Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reading Now: Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day

By Richard K. Barry

This weekend, for no reason other than that I recently found it on a local used bookstore shelf, I am reading Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day. It is, of course, the famous history of the Allied landing in Europe on June 6, 1944.  The book was published in 1959. More people are probably familiar with the movie based on it, and of the same name, which came out in 1962. 

Perhaps I protest too much, but I find no contradiction being on the political left and yet fascinated by the history of war. No doubt there are books and films that glorify the endeavour in foolish, jingoistic, obnoxious ways. That sort of thing doesn't much interest me, thank you Sylvester Stallone. But well crafted accounts of women and men functioning under some of the most intense conditions imaginable should be of great interest to anyone concerned about the human condition. 

For example, I've recently been working my way through a collection of Martha Gellhorn's writings and read Steinbeck's Once There Was A War a while ago. But you might say that these are fine accounts by talented writers and not so much in the vein of Hollywood heroism that can be so annoying. Fair enough.

I don't know where you draw the line. Cornelius Ryan once said, "What I write about is not war but the courage of man." That may sound a bit over the top, but The Longest Day is written as a tale of survival, with little reference to the geo-political context and right and wrong. It is, in that way, very similar to The Band of Brothers HBO miniseries produced in the early 2000s, which I enjoyed immensely.

As I say, I may protest too much. Perhaps the line between glorifying war and graphically depicting the experiences of those who have had to endure it is clear enough. Maybe it never is. 

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