Citizen Soldiers, by Stephen Ambrose
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. 473 pp. Illus, maps, notes, biblio, index. $27.50 . ISBN:0-684-81525-7.
In many ways this book is a continuation of Ambrose's earlier work, D-Day. It begins, in fact, on June 7, where the earlier book ended. As in D-Day, Ambrose concentrates on the individual soldier and his experiences. Generals and strategy enter the picture only to the extent that they affect the front-line soldiers. Although the book has a narrative focus, this is primarily an oral history, using the soldier's own words as prime means of telling its story. Liberally filled with soldier's stories and anecdotes, this is a highly readable and enjoyable book.
In the Prologue, Ambrose outlines his main goal, to show that the American GI was a capable and effective fighting man. As with Michael Doubler's Closing With the Enemy, this book does a credible job refuting the image of GI's as tactically inept civilians in uniform, who triumphed only through overwhelming firepower.
Ambrose's reliance on oral history leads to occasional minor technical errors. Examples of this include reporting the main armament of the German Panther tank as an 88mm gun, when it was in fact a 75mm, referring to the V-1 cruise missile as radio controlled, when it actually used a simple auto-pilot, and misidentifying a photograph of an American tank as an M-4 Sherman, when it is actually an M-5 Stuart.
These are minor quibbles, however, and the book overall is well-written, highly readable, and very enjoyable and informative.
Following his discussion of the Battle of the Bulge, Ambrose interrupts his chronological narrative to discuss a number of issues that affected the GI's. These include such interesting subjects as the soldier's life after dark, the replacement system, of which Ambrose is harshly and justifiably critical, the medical system, from front-line medics to aid stations to field hospitals, and POW's. Ambrose also has special scorn for the "Jerks, Sad Sacks and Profiteers" who shirked while other soldiers fought and died. Despite his condemnation of such men, Ambrose insists that they were only a small minority in the army, a position this reviewer feels is perhaps overly optimistic. This reviewer found this section of the book to be especially interesting and enjoyable.
This book would be a welcome and worthwhile addition to a military history library. It is recommended to anyone with an interest in the Second World War or the American Army.
Reviewer: Thomas Goetz
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