Not even so much as a scratch in the dust

“Writing a book is usually a humdrum affair. You read a lot of other books and articles in your field, produce a draft, polish it, send it out, wait anxiously for reviews, gnash your teeth over the reviews (or the lack of reviews), compulsively check the book’s Amazon ranking for a month or so, and finally sink back into oblivion and despair, vowing never to write another one.” – George Scialabba

Nothing and everything

“Nothing is so beautiful, marvelous, ever new, ever surprising, so full of sweet and continual delight, as the good. Nothing is so barren and dismal, monotonous and boring as evil. That is the way with real good and evil. Fictional good and evil are quite the opposite, though. Fictional good is boring and flat. Fictional evil is varied, interesting, attractive, profound, and seductive. This is because in reality, there is a necessity, like gravity, governing us that is missing in fiction.” – Simone Weil, “Literature and Morals”

Just go back to sleep

“More than anything else, what makes totalitarianism possible is a people’s submissiveness to authority: its slowness to perceive and unwillingness to resist injustices committed not by distant villains and official enemies but at home, by those with the power to make resistance dangerous.” – George Scialabba, “An Enemy of the State”

Nice work if you can get it

“Don’t come to work just for the paycheck. You want to be challenged, you want to learn, and you want to grow. Break out of your comfort zone and keep an open mind. As long as you’re in a position where you’re expanding your mind and learning new things, you’re going to be fulfilled.” – Nicole Guyer McMurrian, E-Discovery Project Manager

Liberation celebration

“[Colonel] Howze at twilight led a tank company toward the central rail station to find boulevards empty and windows shuttered. Then a sash flew open, a voice shrieked ‘Americano!,’ and Romans by the thousands swept into the streets despite the occasional ping from a sniper round. Delirious citizens flung themselves on to Howze’s jeep and ‘kissed me until I threatened to shoot some of them,’ he reported. ‘Vino offered in glasses, in pitchers, in bottles, and even in kegs,’ the 88th Division noted. “Kisses were freely bestowed by both male and female citizens and suffered or enjoyed by the recipients accordingly.’ Signoras offered plates of spaghetti and bowls of hot shaving water. Italian men with ancient rifles and red sashes clapped their liberators on the back, then stalked off in search of Germans and fascists. Communists and Blackshirts traded potshots, and the pop of pistol fire near the colosseum signaled another summary execution.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle (emphasis in original)

New positions opening all the time

“All troops were at risk, but none more than infantrymen, who accounted for 14 percent of the Army’s overseas strength and sustained 70 percent of the casualties. A study of four infantry divisions in Italy found that a soldier typically no longer wondered ‘whether he will be hit, but when and how bad.’ The army surgeon general concluded that ‘practically all men in rifle battalions who were not otherwise disabled ultimately became psychiatric casualties,’ typically after 200 to 240 cumulative days in combat. ‘There aren’t any iron men,’ wrote Brigadier General William C. Menninger, a prominent psychiatrist. ‘The strongest personality, subjected to sufficient stress a sufficient length of time, is going to disintegrate.’ ” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle (emphasis in original)

The hand of fate is on me now

“Everything is in the hands of the fates, and many of the boys have met theirs already. I badly want to get home to my wife and son. I want to be able to enjoy something of the beauty of life again. Here we have nothing but terror and horror, death and damnation.” Unidentified German machine gunner (quoted by Rick Atkinson in The Day of Battle)

All watched over by virgins of loving grace

“The Guards’ command post occupied the crypt beneath a Catholic church, entered only on hands and knees through a hole scratched in the rubble. A decomposing German soldier lay near the entrance and those passing in and out would subsequently bow to him for luck, whispering, ‘Good evening, Hans.’ Shell fire and bombs had sliced open the burial vaults in the upper walls, scattering skeletons about the nave, and Tommies hung flypaper in a losing battle against insects. Pickets occupied three forward outposts, known as Jan, Helen, and Mary, in wrecked buildings barely a hundred yards from the German line. Sentries cradled their Bren guns beneath cockeyed wall prints of the Virgin, whose eyes remained fixed on heaven.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

Matters worth fighting over

“Berlin had always considered Mussolini to be weak-kneed on the Jewish question, and on September 24, 1943, with the Duce reduced to a pathetic puppet, the Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, secretly ordered the Gestapo chief in Rome, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, to arrest all Jews in the city. The thirty-five-year-old Kappler, gray-eyed son of a Stuttgart chauffeur, had lived in Rome since 1939. He was described as ‘intolerant, cold, vengeful, unhappily married and with interests in Etruscan vases, roses, and photography’; when he grew annoyed, the dueling scar on his cheek reddened. Two days later, Kappler gave Jewish community leaders thirty-six hours to deliver fifty kilograms of gold or face the deportation of two hundred men. On September 28, a convoy of taxis and private cars pulled up to the Gestapo headquarters at Via Tasso 155 with the ransom, which was laid on a scale pan amid much haggling over the last gram. Three weeks later, at dawn on Saturday, October 16, storm troopers swept through the Roman ghetto anyway, seizing twelve hundred Jews; sixteen of them survived the war. Most were promptly shipped to Auschwitz and gassed, including an infant born after the roundup. Mussolini on December 1 ordered the arrest of ‘all Jews living in the national territory.’ Italians showed admirable pluck in sheltering Jewish compatriots: nearly five thousand hid in Roman convents, monasteries, and the Vatican. More than forty thousand Jews in Italy would survive the war; nearly eight thousand perished.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

Not a glamour shot

“Daily life in combat units resolved itself into noise, filth, isolation, confusion, fatigue, and mortality; everything else seemed extraneous. Soldiers distrusted the gung ho, the cocksure, and anyone less miserable than themselves. ‘We learned to live as perhaps once we were long ago, as simply as animals without hope for ourselves or pity for another,’ wrote John Muirhead, a B-17 crewman. The conceits of fate, destiny, and God comforted some, but believers and nonbelievers alike rubbed their crucifixes and lucky coins and St. Christopher medals with a suspicion, as Muirhead said, that ‘one is never saved for long.’ They saw things that seared them forever: butchered friends, sobbing children, butchered children, sobbing friends.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

Adults only

“At 3:30 p.m. on February 7 [1944], a Luftwaffe bomber chased by a Spitfire jettisoned five antipersonnel bombs over the 95th Evacuation Hospital, where four hundred patients lay in ward tents. Newly wounded soldiers had just arrived by ambulance, and operating rooms were jammed when flame and steel swept the compound. . . .  Twenty-eight died, including three nurses, two doctors, and six patients; another sixty-four were wounded, and the blasts shredded twenty-nine ward tents. . . . ‘God help us,’ a 1st Armored Division mess sergeant prayed after the hospital bombing. ‘You come yourself. Don’t send Jesus. This is no place for children.’ ” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

But it still takes so long

“Before the war, only nine black Americans possessed commercial pilot certificates, and fewer than three hundred had private licenses. Training began at Tuskegee Army Air Field in July 1941; the first pilots received their wings the following spring, then waited a year before deploying to North Africa as the only black AAF unit in a combat zone. Commanding the squadron was Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the thirty-year-old son of the Army’s sole black general. Young Davis at West Point had endured four years of silence from classmates who refused to speak to him because of his race, reducing him to what he called ‘an invisible man.’ From that ordeal, and from the segregated toilets, theaters, and clubs at Tuskegee, Davis concluded that blacks ‘could best overcome racist attitudes through their achievements,’ including prowess in the cockpit.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

Going to the mountaintop

“Under pressure from black civic leaders and a crying need for fighters, three black Army divisions had been created: the 2nd Cavalry, which arrived in North Africa only to be disbanded to provide service troops; the 93rd Infantry, shipped to the Pacific; and the 92nd Infantry, which would arrive in Italy in late summer 1944 as the only African-American division to see combat in Europe. Officered above the platoon level almost exclusively by whites, the 92nd would endure trials by fire that only partly involved the Germans. Training was halted for two months to teach the men to read, since illiteracy in the division exceeded 60 percent. A black veteran later described ‘an intangible, elusive undercurrent of resentment, bitterness, even despair and hopelessness among black officers and enlisted men in the division.’ ” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

Studies reveal . . .

“Among the prevalent stereotypes was a belief that blacks were too dumb, too lazy, or too apathetic to serve as combat troops. An Army study decried their ‘lack of education and mechanical skill,’ as well as ‘a venereal rate eight to ten times that of white troops, a tendency to abuse equipment, lack of interest in the war, and particularly among northern troops a concern for racial ‘rights,’ which often culminated in rioting.’ In the summer of 1943, only 17 percent of black soldiers were high school graduates, compared with 41 percent of whites. In Army tests that measured educational achievement rather than native intelligence, more than four in five blacks scored in the lowest two categories compared to fewer than one in three whites.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

Fear of flying

“The 1940 Draft Act banned racial discrimination, but only 250 blacks sat on the nation’s 6,400 draft boards; most southern states forbade any African-American board members. White America’s treatment of the hundreds of thousands of black volunteers and draftees ranged from unfortunate to despicable. The Mississippi congressional delegation asked the War Department to keep all black officers out of the state for the duration. Discrimination and segregation remained the rule in military barracks, churches, swimming pools, libraries, and service clubs. German and Italian prisoner trustees could use the post exchange at Fort Benning, Georgia; black U.S. Army soldiers could not.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle (emphasis in original)

High flight

“The brightest news awaiting [General] Clark at Anzio was not on the beachhead but a mile above it. On January 27 and 28 [1944], an obscure fighter unit, known formally as the 99th Fighter Squadron (Separate), made its first significant mark in combat with guns blazing, shooting down twelve German aircraft. . . . [T]he contributions of a couple dozen black pilots—known collectively as the Tuskegee airmen, after the Alabama field where they had learned to fly—would resonate beyond the beachhead, beyond Italy, and beyond the war.” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle

Breaking it all down

“Much had been learned through hard experience in Tunisia about caring for casualties, and the fleet was provisioned on the assumption that the assault force would suffer 15 percent wounded and sick in the first week. A chart distributed to medics helped assess what proportion of a man’s body surface had been burned—4.5 percent if both hands were burned, 13.5 percent for both arms, and so forth; 500 cc of blood plasma would be administered for each 10 percent. For those beyond such ministrations, the convoys carried six tons of grave markers, as well as stamp pads to fingerprint the dead. A thirteen-page ‘graves registration directive’ showed how to build a cemetery—‘care should be taken so that graves are in line with one another, both laterally and longitudinally.’ A memo on the disposition of a dead soldier’s effects advised, ‘Removal should be made of any article that would prove embarrassing to his family.’ ” – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle