of
the Second World War in Europe. He died October 13, 2002,
in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.