Sunday, June 07, 2015

Perpetuating Our Myths of History

I saw this tweet today and started to wonder:
"To the thousands of young men who gave so much - Thank you. "The 6th June is not a day like others: it is not...
My first thought was, "Were they all young men?"  When I googled average age of D-Day soldiers I  got things like this (from The National WW II Museum):
"Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of America's 26th president and, at age 56, the oldest member of the assault forces, was with the first wave. He and other officers assessed the situation, then quickly made a decision, they changed the landing site to their location." 
 A 2009 story has the average age of vets at that year's D-Day memorial at nearly 85.  That would make their average age on D-Day 20.  But then these were the guys still alive and fit enough to attend the memorial 65 years later. 

A discussion board at onesixthnet had this:
The average age of an US GI in World War II was 26. In Vietnam it was 19. (the link to the statistics page didn't work)
Histclo had this to add:
"Congress after Pearl Harbor passed a new Selective Service Act which removed restrictions and extended the draft to men aged 18-38 years of age (briefly to 45 years). All men between 18-65 had to register. "

I guess if you're over 50, any guy under 40 is a young man.  In that sense, the tweet wasn't inaccurate.  But if the average age was 26, then a lot of them were over 30 as well.  And there was one who was 56.  The tweet would seem to leave them out.

And then there is this post at Huff Post today:  about the woman who landed on the beaches with the men.
Each news outlet could send only one person, and the Collier's nod went to a guy named Ernest Hemingway, who didn't work for the magazine but had a famous name. He also happened to be the estranged husband of Martha Gellhorn. When Hemingway asked for her slot, he got it. The boys in charge turned down all the women who applied, forcing them to take "no" for an answer.
But not Gellhorn. She took action -- or more specifically took to the toilet. She stowed away in a hospital ship bathroom. The 5000-vessel armada stretched as far as the eye could see, transporting the men and nearly 30,000 vehicles across the English channel to the French shoreline. When it came time to land, Gellhorn hit the beach disguised as a stretcher bearer. In the confusion, no one noticed she was a girl. (And just incidentally, she got there ahead of Hemingway.)

'Young men' captures a lot of the people who landed on the beaches on D-Day but it also perpetuates the myths we have.  Adding the nuances often makes for a less catchy tweet.  It also takes someone who will check his facts before just tweeting.  And

"To the thousands of men and the woman who gave so much - Thank you."  isn't particularly clumsy prose.  

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