>> now our booktv from the 13th annual national book festival on the national mall in washington d.c. pulitzer prize-winning historian rick atkinson presents his book "the guns at last light" the war in western europe 1944-45. >> and now to our author and our speaker, rick atkinson. rick served as a reporter foreign correspondent and senior editor of the "washington post" for 25 years. it's my personal misfortune that i arrived too late as opposed to work with them. he is rightly regarded as one of the most distinguished journalists of our time. his talent as a writer and a reporter and his unparalleled expertise in military affairs were a gift to the post and to
our readers. yet with his latest book rick reminds us again that his gifts continue only indifferent form as an historian. "the guns at last light" the war in western europe 1944-45 is the final installment in his trilogy about world war ii. he dedicated nearly 15 years of his life to
these three remarkable volumes. "the los angeles times" has called the liberation trilogy quote of massive use of reporting and powerful to storytelling. a tapestry of fabulous richness and complexity. the "washington post" reviewer describes the pros as achingly sublime. now it's 877 pages but there are fewer -- will sing this is a very long book he said this once seemed too short. in a recent interview with the
national world war ii museum in new orleans rick remarked on the necessity of remembering the story of this war when he called the greatest self-inflicted catastrophe in human history. 60 million dead ,-com,-com ma one life snuffed out every three seconds for six years. more than 16 million american veterans of world war ii, fewer than 2 million remain a life. when we contemplate what is lost to
us culturally as they slip into the shadows of 800 a day, for most perhaps is the ability to bear witness, to tell the story first-hand, to attest with authenticity and authority why they fought, suffered and died. for all the stories told and retold and countless others will now go untold so is the primary storytellers die off it's important for their survivors, for us to sustain the story to keep it a vivid narrative that lives and breathes rather than something rapidly receding into the past with ever diminishing
power to stir us. rick atkinson has done more than almost anyone to sustain this story, to give the continued life and for that we can all be grateful. i'm proud to introduce rick atkinson. [applause] >> thank you marty and i also regret that we didn't overlap. thanks so much for coming this afternoon to this fantastic conclave of readers and writers. i apologize for those of you sitting here expecting to see my tone -- friend evan thomas. that was the last hour and i really apologize to you expecting to see my friend
colin. that's a different tent that i would like to thank the library of congress and the "washington post" and the other corporate sponsors for matt kaine is one of the great annual events in our town. it's not this town. it's not that town. it's our town whether you live in the district of columbia or not. [applause] the national book festival shows that you can still be civil and thoughtful and fun in washington d.c.. so jack london said the writer doesn't wait for aspiration to come knocking at the door but instead should go looking for it with a club. 15 years ago i took my club to what i found what inspired me was the second world war. the war lasted 2174 days and by the end it was the greatest catastrophe in human history. as marty said 60 million dead. that's 27,600 dead every day or
1150 dead an hour. if you were a german boy or in between 1915 and 1924 the odds were one in three that by 1945 you would be dead. 14% of the soviet population of 190 million perished during the war. 60 million dead in six years is a death every three seconds. one, two, three. one, two, three. that is world war ii. the writer kingsley amos once said that he only wanted to read books that began a shot rang out the way i've approached the second world war is to look at it as a trilogy, as a cryptic with three panels that mutually reinforce one another and in
that tale many many shots rang out. i began where the american war in europe really begins, in northern africa with the invasion by british and american troops in november 1942 and then we move to the second panel, the second panel with this cryptic my second panel north across the mediterranean where this british american troops in the invasion of sicily in july of 1943 and then to mainland italy into places like salerno, the repeat over for, in geo-, the ball turnover of her and onto the liberation of rome on june 4, 1944. this third volume ,-com,-com ma this final panel opens on may 15, 1944 as st. paul's school on hammersmith school in london. and they are on may 15
eisenhower, patton, omar bradley, winston churchill, king george, vi, and several dozen of the most senior commanders have gathered to review for a last time the plan called overlords which is the invasion of france which is to take place in three weeks. they met in an auditorium at saint paul's called the model room. and the generals and admirals would envelope in their overcoats because even though it was the middle of may it was as cold as a meat locker and they sat on benches normally reserve for schoolboys. on the floor of the pit of the auditorium was an enormous plaster of paris relief map of the normandy coast where the river sin had gone into the atlantic and a british brigadier
shuffled around on this map as they discussed the individual locales and what with a come in three weeks the most famous battlefield in the world. the beaches for example. utah, omaha and towns that no one had ever heard of that soon would become infamous, towns like sure board and canon on the edge of the map there is paris. then for the next 12 chapters that tale unspools that these places than others, for less, paris. nine megan, r&m, the battle of the old chick. and the final drive to victory in europe day on may 8, 1945 and
is in the first two volumes be periodically shift from a tactical foxhole view to a higher perspective where we could see operational and gtd clue what's going on. much of chapter 10 for example is set in malta and yelled so where we are in the company of churchill, roosevelt, stalin and senior commanders. we often peek in on the other side of the hill to see what the germans are doing. i also recount that like the invasion of southern france in august 1944, as well as the subsequent drive up the river valley by french and american troops and the mountains to capture strasboustrasbou rg and to reach the rhine in november 1944. it's four months before the armies that are coming from normandy arrived on the rhine. it's an important part of the liberation of europe. it's a part that many americans
know very little about. the characters are fantastic. they include the american generals jacob evers and alexander patch and the french first army commander at general who is beyond the power of any novelist. he was described by one of visit myers as an animal of action and would often appear in the middle of the night were soldiers were sleeping and he would roar out waking them up, what have you done for france? he is that kind of guy. as you may suspect the liberation of europe is not an undiscovered subject. amazon.com lists 60,000 hardcover world war ii titles. how do you tell that story so that you and you and you feel that you are hearing it again as if for the first time? part of that is voice of course and narrative coherence but a good part of it is.
>> archival work and when it comes to world war ii and archive rat like me can live large. u.s. army records along for the second world war way 17,000 tons. like all great events in american history, world war ii is automotive. there are wonderful things still to discover. so for example i found the national archives college park about 15 miles from here a document that revealed the thinking about how are you going to get onto the beaches at normandy if you know that the germans are picked cared for you to come by sea. the beaches are going to be heavily defended. how are you going to get ashore by air, by parachute or bike later. you know the germans are going to be defending that to. someone proposed how about
digging a tunnel under the english channel? and so there was a study done at the offices who reported back to the high command said yes sir we can do this. it will take teen thousand miners a year to excavate 50,000 tons of soil but we can do this. but they couldn't finesse, what they could never figure out was what happened when the first minor popped his head out of the tunnel and normandy and the entire german seventh army was waiting for them. there was a whole collection of these problems and they have their own acronyms. problems of the invasion of northwest europe. there was anxiety for example that german airplanes would fly over england and drop rats invested with bubonic plague and there was a bounty offered on rat carcasses to test for the plague. there was anxiety that the germans would fly over london and drop something called radioactive agents on london and
there were geiger counters hidden all around the city to test for radioactivity. the allies incidentally stop piled 160,000 tons of chemical weapons in england and the mediterranean in case the war turned chemical. that's about 160 times more than the syrians are suspected to harbor at this point. i found also at the national archives to plans for chemical warfare at normandy. both of them had been approved by eisenhower. the first plan was predicated on caring about french civilian cavil -- casualties. the second plan, not so much an impact there would have been tens of thousands of french civilian casualties had the worby, chemical war. u.s. army drags these standards progressively lowered to allow the drafting of what were known
to really examine it. in fact the meat could be drafted if you are blind in one eye, if you are dead and one year, if you're missing both the here's. you could be drafted if you are missing the tom or three fingers including your trigger finger. scenario disease had kept many soldiers out of the army. but that is action was soon in the army still drafting by 1944. most of them syphilitic. how could they do that quiet penicillin. that extraordinary discovery by british scientists in the 1920s had been converted into an extraordinary project by the americans and the british soy
substance made originally by the graham was soon made by the kilogram and eventually by the time. why these extreme measures to fill the ranks? it was because of the crying need for soldiers, especially infantrymen and the initially rifleman. even in a country of 100 dirty million, we were running out. the braves did run out. the war remained ergo and voracious to the very end. in april, 1945, the last full month of the war in europe, also 11,000 americans altars were killed in action in europe. but nearly as many as died in june 1944, the month of invasion. it was awful, virtually to the last gunshot. so desperate was the american army for infantrymen at the high command to connection absolutely unthinkable just a few minutes
before. he allowed back soldiers who volunteer for duty as infantrymen in white units. 53 platoons of colored infantry were integrated into the otherwise all-white divisions. many of those african-american soldiers are rendered sergeants drives they had earned as cooks and drivers and laborers for the privilege of being rifleman. there are many other surprises and discoveries in this dog. i found out that franklin roosevelt laboring hype park, new york, for example, a detailed account by the atlanta funeral home director who had prepared franklin roosevelt's body for burial when the president at warm springs, georgia on april 12, 1945. a document in his powerful and moving as it is clinical. after several hours and injected
ex-bottles of embalming fluid into the president pain and arteries, this partition summoned arthur beeman, the president and handed him a calm and hadn't combed the president's hair is so. john updike once said the 20th century met, he called it a tell of choice, ankles are infinite. the central figures number in me says that they size, the theatricality. they bring back the dead. i tried to do that would be a speakers you're familiar with some of the eisenhower's and patents of the war, but others less familiar like general ted was about junior and aleutian
trust a junior. even amid the clash of army groups, my eyes always drawn to the particular small tragedy that eliminates the larger catastrophe. so, for example, i tell the story of the death of the son of general alexander patch, a young captain named mac patch. i tell it through the letters that general patch and his wife to each other. there is secretly heartbreaking. young captain patch has wounded in norman v. he's been recuperating under his father's command of air france. his mother rise to general patch, baking her has been not to the kodak combat soon. he goes back into combat in october 19 or any killed almost immediately. general patch rights to his life
he says i can not and must not allow myself to dwell upon our irreparable loss. as i write to tears falling from my eyes, providence decrees that we must obey. how many families in the second world war had similar sentiments? i tell this area to suicide a rear admiral von keenan, who had commanded the naval forces at utah beach on june 6th 1944 and shortly before the invasion of southern france, where he was also to have a larger spot ability. he blew his brains out in the cabin of his flagship in naples, harbour. the suicide note left for his wife and four children is really devastating. part of their brad, what am i doing to you, my wife and your children? i am sick, so sick.
i mention that the united states had a population of world war ii about 130 million. but the 16,100,566 into uniform during the war. of those, there are about a million and a half veteran still alive, my father among them. they're leaving us at the rate of more than 40,000 a month. it almost 1500 a day now. the number of surviving american veterans from world war ii was split below 1 million, just about this time this year. in 2024, the number of survivors would drop below 100,000. in 2036 among which is the last year for which governor demographers have made calculations, the number of survivors of the most sister
before in human history and the united states will drop below 400, less than half the eyes of an infantry battalion. this country suffered less than any other major belligerents. we emerge from the war with our industrial base not only intact, but thriving. we emerge from the war with two thirds of the world's gold supply, with wonderful energy and a great sense of optimism and hope in the future. how to cost 400 american died during the war. 291,000 of them were killed in action and of those killed in action, almost half of those occurred in europe do not live here. in 1947, the next of kin of all americans who had died and whose bodies had been recovered overseas, that was nearly everyone who had died in the
pacific of the atlantic theaters. those next of kin were given a one-time opportunity to choose whether or not to bring their dead sons, mostly sons, to bring them home or to leave them buried overseas in one of about two dozen american battle monuments commission cemeteries. about 40% chose to leave their voiceovers the end about 60% brought them home. because the united states government $564 dissent or for exclamation regardless of the ultimate position of the body, something only a rich victorious nation could afford. every grave was opened by hand and the remains of every dead soldier dusted with the embalming compound of formaldehyde, aluminum chloride, with powder, claim plaster of paris. they were then placed in a metal
cap it with a satin pillow yet labor strikes in the united states had caused a shortage of cap of steel and there is also a shortage of licensed embalmers. the debt accumulated in warehouses and share boric and elsewhere. finally, the ss joseph p. calmly, the first of 21 go ships from europe and the pacific shared from antwerp with more than 5000 soldiers in her hole. on october 27, 1947, the connolly birthday new york and stevedores flinch the caskets from her hold and specially designed swings, to buy it to you. these debt and those that followed began a great diaspora across the republic for burial in their hometown cemeteries in national cemeteries.
that is how the dead came home. but what about their belongings? what about the things they carried? even before the dead came home, these things have been coming home in it large warehouse in kansas city, the u.s. army expects piero had begun as a modest quarter measure enterprise with only a half dozen employees in february, 1942. that expanded to more than a dozen workers. by august of 1945, they were handling 60,000 shipments a month, each laden with the effects of american dead from six continents. hour after hour, day after day, shipping containers were
unloaded from the rail freight cars that pulled off to the side next to the warehouse on hard the avenue. they were pulled onto receiving dock and hoisted by elevator to the debt goes 10th floor and hear, inspect or spot through the crates to extract, ammunition, perhaps amorous letters to my girlfriend you didn't want a grieving widow to see. workers used grinding stones and dentists drills to remove corrosion and blood stains from web tier and other equipment. launders this took pains to scrub blood stains out of the uniforms in the containers work their way up by assembly-line down to the seventh floor and finally a detailed inventory of
the effects, which pinned to a repack container and it was stacked in bin. and all the while, in a large room, typists were begging outsiders. 70,000 letters a month by the summer of 1945. the gist of the letters with a scummy or sir, dear madam, we have your dead son's death. where should we send it? over the years, the effects bureau found many things. tapestries, enemy's sword, a german machine gun, an italian accordion. tobacco sack full of diamonds, shrunken head. i'm not thousands of diaries also collecting kansas city with a small note book that had belonged to lieutenant herschel g horton, 29, from aurora,
illinois. shot in the right leg and hip in a firefight with the japanese on new kidney. horton had dragged himself out of the fire zone and into a crash happy. in the several days that it took for him to die, he wrote a final letter home to his family. and it began, my dear sweet father, mother and sister, i lay here in this terrible place, wondering now why god has forsaken me, but why he is making me suffer. the first duty is to remember. i can think of no better way to close out the national book festival and to quote from our current poet laureate, she ends her poem pilgrimage, which is
about a visit to the expert with these lines. in my train, the ghost of history lies down beside me, rolls over, did he meet the heavy arm. my ambition but this trilogy has been for you to to feel that heavy arm, to fill the palpable presence of those who suffered much and in some cases gave everything for us. thank you so much for being here. i look for your questions and comments. thank you so much. [applause] sir.
>> yes, i am particularly interested in account you read about, the battle of the bulge, where it seems that american commanders like courtney and hodges seem to really fall down in the performance of their job, were even omar bradley is kind of denying that the line has broken a german troops pouring through the army coming through. i'm always fascinated as to why, you know, these commanders remain in place, particularly courtney hodges, who probably wasn't suited for the first place of the first time in considering the ramifications of what occurs subsequently. how did he survive? did we learn anything from those kinds of situations where it seems like everything devolved upon the chief of staff and not the actual commander. then he brought in field marshal montgomery, that whole thing. >> were going to make them read the book to find what happens. review because the battle of the
bulge is the largest in american history and it would take us a long time to go through it in detail. in answer to your question and began december 16, 1944. it took the americans almost entirely in the belgian art dance and extend them into luxembourg almost entirely by surprise. there was an enormous intelligence failure. an enormous intelligence failure pearl harbor and 9/11. because there is great surprise and because the germans had attacked a part of the artisans where we were particularly lightly defended, there is great confusion. in fact, courtney hodges, lieutenant general commander of the u.s. first army had what appears to be a nervous break down of sorts at a very inopportune moment. he closed the door of his office
and put his head down on the desk and basically for 24 hours, the chief of staff ran first army at a time when it appeared as though the germans might overrun first army. there was concern that hodges was obvious they not up to it. field marshal montgomery, although this is not a defector was given the responsibility of taking over hodges first army and a big portion of the american forces. in summary went and looked hodges directly in the eye and came to the conclusion that in fact he had righted the ship somehow, that whatever affliction had caused him to put his head down on the desk seemed to have passed. he wrote to eisenhower, who was the supreme commander in europe that is not the man i would've chosen, but i think were going to be okay. i'll keep a close eye on him. hodges recovered sufficiently to finish the war out.
there were a number of instances where commanders, not just at the battle of the bulge, just simply didn't measure up and they were obeyed. first army particularly ironically was precipitous in relieving commanders and replacing them. and hodges case, he got a second chance. >> thank you. >> server. >> first of all, thank you for trilogy in your very thoughtful presentation today. my question is, in some ways related to this last question. i want to get your take on eisenhower as commander-in-chief we know that he had no battlefield. in your first part, you mentioned how lousier generalship was in the african campaign to the extent that eisenhower himself was surprised he wasn't released.
then in your last book you mention again eisenhower stationed himself in positions way behind the friend, unaware of what was going on on a day by day basis. you also mention that eisenhower was not aware of montgomery's failure in the opening or the attempt to open the port of antwerp, which is so important. >> drama to talk about eisenhower? >> welcome a eisenhower someone afflicted with intimately for 10 years. my estimation is only grown. some of you may have heard i haven't talked about him as president. he grows into the presidency by virtue of the second world war. he shows up at your ball chair, commanding his first command,
having never heard a shot fired. he never commanded even a platoon in the first world war. and now he's a theater commander. he's got the entire allied force in the mediterranean. a number of things going for him. he's learning as he goes to most of these american commanders. he's extremely articulate. at one point says to the chief and empirical general staff, i'm not sure i trust a general who is this glib. so he can speak and write very precisely. there is rarely any ambiguity about it was a eisenhower once you do if your subordinate of his. he's got a basic humanity to him that appeals not only to his immediate subordinate, but all through the ranks. the average private, although he may not know eisenhower from patton, for bradley, might not know him to stand, has the sense
that eisenhower cares about them personally. there is something to that. eisenhower is able to convey that he knows the way home and that's what soldiers really care about. np, he will do his best to be sure that you do not risk your life in a big cause. and that is something soldiers also care about. so isenhour has this great ability i have to project confidence. he is confident and to project a sense that he is actually in command of this enormous, sprawling, multinational team called the allied coalition. he is an extraordinary guy. i think very, very highly of him. yes, sir. >> thank you so much for your trilogy. i read it all. really outstanding. i'm doing a lot of world war ii oral histories archives. the history project.
i was just wondering, have you ever consulted any oral history available for any of your work quick if not, what are some of the united had been utilizing them? >> i use oral histories alive. but he is almost no contemporary oral history and i do almost than myself. the reason for this is my father is 89 years old, enlisted in the army in 1943. i would not rely on what he told me have been 70 years ago anymore then i would rely on what somebody told me they thought had happened a century ago. the contemporaneous record, including oral history is so extraordinary. the army sent some very good historians, including people like martin blume and seven, who
became one of the finest world war ii historians and he was a sergeant in world war ii, out to interview soldiers virtually as they're coming off the battlefield. sometimes it was within hours. frequently within days or weeks. these extraordinary transcripts of those oral histories are in the national archives. there's hundreds and hundreds of them from all major actions, particularly late in the war. so there is back in there are many, many other contemporaneous , archival records of one sort or another that allow you not to rely on 70 year old memories. as much as i admire what you and others do now, sometimes you try to cheese that the anecdote that he would never get anywhere else by some guy telling you in 2013, even though it may have happened
in 1943. i'd rather go back to 1943 myself. >> yes, i read extensively about world wars one and two and thank you for greatly enriching my library. it always astonishes me our capacity to do harm to ourselves. my wife always wonders why i immersed myself in this ongoing horror story. my question is, you spend a lot of time reading about what we do to each other in a horrific way. i'm curious how that affects you, how that changes your view of humanity. >> that's a tough question. you know, i've been living with the greatest catastrophe in human history or 15 years. i lived with young men dying young every day. i know it effects me. it breaks my heart.
every day it breaks my heart. i tried to use it as a propulsion system. i tried to use this calamity, both individually and globally as a means of harnessing the energies and talents as a writer, in order to convey 70 years later what it was like, what it costs, what it meant. you know, like court hodges, every once in a while i want to close the door and put my head down on the desk. but we soldier on, don't wait? so i do believe there is actually an impact on me this early and emotionally. but i try to use it to delete to my own purposes. at that time for tumor questions i'm told. there.
>> yes, hi. i'm currently in the midst of another war trilogy, shelby foote civil war narrative. if i were to take on your trilogy, what would i find that was similar and what would i find that was different? >> thank you. in mine you would find for not. [laughter] [applause] look, i love shelby foote. i go back and reread shelby foote allowed because i very consciously try to emulate some of what shelby foote does. but there's 3000 pages on the civil war and not a single footnote. you cannot get away with that today. i am not impugning his scholarship at all. he did the work. what i find in him that speaks to me personally in that affects the way i wrote this trilogy is i think something we were talking about a minute ago.
you're looking for the emotional center of this. you are looking for residences that speetwo s. through the decades. you're looking to find the same thing that speaks to s. about word that we find in placidity. shelby fudges i think extraordinary at being able to find not only this eloquence story and to take a very complex garden and make a coherent, but in ways that really resonates you coming you beat up book with your eyes and with your brain, that you feel those three books in your heart. and so, i think that it's probably something i try to emulate them in, plus footnotes. >> following up on footnotes, could you address what is the process that you followed to undertake something of this scope?
you just dive into the 17 tens of the archives? you know, how do you keep track of what you find in the archives and how do you commit it on paper? >> yeah, this crowd really wants to hear about my process, i'm sure. 17,000 tons. i'll be very distinct. i don't just dive in. that would be prescription for wandering into the words and never wandering out. my process is to set a date certain when i will stop researching. i can fix that day because the contract tells me when the manuscript is due. and i can count backwards and i know roughly how long it will take me to write and i know roughly how long it will take me to outline the research i've gotten in that leaves me with x amount of months to do the research. and then i try to be smart about where and doing the research. so in my case, i spend a lot of
time at the national archives, library of congress, army's military history institute in pennsylvania, which is a fabulous archive. thank you with a british national archive is and probably a couple dozen other places. and then you've got to deal with the secondary material. i'm mentioned the 60,000 books. you feel obliged with these where to hand over a good portion of them and in many cases, to really get down into them because there's fabulous works that. i put it off into every piece of information that i come up with goes into a word file. the work files are kept in my own filing system. idea with no documents when it comes time to pray. and then i make an extraordinarily detailed outline. he is outlining software on word, which i think is the greatest invention is the pile.
and i'd build an outline in the outline for the third and final volume is about 700,000 words long. it's more than twice as long as the book is golf. but it acts not only as a roadmap to tell me where i'm going when i sit down to write, but it also tells me where all the it tells me where in different files it is. so i'm ready to write and i sit down. having been an old newspaper man i can type fast. i read about a thousand words a day. for us old newspaper man, that is about equivalent to a typical day story that any reporter can knock out. switch 270,000 word book is the third and final volume. i tell myself it's only 270 days stories. that's less than a year of writing. so that's how i do it. i spend the afternoons. i write until i start to turn to mush around noon. i spend the aftern