Excerpt from Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Citizen Soldiers

The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945

by Stephen Ambrose

Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 1997, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 1999, 255 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter 14
Jerks, Sad Sacks, Profiteers, and Jim Crow

The GIs in ETO were highly selected in age and physical health, somewhat selected in intelligence, well disciplined. The Army's training system added inches to their chests and leg and arm muscles. It also instilled a sense of responsibility, along with a fear of the consequences of disobeying an order, not to mention criminal behavior: nicely summed up in the old drill sergeant's saying, "The Army can't make you do something, but it sure as hell can make you wish you had." It also did a good job of recognizing and promoting talented young men who were capable of standing the stress and leading effectively.

War brings out the best in many men, as the tiny sample of the men of ETO quoted or cited in this book testifies. To generalize, a large majority of the GIs in Northwest Europe in 1944-45 did their best at whatever they did, and in most cases they discovered that they were capable of doing far more than they had ever imagined possible. Thousands of men between twenty and twenty-five years of age responded to the challenge of responsibility magnificently. They matured as they led and, if they survived, they succeeded in their postwar careers. In one way, they were lucky: only in the extremity of total war does a society give so much responsibility for life-and-death decision-making to men so young. Together, the junior officers and NCOs who survived the war were the leaders in building modern America. This was in some part thanks to what they had learned in the Army, primarily how to make decisions and accept responsibility.

The Army was unlike civilian society in most ways, but ETO and the home front were together in their shared sense of "we." It was a "we" generation, as in the popular wartime saying, "We are in this together." In the Army, this general attitude was greatly reinforced. The social bond within the Army was like an onion. At the core was the squad, where bonding could be almost mystical.

Lt. Glenn Gray (after the war a professor of philosophy) put it well: "Organization for a common and concrete goal in peacetime organizations does not evoke anything like the degree of comradeship commonly known in war. At its height, this sense of comradeship is an ecstasy. Men are true comrades only when each [member of the squad] is ready to give up his life for the other, without reflection and without thought of personal loss."

After the squad came succeeding layers, the platoon, company, on up to division, all covered by the loose outermost layers of corps and army. The sense of belonging meant most GIs wouldn't dream of stealing from or cheating a buddy within the squad or company, or of slacking off on the job, whether as front-line infantry or driving a truck.

But the Army was so big -- eight million men at its peak, from a low of 165,000 four years earlier -- and put together so quickly, that thousands of sharp operators and sad sacks, criminals and misfits, and some cowards made it through the training process and became soldiers in ETO. Some were junior officers in infantry divisions and the price for their incompetence was casualties. More were rear-echelon soldiers, completely free of a sense of "we," who in one way or another took advantage of the opportunities presented by the war.

Joseph Heller's character Milo Minderbender in Catch-22 is an exaggeration, but not an invention. The United States was sending to Europe colossal quantities of goods. Given the amounts involved and the constant need for haste, there was a vulnerability that a few soldiers found irresistible. More than a few, really -- the figures on stolen goods are staggering. The matériel for the Americans fighting in Italy came in through the port of Naples. It came in day and night -- weapons, ammunition, rations, fuel, trucks, electrical, equipment, and much more. Every item was eagerly sought on the black market. One-third of all the supplies landed in Naples was stolen. In Italy, once an entire train carrying supplies to the front simply disappeared.

Copyright © 1997 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...
  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...
  • Book Jacket: Dadland
    Dadland
    by Keggie Carew
    In her notable debut, Keggie Carew examines the life of her father Tom, a decorated war hero whose ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Read the best books first...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -