Saturday, 28 June 2014

I don’t know, for sure, that the natural gas business is any less boring in reality than it is in a Richard Rohmer paperback.  I don’t know any international gas buccaneers.  The most exciting thing I do with natural gas is turn on the broiler and hope it doesn’t explode.

I’ve met super-nice CIA assassin Robert Baer a couple of times, but the conversation at the table never turned to CIA assassinating, so I don’t know if that’s boring either, like it is when Rohmer writers about it.

Canadian politics? I only know what I don’t read in the paper. But the real politicians must talk more like human beings than Rohmer politicians do.  They’re human beings.  At least in private.

Aerial combat?  I'm the wrong guy to ask.

But if war really was as boring in real life as it is in Patton’s Gap, it would have died out.  

Setting aside Rohmer's style, the core problem with Patton’s Gap is that it seems to believe that it’s blowing our minds about a conundrum that’s been driving us crazy:

Who let more theoretical Germans get out of the Falaise Pocket than might have escaped otherwise? 

I’ve read a certain number of books about World World II – I am a dad, that’s what we do – and this isn’t one of the top 1000 unexplained mysteries.  It’s not exactly “Why Didn’t We See Pearl Harbor Coming” or the Katyn Forest or “What Was Hess Up To?”  It’s revisionist history about an event that was barely visioned in first place.

Which isn’t to say that the Battle of Caen isn’t worth writing about.  The opposite.  It’s history.  It’s fascinating, and inspiring, and horrible. And awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word: Inspiring awe.  Nice young men, the sons of farmers and factory workers, who believed in democracy and basic decency, fought horrible monsters, who believed in slavery and thuggery and racism and genocide. 
And it’s still morally complicated.  What is war good for?  Let me think… absolutely nothing. The expression “We sure liberated the hell out of this place” was coined in Normandy.  They destroyed Caen while they saved it.  70,000 French civilians were killed by Allied bombs in the course of the war, which is more people than were killed in England by Nazi bombs, and on D-Day the same number of French civilians and Allied soldiers died.

Which doesn’t take away from the sacrifices made – and he heroism exhibited – by the Canadians (for instance) who did it.  They’re braver than me every day.

We should think about Caen.  Every time a politician suggests a problem could be solved with a little bombing.  You know, as long as good people are doing it to bad people.  For instance in Fallujah.

But the mystery of why the Falaise Gap wasn’t closed faster?  I’m sorry, but unless there’s some sort of larger message about management or something – or anything -- who cares?  Whose hash is being settled? Why is this a book?

James Jones’ books are too long.  But here’s Patton’s Gap, in 100 words from James Jones:

“Good old Sir Bernard Law.  He was always great copy for the newsmen.  His men adored him (newsmen said) because he had once whipped Rommel at El Alamein, he was the needed popular British hero, and he could be depended on to grab for more than his fair share of notoriety.  But this time he had really fucked up seriously.

Asking for, and getting, an advance meeting line with Bradley and more territory than he could in fact take and hold…

In spite of the mistakes, the Allies took fifty thousand prisoners and counted ten thousand German dead.”

There.  How hard was that?


  1. Brian, I assume you own a copy of "Retaliation" because you've posted a picture of the cover. What about you, Stan? Are you back from vacation? Do you have access to retaliation?

    1. I was the proud owner of a pristine, unread copy - you'd almost think it had been brought to a used bookstore by Marty McFly. Of course, now it's getting all marked up. Coming generations of Richard Rohmer readers will curse me.

  2. Richard Rohmer also has no idea how a V-1 worked. This wasn't a secret when he wrote Patton's Gap. It's just lazy. Still love the old guy, though.

    1. I'm not sure he's lazy so much as overly confident. He knows how the V-1 worked, and will tell you about the “precisely measured fuel” in one paragraph, and “carefully measured fuel” the next. The mistake is repeated word for word in the second edition. Did no one correct the major-general? Did anyone dare?

    2. I'd be telling tales out of school if I talked about my experiences with this process, professionally. (And on both sides. Correcting and being corrected.) But I'd feel like someone's was letting me down if they chose not to say, "With all due respect..." (Like in the movies) "... that's not how the thing worked." Especially if I was going to get snotty, a few pages later, about whether Patton's pistols were pearl or ivory-handled.

  3. Brian -- I've written a capsule for Patton's Gap. Can you paste it in?

    Young Richard Rohmer flies a P-51 Mustang over D-Day. He needs two pillows to see out the cockpit and when he’s introduced to Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr., Patton thinks he’s a baby or a puppet or something. Rohmer exchanges blows with an English woman who runs a whorehouse and later, at a French chateau, his buddies dump sewage on him in the toilet. He meets Dirk Bogarde. The Allies drive the Germans out of Normandy, but not as fast as Rohmer would like and, in a Rohmer trademark last-line-in-the-book shocker, he blames… General… Montgomery.

    1. Seems fair. I've been wavering between C and C- myself. How did our college profs do it?