A Book Note

In The Dead and Those About to Die, D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach,  John C McManus describes the planning, training, decision-making, first wave, subsequent waves, breakout up the cliffs and draws, and establishment of the beachhead a bit inland.  Prior to systematic discussion of these, McManus places a Prologue that gives the reader some idea of the first-wave landing from the Higgins boats.  It is titled “Shock.”

My library copy came with something extra:  a message from a previous reader.  It was taped to a page opposite a certain paragraph.

The paragraph is a description of “Condition Black” as described in the cited volume, On Combat.

McManus does not limit his discussions to this, of course; he describes men overcoming this universally-experienced state to go on to do so many astounding things, some of which we know about, some of which we will never know.

The note is important: a guy found a means of expressing himself, of attempting to make himself and his experience understood by generally oblivious countrymen.

I reinforced his taping job to make it harder for a librarian to remove it.  I hope it works, as I’ve had it with silencing and with tossing of the patrimony.

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8 thoughts on “A Book Note”

  1. What prizes have others found in books?  Other than the usual bookmarks, unpaid bills, and cookie crumbs, my only memorable prize has been $5 that the author of a student thesis tucked into the library copy as a reward for a hoped-for future actual reader.

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  2. The title, as you know, comes from Col. Taylor’s admonition to the men of the 16th Infantry Regiment to get the hell off the beach, as staying there meant certain death. Doubtless many of these soldiers were experiencing the kind of functional paralysis described in the note.

    The extreme stress that the confusion and violence of combat induces can have some strange or, at least, non-intuitive physiological effects on participants. I remember reading — can’t recall where exactly — that a not uncommon response of some soldiers to an intense artillery barrage is to fall asleep (!). Additionally, the sustained concussions inflicted by continuous shell detonations can have a permanent effect on the brain, something like the CTE that afflicts certain long-playing football players.

    And, of course, different people respond differently to the same stress. In the documentary, Apollo 11, there’s a scene where Mission Control reports the heart rates of the astronauts during the launch: Armstrong, 110; Collins, 99; Aldrin, 88. I assume Buzz did not fall asleep during liftoff.

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  3. jzdro:
    What prizes have others found in books?  Other than the usual bookmarks, unpaid bills, and cookie crumbs, my only memorable prize has been $5 that the author of a student thesis tucked into the library copy as a reward for a hoped-for future actual reader.

    Sometimes with a school library book you got to see who checked out the book before you. I remember hearing stories from others of notable former students signing some books. The method was signing books then a librarian would put in the due date.

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  4. Ace Fungo:
    The title, as you know, comes from Col. Taylor’s admonition to the men of the 16th Infantry Regiment to get the hell off the beach, as staying there meant certain death. Doubtless many of these soldiers were experiencing the kind of functional paralysis described in the note.

    The functional paralysis of “Condition Black” is mysterious to somebody first thinking about it, just because the immobility it involves seems contraindicated, non-adaptive, just the wrong thing.  It must be a response to threats both extreme and currently impossible to assess:  any move you make seems equally likely to be a lethal move.  Hence the effectiveness of Taylor repeating his single point that there are only two kinds of men on this beach . . .   Only movement will give you a nonzero chance of survival.  He just kept stomping back and forth, chomping his cigar, and pounding out that same message over and over.  What do you think?

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  5. Ace Fungo:
    The extreme stress that the confusion and violence of combat induces can have some strange or, at least, non-intuitive physiological effects on participants. I remember reading — can’t recall where exactly — that a not uncommon response of some soldiers to an intense artillery barrage is to fall asleep (!).

    Things are so extreme that it’s shut down or go mad.  Victims of assault have described having “gone to another place.”  I guess they are the comparatively lucky ones.

    Additionally, the sustained concussions inflicted by continuous shell detonations can have a permanent effect on the brain, something like the CTE that afflicts certain long-playing football players.

    Buster Keaton suffered something of that kind late in life.  After learning that,  I was a more thoughtful viewer of his films.

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  6. 10 Cents:
    Sometimes with a school library book you got to see who checked out the book before you. I remember hearing stories from others of notable former students signing some books. The method was signing books then a librarian would put in the due date.

    That’s hilarious!  Plus it would make the librarians think twice about throwing out books.  If I were famous I would go through libraries and sign – flamboyantly – the volumes I judged to be in danger of discard.

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  7. jzdro:

    Ace Fungo:
    The title, as you know, comes from Col. Taylor’s admonition to the men of the 16th Infantry Regiment to get the hell off the beach, as staying there meant certain death. Doubtless many of these soldiers were experiencing the kind of functional paralysis described in the note.

    The functional paralysis of “Condition Black” is mysterious to somebody first thinking about it, just because the immobility it involves seems contraindicated, non-adaptive, just the wrong thing.  It must be a response to threats both extreme and currently impossible to assess:  any move you make seems equally likely to be a lethal move.  Hence the effectiveness of Taylor repeating his single point that there are only two kinds of men on this beach . . .   Only movement will give you a nonzero chance of survival.  He just kept stomping back and forth, chomping his cigar, and pounding out that same message over and over.  What do you think?

    Its tempting to call something like this ‘learned helplessness’, but I think it’s a little more straightforward: if all your options are bad, it’s  easier to choose not to choose and, hence, sit pat. It was up to Taylor to convince his charges that sitting pat was the worst option of a bad lot. If you don’t know what to do, it’s easier to let someone else decide for you, particularly if it’s the cigar chewing sob who’s been ordering you around for the past couple of years.

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  8. Ace Fungo:
    particularly if it’s the cigar chewing sob who’s been ordering you around for the past couple of years.

    Yup, apparently Taylor had a well-deserved reputation for drill with survival of this assault in mind.

    I was highly impressed as well with Taylor’s voiced objections to the planners about their plan being too damned complicated.  McManus lays out what happened, on which the reader concludes right away two things:

    1.  The planners worked up more precision than could ever be justified or executable with the reasonably-expected accuracy.  The obstacle-neutralizing engineer units were planned to be landed only a few minutes prior to the first infantry wave.   What?  This is the English Channel, isn’t it?

    2. Everybody loaded on his pet project or interest during planning.  So the men were overloaded with equipment, gratuitously, fatuously, often lethally, and a lot.  This happens in group planning:  a good, clean idea with high chance of success is swamped by people with pet projects that in the event subtract from net value.  Nobody swats them away.  In this case, Bradley did not swat them away.  Eisenhower did not.  Taylor raised his objections, and they all ignored him.

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