How the Ambrose Story Developed

APRIL 2010 UPDATE:

Richard Rayner, writing in the April 26, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, revealed that Ambrose exaggerated his relationship with Dwight Eisenhower.

Ambrose claimed that Eisenhower approached him in 1964 to write his biography, and he subsequently spent "hundreds and hundreds of hours" interviewing the former president. Tim Rives, the deputy director the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, discovered that it was Ambrose who approached Eisenhower about the book, and that he only interviewed Eisenhower for a grand total of five hours.

THE AMBROSE BOOKS IN QUESTION

  • The Wild Blue (Simon and Schuster, 2001)

  • Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 (Simon and Schuster, 2000)
  • Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990 (Simon and Schuster, 1991)

  • Citizen Soldiers (Simon and Schuster, 1997)

  • Undaunted Courage (Simon and Schuster, 1997)

  • Crazy Horse and Custer (Doubleday, 1975)

  • The Supreme Commander: The War Years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Doubleday, 1970)
THE AUTHORS AMBROSE COPIED

  • Thomas Childers's, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II (Perseus, 1995)
  • Joseph Balkoski, Beyond the Beachhead (Stackpole Books, 1989)

  • David Lavender, The Way to the Western Sea (Harper and Row, 1988)

  • Michael Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power (Yale University Press, 1987)

  • Robert Sam Anson, Exile: The Unquiet Oblivion of Richard M. Nixon (Simon and Schuster, 1984)

  • David Lavender, The Great Persuader (Doubleday, 1970)

  • Wesley F. Craven and J.L. Cate (eds.), The Army Air Forces in World War II(University of Chicago, 1949)
  • Donald R. Currier, 50 Mission Crush (Burd Street Press, 1992)
  • J.I. Merritt, Goodbye, Liberty Belle: A Son's Search for His Father's War (Wright State University Press, 1993)
  • Robert Sam Anson, McGovern (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972)
  • Edi Selhaus, Evasion and Repatriation (Sunflower University Press, 1993
  • Kay Summersby, Eisenhower Was My Boss (Prentice-Hall, 1948)

Imbroglio Ambrose began January 4, when Fred Barnes reported in the Weekly Standard that Mr. Ambrose had copied whole passages in The Wild Blue from Thomas Childers's, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II."Sentences in Ambrose's book are identical to sentences in Childers's," Barnes revealed."Key phrases from Wings of Morning, such as 'glittering like mica' and 'up, up, up,' are repeated verbatim in The Wild Blue."

Mr. Ambrose and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, shortly afterward released an apology. (Click here to read the AP account).

Then, Mr. Barnes commented -- favorably -- on the speed with which Mr. Ambrose acknowledged his errors. Mr. Barnes said that Mr. Ambrose"did the right thing and did it graciously." This comment appeared on the Weekly Standard's website on January 7 at 12:30pm.

Two hours and fifty minutes later, Forbes.com advanced the story with a new finding. Forbes reported that Mr. Ambrose had also passed off as his own borrowed phrases from another historian in a 1975 book published by Doubleday, Crazy Horse and Custer. According to Forbes, Mr. Ambrose on several occasions used the same language that previously had appeared in Jay Monaghan's Custer: The Life of General George Armstrong Custer, published by Little, Brown & Co. in 1959.

For example, Monaghan describes Custer's return to the U.S. Military Academy after a furlough:"On August 28, 1859, Custer returned to West Point. Cadet James Barroll Washington, a great-great-grandnephew of George Washington, entered that year. He remembered hearing the crowd shout, 'Here comes Custer!' The name meant nothing to him, but he turned, and saw a slim, immature lad with unmilitary figure, slightly rounded shoulders, and gangling walk."

Here is Mr. Ambrose's version:"When he returned to West Point, Cadet James B. Washington, a relative of George Washington, remembered hearing the crowd shout, 'Here comes Custer!' The name meant nothing to Washington, who was just entering the Academy, but he turned and saw a slim, immature lad with unmilitary figure, slightly rounded shoulders, and gangling walk, surrounded by back-slapping, laughing friends."

On January 9 -- two days after its first story -- Forbes.com reported that two more Ambrose books include material from other historians without proper attribution:"Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers and Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990, both published by Simon & Schuster, appear to borrow freely from certain source books without using quotation marks." In one case, Forbes was alerted to the new evidence by an email from the author Ambrose had failed to properly acknowledge. Joseph Balkowski told Forbes,"The writing [in Citizen Soldiers] seemed very familiar, and much to my astonishment, it was my own."

On January 11 the New York Times added yet another log on the burning Ambrose fire, revealing that he had also borrowed from Michael Sherry's The Rise of American Air Power and The Army Air Forces in World War II, edited by Wesley F. Craven and J.L. Cate."I am not out there stealing other people's writings," Mr. Ambrose told the Times:"If I am writing up a passage and it is a story I want to tell and this story fits and a part of it is from other people's writing, I just type it up that way and put it in a footnote. I just want to know where the hell it came from."

The second week after the story broke the media criticism of Mr. Ambrose broadened to include new complaints. Several veterans groups alleged that he was careless with the facts and made many outright misstatements in his books about them. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the troop carrier pilots in the D Day invasion of Normandy are especially critical. Mr. Ambrose claimed in two books that the men hadn't been trained for the mission and were fearful. The vets insist they trained for a year in advance of the invasion and while some were fearful, many were not. (See the website .)

Several veterans wrote HNN to complain that Mr. Ambrose rountinely refuses to correct mistakes in his books. His son, Hugh Ambrose, who helps do the research, told the Phildelphia Inquirer that"on occasion we receive letters from people that are so angry that we do not respond. The troop carriers are one example in particular. This is not a discussion, this is a diatribe."

But it's not only the vets who have found errors. After Mr. Ambrose published the bestseller, Nothing Like It in the World : The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, writers with an expertise in railroad history charged that he had made innumerable mistakes. "The Sins of Stephen E. Ambrose" lists scores. (Example: Mr. Ambrose wrote that the railroad bridge over Niagara Falls was built by Theodore Juddah. According to the website, it was actually built by John A. Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge.)

In the January 21 edition of the Weekly Standard (available online the week before), the editors reported learning that in 1997 Turk McCleskey (Virginia Military Institute) charged that Mr. Ambrose's adventure book about Lewis and Clark, Undaunted Courage , is a compilation of other people's work."Adding nothing substantially new," McClesky wrote in a review of the book published in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Autumn, 1997),"Ambrose uncritically skates across the preceding literature. . . . Most of Ambrose's citations do point to more reputable scholarly sources, but not always precisely. Indeed, Ambrose's debt to his predecessors leaves him open to charges of sloppy paraphrasing, as with this wanly cited echo of Dumas Malone: 'In a country of vast estates, without cities or public transportation of any kind, with plantation seats far apart, riding was not a matter of sport or diversion but of necessity. . . . Good horsemanship was taken for granted among the gentry' (Ambrose, p. 30). Malone wrote: 'In a country without large settlements and where plantation seats were far apart, riding was not a matter of occasional diversion but of daily necessity, and good horsemanship was taken for granted among the gentry.'" The quotation from Malone appears in his six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson the Virginian (1948), p. 46.)

News Bulletin
Dateline: Helena, Montana.
The Associated Press reported January 16 that Mr. Ambrose announced he is donating a quarter million dollars to local environmental groups that are cleaning up the Missoula River. The money will be used to remove an old dam. Mr. Ambrose is known for his generosity. (Note: The wire story made no mention of the plagiarism controversy.)

Competing to keep up with the Weekly Standard, Forbes.com broke a new story on January 17. Writer Mark Lewis reported that Mr. Ambrose's Nothing Like It in the World actually is very much like David Lavender's The Great Persuader (1970).

Ambrose on railroad barron Collis Huntington:"Then he got a job with a storekeeper, whom he impressed by memorizing both the wholesale and retail cost of every item in the cluttered stock and then calculating, without pencil and paper, the profit that could be expected from each piece."

Lavender:"Almost at once young Huntington bedazzled Noble by memorizing both the wholesale and retail cost of every item in the cluttered stock and then effortlessly calculating, without pen or paper or even moving his lips, the profit that could be expected from each piece, either in cash or in barter."

Mr. Lavender, reached by phone in California, told HNN that he never reads his books after they are published and didn't know if Mr. Ambrose had copied him or not. Forbes found six examples where Mr. Ambrose had.

Forbes also reported discovering that yet another Ambrose book, Undaunted Courage, contained more borrowed passages than had previously been known. One of the authors Mr. Ambrose copied was -- again -- Mr. Lavender, who also wrote about Lewis and Clark in The Way to the Western Sea (1988). In addition, Forbes reported that Mr. Ambrose also copied a passage from Henry Adams.

Ambrose:"Fewer than one out of ten Americans, about half a million people, lived west of the Appalachian Mountains, but as the Whiskey Rebellion had shown, they were already disposed to think of themselves as the germ of an independent nation that would find its outlet to the world marketplace not across the mountains to the Atlantic Seaboard, but by the Ohio and Mississippi river system to the Gulf of Mexico."

Adams:"The entire population, both free and slave, west of the mountains, reached not yet half a million; but already they were partly disposed to think themselves, and the old thirteen States were not altogether unwilling to consider them, the germ of an independent empire, which was to find its outlet, not through the Alleghenies to the seaboard, but by the Mississippi River to the Gulf."

On January 17 HNN asked readers who subscribe to our newsletter to answer to the question: "Is Stephen Ambrose a serial plagiarist?" Nearly two hundred readers responded with comments. Only half a dozen expressed support for Mr. Ambrose.

The Ambrose story took yet another turn on January 27, when the Oregonian published the story of WW II vet Bob Weiss. In 1995 Weiss sent Ambrose a memoir of his dramatic role in the battle for Mortain, France. Weiss was trying to get it published and wanted help. Ambrose wrote back to say it was a helluva memoir--"What a hell of an experience! What a wonderful piece of writing!"--and that he had"shamelessly stolen" from it for his new book about the war (Citizen Soldiers). Weiss was shocked when the book was published and all he got was four footnotes that merely indicated the information had come from a memoir of some kind rather than a manuscript that had been fully developed into a book (though as yet unpublished). Weiss grew irate, a fight ensured, Ambrose at one point firing back:

Knowing nothing about the methodology of history, you had questions about mine. Rather than call and resolve these questions amicably, you went through your law firm. Your charges amounted to an accusation that I had deliberately harmed you and your friends. The result your lawyer obtained, I'd like to note, was the same that you could have gotten with a simple phone call. Had you contacted me, I would have understood your concerns and would have done my best to fix the problem. But after being forced to confront your small mindedness on several occasions, I have lost all respect for you. You are the reason people are always damning lawyers.

George McGovern stepped up to defend Ambrose on January 28. In a letter to the New York Times McGovern, the subject of Mr. Ambrose's The Wild Blue, wrote:"He is not only a superb historian, but also a gifted writer whose books are devoured by the public, and a patriot who has donated millions of dollars to environmental and educational causes. He is one of the few great men I have been privileged to know."

Forbes.com scored another scoop on January 29, reporting that Mr. Ambrose had improperly borrowed two quotations appearing in Cornelius Ryan's The Last Battle. Both quotations were from British officials who served in World War II; neither quote was properly footnoted. The quotes appear in Mr. Ambrose's The Supreme Commander: The War Years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (1970) Ryan complained, noting in addition that the quotations had been garbled. Ambrose apologized and promised that in future editions he would fix the quotes and cite Ryan's book as the source. In the 1999 edition of the book the quotes were indeed rendered properly. But Ryan was never cited, Forbes reported.

On February 4 HNN published an article by Edson Strobridge challenging Mr. Ambrose's accuracy in his book about the building of the trasncontinental railroad. Edson, an amateur historian, noted that Mr. Ambrose--a professional historian--misconstrued facts and passed along fables published in a children's book.

Mr. Ambrose returned the fire of his critics in a letter published by the Wall Street Journal on February 6:

In regard to Mark Lewis's Jan. 22 editorial-page piece about me and Doris Goodwin ("Don't Indict 'Popular History'"):

There are some mistakes in this story. Mr. Lewis congratulates himself for finding examples of plagiarism in four of my books. He failed to point out that he found the phrases and sentences not through his own diligence but from my footnotes.

Mr. Lewis charges I have" cranked out" 30 books. The figure should be 24--and I wrote them. I did not crank them out.

He writes that my"plagerism is not limited to a few sentences," but fails to point out the real amount--is it 10 sentences? 15? 20?--or to mention that my books have about 50 footnotes per chapter, or some 1,000 per book, making a total of perhaps 24,000 footnotes. He fails to mention that I have published hundreds of thousands of sentences.

Mr. Lewis writes that he"received messages from disillusioned people who now view Mr. Ambrose as something of a Clintonesque villain, whose ethical lapses echo America's moral decay." That is perhaps his judgment too.

I do not agree.

STEPHEN AMBROSE

Mr. Ambrose's letter infuriated many people, among them, Randy Hils, a Marine Corps veteran who has been researching the history of the Troop Carriers in World War II. In a letter to the paper he complained that Mr. Ambrose is willing to respond to media critics but not to the veterans whom he writes about.

In a separate letter, Allen Campbell--the Director of the Douglas DC-3/Dakota Historical Society--complained that"Dr. Ambrose' anti-American lies about some of our finest and greatest war heroes is sickening."Click here to read both letters.

On February 5 Dr. Kevan Elsby issued a press release disputing the story Mr. Ambrose tells about Capt. Ettore Zappacosta in D Day June 6, 1944. Ambrose claimed that the captain had to take a gun to the British coxswain to get him to land their boat:"By god, you’ll take this boat straight in." Elsby, citing the testimony of Bob Sales, the only member of the boat's crew to survive, wrote that the incident was fabricated. The story first appeared in an article by S.L.A. Marshall in the Atlantic Monthly in 1960. Where he got it from is unclear.

On February 7, in response to Mr. Elsby's press release, the Lynchburg, Virginia The News and Advance published an article about Bob Sales's account of D Day. Click here to read the story.

Three days later the Denver Post published a column by Ed Quillen. His thesis:"My problem with Ambrose isn't plagiarism - it's that he gets things wrong." E.g.: Mr. Ambrose claimed in Newsweek"that Merriwether Lewis was 'the first white man to cross the Continental Divide.' Wrong. Go back to the Coronado expedition of 1540, when Garcia Lopez de Cardenas led a party from the valley of the Rio Grande in New Mexico to the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in Arizona. They must have crossed the Continental Divide in the process."

Mr. Ambrose's claim, often repeated, that he always corrects his mistakes was challenged by Randy Hils on February 11, 2002 in an article published by History News Network. Mr. Hils reviewed numerous attempts that have been made through the years to persuade Mr. Ambrose to make corrections in his books regarding World War II. Mr. Ambrose, reported Hils, never did. To one inquiry Ambrose indicated he was too busy:"Thank you for your letter. I respect your position. Unfortunately, I cannot re-examine the information I used to write my book, nor compare and contrast it with what you have sent. I have signed several book contracts and must apply myself to researching them."

In early February Mr. Ambrose posted a message on his website responding to his critics. In its entirety, the message reads:"Recently I have been criticized for improperly attributing other author’s writings in a few of my books. In each case, I footnoted the passage in question, but failed to put some words and sentences into quotation marks. I am sorry for those omissions, and will make relevant changes in all future editions of my books. I would also like to thank all of you who have written in to express your friendship and support."

On February 20, 2002 the Tallahassee Democrat published an article by Randy Hils that took issue with a columnist who had defended Mr. Ambrose's practices."Ambrose violated standards that would get any student in deep trouble," Hils wrote."To excuse Ambrose because he gives us 'a good read' lowers accepted standards and sends the wrong message to students."

On February 23 the Associated Press reported that Mr. Ambrose has decided to write just one last book, an account of the war in the Pacific. He told the Nature Conservancy he plans to spend the rest of his life working on conservation."In the 21st century, our best minds are going to work on how to restore nature," he said. The wire service reported that Ambrose"winced" after his speech when questioned about the plagiarism charges levelled against him."It has made me more careful, and I will quote more," he said.

The last week in February the media took a moment from Goodwin coverage to take another whack at Ambrose. On February 27, 2002 Forbes.com reported finding that Ambrose had borrowed passages from six additional books including the memoir of George McGovern, one of his chief supporters.

McGovern, Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern
"One day as we drove into his farmyard we saw Art sitting on the steps of his back porch, tears streaking down his dusty face. I had seldom seen an adult cry. Art Kendall explained to my dad that he had just received a check from the stockyards for a year's production of pigs. The check did not cover the cost of trucking the pigs to market."

Ambrose, The Wild Blue
pg. 30"Once, while hunting with his father, he saw a farmer named Art Kendall sitting on the steps of his back porch, tears streaming down his face. Kendall explained to McGovern's father that he had just received a check from the stockyards for that year's production of pigs. The check did not cover the cost of trucking the pigs to market."

The other books Forbes include:

  • Donald R. Currier, 50 Mission Crush (Burd Street Press, 1992)
  • J.I. Merritt, Goodbye, Liberty Belle: A Son's Search for His Father's War (Wright State University Press, 1993)
  • Robert Sam Anson, McGovern (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972)
  • Edi Selhaus, Evasion and Repatriation (Sunflower University Press, 1993
  • Kay Summersby, Eisenhower Was My Boss (Prentice-Hall, 1948)

In the LIFE GOES ON department: We came across the following advertisement on Primedia's about.com history website (March 2002):

Join the Stephen Ambrose Italian Campaign Tour, April 17-28 NEW! From Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours -- The Italian Campaign Tour --April 17-28, 2002. This unique tour designed by historian Stephen E. Ambrose follows in the footsteps of General Mark Clark and American 5th Army during the pivotal 1944-45 battles in Italy. The extraordinary 11-day, 9-night tour is led by Twenty-Five Yards of War author and retired USMC Captain Ron Drez. Visit www.stephenambrosetours.com or call today: (888) 903-3329.

Critics of Mr. Ambrose had heard that the the Theodore Roosevelt Association planned to award the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal to him this year and asked John Gable, the association's leader, if this were true. He responded on March 3, 2002 that it is.

On March 11 National Review published an article by Mr. Ambrose on the subject of nation-building (Ambrose is for it). The article did not mention the plagiarism scandal. Unlike its sister conservative journal, the Weekly Standard, which broke the Ambrose story, National Review ignored it.

On March 31 the Times-Picayune, which is based in New Orleans, home of the Ambrose-sponsored D-Day Museum and Ambrose-founded University of New Orleans (UNO) Eisenhower Center, published a highly critical seven-page front-page story about Ambrose. Ambrose detractors praised the piece, which emphasized the mistakes Ambrose has made in his books about World War II, West Point and the transcontinental railroad rather than his alleged plagiarism. Among the mistakes: Ambrose was forced to apologize for a mistake in his history of West Point published by Johns Hopkins. The mistake was suppose to be corrected in a subsequent edition; it wasn't. Hopkins says it is to blame.

The article also included a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Ambrose at work:"While writing 'Crazy Horse and Custer' in the 1970s, Ambrose wore cowboy boots and buckskin at UNO. He grew his hair long and braided it while working on Crazy Horse, then let it hang free as he turned to the parts about Custer. During work on Eisenhower's biography, Ambrose clipped his hair short and, according to his wife, Moira, grew more conservative. He dubbed his Mississippi writing studio in Bay St. Louis 'Eisenhowerplatz.'"

On April 30, 2002 Stephen Ambrose announced that he had lung cancer. The Associated Press included in its dispatches a brief mention of the plagiarism scandal.

In early May Mr. Ambrose published a defense of his writing methods on his website. He denied that he was guilty of plagiarism, insisted that the" copied words" investigative reporters had discovered in his books only amounted to"10 pages out of a total work of some 15,000 pages in print," and promised to insert quote marks in"all future editions and have already done so in The Wild Blue." He added:

I do my writing at a computer, surrounded by my research; interview transcripts, documents of all kinds, books. I mix them to describe an incident. Usually I have five or more transcripts, plus copies of documents and books on the table. I take material from them all.

When I'm using the words of an interview -- which is what I rely on, mostly -- I always use quotation marks around the phrases or sentences. When I'm using information or description from books by scholars, I always cite the source.

But if I have already named a praised and quoted the author in my book, I don't name him or her again, and sometimes I have failed to put quotation marks around their words. I'm not trying to hide anything. Indeed, I want people to read their books.

On May 10 Mark Lewis, the reporter at Forbes.com who broke many of the stories the magazine published about Ambrose, broke another. The eye-catching headline: Ambrose Problems Date Back To Ph.D. Thesis :

"It now appears that the problems in Wild Blue reflect a pattern that can be traced all the way back to his University of Wisconsin doctoral thesis from 1963. Titled Upton and the Army, it concerns the career of the 19th-century military tactician Emory Upton. The thesis was published in book form with the same title by the Louisiana University Press in 1964, and is still in print and featured on Ambrose's Web site. Forbes.com obtained a copy of the original thesis. A cursory check of four randomly selected sources listed in its bibliography turned up at least 11 examples of inadequate attribution--all of which are replicated in the book version.

In each instance, Ambrose copies a phrase or a sentence from his source, perhaps changes it a bit, and then footnotes the passage. The endnotes indicate the source, but do not indicate that the source's words are used without quotation marks. This is the method that got Ambrose in trouble after Wild Blue was published last fall, when a reader noticed a familiar-sounding phrase that turned out to come from one of Ambrose's sources.

An accompanying table highlighted the parallels between Ambrose's text and that of four other historians including Bruce Catton. Each example included phrases or a couple of sentences that had been copied; there were no examples of extensive copying as was the case with the other Ambrose books.

In his article Mr. Lewis noted that it may be true that only 10 pages out of some 15,000 had been found to contain copied words without quote marks,"but the examples that have come to light mostly have been discovered by randomly dipping into his body of work, a method that has yielded a very high percentage of 'hits.' That suggests a pattern that might well be confirmed by a more exhaustive examination of all his books."

On May 11 the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Ambrose's health problems were more serious than many had suspected or that he had previously let on:

After struggling with an on-again, off-again penchant for Marlboro Lights, the swashbuckling historian has come down with advanced lung cancer. Without treatment, the doctors told him earlier this month, he'd be lucky to live six months."I'd give anything to have a year," Ambrose says."Two years would be...." He doesn't finish the sentence. His wife and daughter blink and stare resolutely ahead. The thought is there: Two years is a long time for a bad case of lung cancer.

According to the paper, Mr. Ambrose revealed that he had abandoned his"much-awaited book on the Pacific theater of World War II, put lectures and ribbon cuttings on hold." But the historian indicated he was finishing his memoir, though he hesitated to call it that, for it would contain nothing"about my sex life."

As for the allegations of plagiarism, he said that he had decided"Screw it," he would finish his memoir."If they decide I'm a fraud, I'm a fraud. I don't know that I'm all that good at academics. I'm a writer."

THE LATEST

In June 2002 if you happened to visit Mr. Ambrose's website, you'd have seen on his homepage a prominent link to an article by Richard Jensen which we published on HNN:"In Defense of Stephen Ambrose." Clicking on the link took you to HNN's website and the Jensen article. Within a short period of time the article was reposted on the Ambrose site. Readers no longer were linked to HNN. What happened? Ambrose critics figured out that if they posted comments on the Jensen article published on HNN they could reach the readers who click on the Ambrose website. As an email circulated to Ambrose critics put it,"Here is a great opportunity to have your opinions posted thru Ambrose's own website!"

In August the OAH featured a debate of sorts between Mr. Jensen and Mark Lewis, the Forbes.com reporter who wrote the most stories about Ambrose's alleged plagiarism. Lewis defended his journalism, which Jensen had questioned.

I am, as Richard Jensen points out, a mere journalist and not a professional historian. But if his use of my Forbes.com articles is typical of the way he handles primary sources, I’m not sure Jensen is the best person to instruct me in the ways of scholarly attribution.

He condems an article I wrote about the charges Cornelius Ryan hurled at Stephen Ambrose in 1970, when Ambrose’s The Supreme Commander was published. Jensen labels this article “false” because Ambrose “did not use a single word of Ryan’s.” But I make no such assertion. I simply cite Ryan’s accusation that Ambrose quotes two British officers without attributing the quotations to their source, an earlier Ryan book. Ambrose, I write, “is not accused of presenting Ryan’s words as his own, but of denying Ryan proper attribution.”

. . . Despite what Jensen implies, no one accuses Ambrose of plagiarizing massive chunks of text, or of stealing the fruits of another historian’s scholarship without giving credit. If those are felony offenses, then perhaps what Ambrose is accused of doing is more of a misdemeanor. But it is an ethical lapse nonetheless. It may not be plagiarism as defined by the American Historical Association, and it may not rise to the level of copyright infringement, but when the accused is a best-selling author celebrated for his ability to craft compelling narratives, it rises to the level of news.

Jensen responded:

Forbes.com boasts it is the “Home Page for the World’s Business Leaders” and peddles flattering reports on corporate CEOs. Lewis writes for its Celebrity Page, which features “100 Top Celebrities” and “Best Paid CEOs”; it polls its readers not on historiography but rather, “With which celebrity would you most like to have dinner?” Regarding the Cornelius Ryan case, in 1970 Ambrose slipped by misattributing one short quote to the wrong general. Lewis found this ancient episode newsworthy enough for an entire column. Ambrose behaved correctly, yet on 9 July, Forbes.com included this exposé in its roundup of the Enron, Tyco, Martha Stewart, and WorldCom scandals. Muckraking is in demand this year; Forbes.com has to attack somebody, so it turns its guns on historians.

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JOSEPH MCKEON - 12/13/2010

My mother was engaged to Waverly Wray before the he left for Europe. Her name was Alice Rush and she lived in Atlanta.
She married my father after the war and I grew up on Long Island. When she died, on January 6th, 2006 I had to clean all of her possessions out of the home she lived in for over 45 years. While cleaning out her closet, on the floor in the bottom right corner, under all sorts of clothes and boxes, I FOUND ALL THE LETTERS WAVERLY WRAY HAD WRITTEN TO HER! She saved them all those years. Some of them were from when he was a Sargent then others were when he was a Lieutenant. I read them all. No one in the family ever knew she had those letters. I was very touched and wish I would have kept them. Instead, I felt it was best to let them go with her. Like so many other things from that war, they are dust.

I served in Vietnam and was in the 101st Airborne Division.

Joseph McKeon
Son of Alice Rush McKeon


JOSEPH MCKEON - 12/13/2010

My mother was engaged to Waverly Wray before the he left for Europe. Her name was Alice Rush and she lived in Atlanta.
She married my father after the war and I grew up on Long Island. When she died, on January 6th, 2006 I had to clean all of her possessions out of the home she lived in for over 45 years. While cleaning out her closet, on the floor in the bottom right corner, under all sorts of clothes and boxes, I FOUND ALL THE LETTERS WAVERLY WRAY HAD WRITTEN TO HER! She saved them all those years. Some of them were from when he was a Sargent then others were when he was a Lieutenant. I read them all. No one in the family ever knew she had those letters. I was very touched and wish I would have kept them. Instead, I felt it was best to let them go with her. Like so many other things from that war, they are dust.

I served in Vietnam and was in the 101st Airborne Division.

Joseph McKeon
Son of Alice Rush McKeon


pat lee - 4/26/2009

I really enjoyed this article and will place a link on www.mortgagebestrate.co.uk to encourage my readers to this.


jean-marie lemoigne - 6/6/2007

Dear Danny.

I'm a French citizen of Sainte Mère Eglise in Normandy, the first town liberated bu US paratroopers during ww2.
I'm interested in D company 505 pir and of course in Waverly Wray story.
I sent a letter to you a couple of months.
It will kind of you if you can help me in my duty of memory.
My goal is to be abble if families or relatives of D company menbers to show them the place were were their granfathers.
By advance thank you.

Sincerily yours.


Stewart Allen - 3/22/2006

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Release #1-06
March 21, 2006 Contact: Stewart Allen 510-420-1015
admin@jupiterscientific.org

Title: Biggest Case of Plagiarism since the Invention of the Internet

High school students do it; college students been known to do it; now a professional author has done it: Internet plagiarism, the cutting and pasting of online text into one's own writing.
The author in question is John Vacca, and the book is "The World's 20 Greatest Unsolved Problems." Jupiter Scientific's staff, using a statistical analysis, estimates that about 80% of the 651-page book was stolen from the Internet.
The book's structure was extracted from Jupiter Scientific's webpage http://www.jupiterscientific.org/sciinfo/gusp.html entitled "The Greatest Unsolved Problems in Science". Indeed, 18 out of 20 of the book's main chapter headings were copied verbatim from this site. In addition, almost every phrase or line of this webpage appears somewhere in the book. However, the author did not stop there. About 40 pages of the book were also stolen from Jupiter Scientific's other award-winning webpages.
Upon initial notification, the publisher ceased distribution of the book. After further examination, the publishing house "severed relations with the author" and destroyed all existing inventory.
Although Jupiter Scientific was the party most victimized, others also had their intellectual property violated. Vacca, who has authored 42 books, worked for NASA until 1995. However, this did not stop him from plagiarizing the content of NASA's websites.
Material was also copied and pasted from scientific webpages of universities and research centers, of online scientits and even of a page from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Wherever good scientific content could be found, Vacca used it -- nor did it matter whether the copyright symbol appeared on a page. In pilfering the Internet of an estimated 150,000 words, the author showed a blatant disregard for copyright law.
The stolen material is easy to find using a search engine since it was almost always copied exactly. Now and then, a sentence is rearranged or a word changed.
In a few instances, references were "faked." Material extracted from a webpage was attributed to another publication in what-appears-to-be an attempt to cover up the plargiarism.
So there you have it: an easy formula to create a book. Find a webpage with an intriguing subject, turn it into an outline, search the Internet, and plagiarize away.
- xxx -


Ano - 1/23/2004

That's the American way since the pirates of New England in 1600's. Now it's more sophisticated with computers.
Ambrose is then, a real American, and it should be admired for his piracy. As we admire the skull and bones.


Danny Wray - 12/1/2003

Robbie,

I recently saw your Sept 1 2003 e-mail responding to my question about any recollections your wife's grandfather had about his friendship with LT Waverly Wray. Thank you for the details you provided. You mentioned that you had pictures of Waverly and fellow officers. It would be great to get copies of any photos you could provide. I would like to give them to Waverley's surviving family members. If you hav the ability to e-mail these pictures, my address is DNWray@aol.com. If you prefer to mail copies, my mailing address is: 1316 West Crestwood Memphis, TN 38119. I would gladly reimburse you for any costs you may incur. It was encouraging to hear that Mr. Alfano had such fond memories of Waverly Wray. From what I know from my Dad's memories, Waverly was an outstanding young man to be remembers for more than what he did during his military service.
Danny Wray


Pat Keller - 11/18/2003

Ed Quillen isn't himself being honest by saying Ambrose is wrong stating that Merriwther Lewis was "the first white man to cross the Continental Divide." Cardenas was, according to what is currently culturally recognized, Hispanic. Quillen is being intellectually dishonest if he didn't realize that Ambrose wasn't P.C. (thank god)not saying instead that Lewis was the first 'white non hispanic European-American' Ambrose didn't recognize that there is evidence that African-Americans (most likely escaped slaves) and Chinese explorers that braved beyond the continental divide either. Ambrose clearly, at least to me simply meant that Lewis was the first (United States) American of European descent that crossed the continental divide. c'mon people! get a grip. I wonder how many times Quillen wasn't 100% clear in an article he has written. I know of at least one.


Janet Roberson - 10/27/2003

My mother, Waverly Wray's sister, received a personal letter from Colonel Vandervroot shortly after he sent his original article to the local newspaper where I happened to work at the time. Knowing my middle name, Wray, was a family name, the editor passed the article to me and a human interest story was attached to the article written by Vandervroot and published in the newspaper. I have copies of that original article. Colonel Vandervroot stated in his letter that he had only learned of Uncle Waverly's death when he began writing the regimental history that was originally a part of this St. Mere Eglise story. Uncle Waverly was first and foremost a God-fearing, devout family man with a desire to help his fellowman. His military heroism is not what he was about -- but it makes us proud.

And, by the way, the article by Ambrose states Waverly Wray was a Baptist -- he was a Methodist, as his family has remained.


Janet Wray Roberson - 10/27/2003

Waverly Wray is my uncle. His sister referred to in the above comment is my mother, Ruby Wray Avery. The original article written by Colonel Vandervroot was attached to an article sent to the local newspaper while I was an employee there, seeking to locate Waverly Wray's relatives. Knowing my middle name, Wray, was a family name, the editor passed the article on to me. That was the first time my family knew of the heroics of Waverly Wray.


Kent Beuchert - 10/22/2003

Ambrose's plagiarism didn't surprise me, although I had no suspicians. I only knew him as a very poor historian who got his facts wrong on almost every page I read. He had tons of personal
quotes from survivors, but how many of those people actually
existed is another question, since it has been reported that his
book on the transcontinental railroad contained many quotes from non-existent persons. His discussion of the Sherman versus the Panther tank in Citizen Soldiers (which he thinks had an 88MM
main gun, for some reason, and which he thinks was slower, and
less maneuverable) was good for a hearty laugh at his ignorance.
Then he went on to credit Lt Larsen's report for the capture of the Remagen Bridge (it had nothing whatsoever to do with it) I
personally verified was a lie by contacting Ken Hechler, the
US Army historian who was on the scene and later wrote The Bridge At Remagen. He said Ambrose was wrong, his son did most of
the research for his books and neither father nor son was very careful about their "facts." His theories about tactics are also
notable for their bombastic certainty in the absense of logic.
Probably the only reliable parts of his books are those he lifted from those written by bona fide historians.


robbie robertson - 9/2/2003

Danny,

I just happened to see your e-mail dated 5 Mar 2003. Yes, I believe that Sylvester T. Alfano ("Cy") has many recollections concerning Waverly Wray. I don't know if he is willing to share them or not - He has told me a couple. Waverly used to always talk Cy into volunteering to get into firefights during their downtimes. Cy used to joke with Waverly & "tell Waverly that he was going to get him killed if he kept talking him into joining battles. According to Cy, he thought Waverly drowned while crossing a river. He appeared surprised of Ambrose's description of Wray's death. Cy had already been sent home in late June for injuries sustained from a German counter-offensive. I don't know how Cy got his information? He gets glassy eyed when I mention Waverly's name. Cy remembered Waverly's "John Brown" sayings. He even picked up the habit years later & didn't remember where he got it from until I described some of Stephen Ambrose's depictions of Waverly. According to Cy, Waverly was an outstanding soldier & good friend. Apparently Cy was best friends with Waverly during their time together in the 505 PIR. Cy stated that Waverly was in good favor with Vandervoort. Cy has high praise for Vandervoort and Gavin. Cy has given me pictures of Waverly and himself (also other officers - Lt. Michaelman, Lt.Turnbull, Lt Carr, etc...)taken while they were in-theatre. Hope this helps.
-Robert H. Robertson


lmontes - 3/24/2003

for history 2003


Danny - 3/6/2003

Robbie, My Dad is Waverly Wray's first cousin. Did your wife's grandfather ahve any specific recollections of Waverly Wray? Waverly's sister is still alive and lives in the same area where Waverly grew up. Any information you may have would be appreciated. Danny


MeMe - 2/5/2003

I need to know where the Historians thought the Americans came from.NNOOWW


Robbie - 12/2/2002

Dear Sir,
My wife's grandfather personally served as an officer under LTC Vandervoort's command during WWII with the 82nd. He dropped along with LTC Vandervoort during D-Day. According to him, the vandervoort cart carrying incident was true.

PS- He also was a close friend of LT Waverly Wray who was cited in Stephen Ambrose's novel.

FYI


Alex Test - 5/16/2002

Response to test message; please disregard.


Alex Test - 5/16/2002

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Clayton E. Cramer - 5/15/2002

I find myself asking the same question. I read McCullough's biography of John Adams recently. I enjoyed it. I found it instructive. But I didn't find the writing to be spectacularly more clear, or spectacularly more entertaining, than the work of many "scholarly" historians, myself included. So why do big publishers spend gobs of money promoting some historians, while others who are writing books that are just as accessible, just as important--and not involving plagiarism or fraud, as in the case of Michael Bellesiles--get ignored?


jgawne - 4/8/2002

I am not sure where this belongs, but I keep seeing Ambrose promoted for making "history popular." Speaking for myself, my own books try to make history popular. I get great reviews, I am told my writing is clear and understandible when dealing with a complex subject, I try to report the facts and break new ground in the subject, I tell interesting stories that most have never been in print before...

And yet, it seems that my own attempts at history can not be considered "popular history" without the efforts of a massive publisher pushing my work.

So I have to wonder. How does one become considered a "popular historian?"
Is there a professional organixation? and if so, how much are the dues?


jgawne - 4/3/2002

I am the last one to try and defend Amborse, but as a WW2 historian I have to point out that sometimes errors do creep into your research. I can't fault this all that much if you really try and track down the correct info...

BUT, as someone who has paid out of his own (limited) pocket to make some changes in a book reprinting to make minor corrections as new facts came to light- it irritates me that the one person who could ask his publisher to make corrections for a new edition IS Ambrose. And he never did.

Keep in mind Ambrose can get anything he wants published.Editors salivate at the mention of his name. These new sources of info could have easily been turned into new articles or essays, been avidly bought by publishers, and helped set the record straight.


Michael Ingrisano - 1/31/2002

In the Forbes article about Ambrose and Cornelius Ryan, I suggested that Mark Lewis check two citations, particularly those about one Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, 82nd Airborne Division, who jumped into Normandy on D-Day.

Ambrose tells his story on page 206, paragraphs 2 and 3 of his D-Day book (1995). Essentially he tells how Vandervoort who broke his ankle on landing "laced his boot tighter, used his rifle as a crutch..."

Ryan, in The Longest Day, (1959), page 143, paragraph 2, speaking through the voice of one Captain Putnam, Vandervoort's battalion surgeon, writes: "His ankle was obviously broken. He insisted on replacing his jump boot, and we laced it tight." (Ryan) Then, as Putnam watched, Vandervoort picked up a rifle and, using it as a crutch, took a step.

Ambrose goes on to embellish the story about Vandervoort asking two sergeants to carry him in a collapsible ammunition cart. One sergeant answered that "they hadn't come all the way to Normandy to pull any damn colonel around." (footnote 32, Chapter 11. This citation reads: "Debriefing Conference," 82nd Airborne, held on August 13, 1944 in Leicester, England. Copy in EC. [Eisenhower Center, Univ. New Orleans.]

In my copy of the debriefing conference which was gotten from the U. S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA filed among the Roy E. Lindquist Papers [one of the attendees and commentators], has Vandervoort as being the first to comment on the drop in Normandy. There is nothing in his statements about the two sergeants. In it, Vandervoort's comments thusly: "I, myself, was a quarter of a mile from the DZ [Drop Zone], and I had a little hard luck on the landing and banged up my foot."

Plagiarism? Bad History? Or Both!


Kevan Elsby - 1/23/2002

The same is true for the British sailors who landed 1st Bn 116th Infantry Regiment on Omaha Beach, as described in Ambrose's chapter "The Visitors to Hell" in "D-Day. The Climactic Battle..." Ambrose repeats errors first put into text in the November 1960 issue of The Atlantic Monthly by S. L. A. Marshall. The fact is that neither Marshall nor Ambrose interviewed one single sailor from this landing, nor did they use any of the appropriate official US Military documents.
Both used prose extensively to embelish their views about what happened to make good reading, contibuting greatly to the demise of "popular history" in terms of historical accuracy.

Kevan A. Elsby


R.J. Hils - 1/21/2002

Whether HNN is like CNN or TNN is as relevent to whether ABC copied BBC or NBC. My opinion of network TV news was low long before CNN showed up.

Ingrisano merely pointed out that plagiarism is only a part of the Ambrose story. The second part, accuracy or rather lack of it stems not from the plagiarised work, but from Ambrose's lack of interest in original research and a strong tendency to pontificate with undocumented statements, generalizations, and supposition.

While plagiarism is serious, the defamation and documented fabrications he used to dishonor decorated veterans I think is far more odious. Each offense reveals the true character of the man and his body of work.

In answer to the question as to whether there were frightened, untrained pilots alongside courageous experienced pilots, two years of research into the training, combat and personal records of the pilots reveals that they were among the most experienced pilots of any type in the USAAF. The minimum number of hours being about 500 (classified experienced by aviation standards)to more than 2000. One squadron commander commented that his aircraft commanders were required a minimum of 800 hours. I cannot document who was frightened and who wasn't, but, then again neither can Ambrose.

Those who were there or who have studied the records of 9th Troop Carrier Command see Ambrose as a historian who was wholly unfamiliar with his subject and given the amount of errors didn't look at the plethora of official records on the mission.
Interestingly he built on the same flawed research that permeated accounts of the mission by John Keegan and Max Hastings. A complete study of the historical records indicated that the roots of all of the "war stories" about the Airborne assault at Normandy lie with the incomplete asessments of Army historian S.L.A. Marshall who wrote the regimental field studies of the individual parachute infantry units. Marshall it turns out never interviewed the Troop Carrier pilots or studied the records of 9th Troop Carrier either before writing those studies.

Ambrose's "D-Day" was non-fiction and should not be confused with historical fiction like "Lonesome Dove", popular history or not we are all diminished when historians ignore the facts in evidence in favor of an exciting and easy read.
Image be damned I pray that the public does come away questioning historical accuracy, its long overdue.


Michael Ingrisano - 1/21/2002

Mr. Dimmitt has taken me to task for my comments about the search for truth in history. What we in troop carrier have asked Ambrose is that the enter into a dialogue with us about troop carrier's performance on D-Day. We know that there were good drops, bade drops and in-between drops. He refused to do this and, in fact, in a telephone message to one of our comrades admitted that he had never spoken to any one of the 1642 pilots who participated in the drop of the 82nd and 101st Airborne. That being the case, how did he know about the fear and training. The results of that flight and the records of training can be found in the unit War Diaries and in official reports.

As to my writing about the experience, I suggest that Mr. Dimmitt procure a copy of my history, VALOR WITHOUT ARMS: A History of the 316th Troop Carrier Group, 1942-1945. Merriam Press, Bennington, VT.2001.

But this is just my history of my outfit. I suggest he look into such books as GREEN LIGHT by Martin Wolfe; INTO THE VALLEY, by Col. Charles H. Young; ON WINGS OF TROOP CARRIERS in WWII, by Robert Callahan; THREE ONE FIVE GROUP, by William L. Brinson, just to name a few. He might also spend some time with Dr. John C. Warren, AIRBORNE OPERATIONS IN WWII, EUROPEAN THEATER, USAF Historical Studies: No. 97, USAF Historical Division, Air University, September 1956.

Incidentally, all 14 of the troop carrier groups, of the three troop carrier wings that participated in the 5-6 June drop, were awarded Distinguished Unit Citations. I have never counted the number of Distinguished Flying Crosses, and Air Medals which were awarded.


W.W. Dimmitt - 1/21/2002

I too am "only" a member of the American public interested in American history as a hobby, and to some extent, as a civic duty.

I have never been an academic historian, and only my undergraduate degree is in history. I do take an active part in some local efforts to collect and display odd details of the historical past in our immediate community. And I do read and discuss historical issues, extensively.

First, let me say that I find great irony to be taking part in this discussion on a website that names itself "HNN", piggy backing on the popularity of CNN.

The Cable News Network has been the pioneer in diminishing the quality of national journalism in the electronic media, while at the same time greatly expanding the breadth of coverage, and raising the priority of covering the immediate, sensational, and often meaningless, events to unimagined heights of overexposure. Is that where history in the American culture is headed?

Surely we could find a better model, or create our own, more sober, identity and symbol?

Second, it seems to me that Michael Ingrisano has badly confused two separate issues that are emerging in this imbroglio. He makes the leap that Stephen Ambrose's plagiarism has led to an "untrue" version of history regarding certain specific events in World War II which are of particular interest to Mr. Ingrisano. My understanding has been that what outrages the professional historians is that Ambrose has borrowed truthful and accurate passages from other, more academic historians and has incorporated them into his popular tomes without the detailed source attribution that the professionals believe are essential to historical scholarship.

The historians are concerned that Ambrose has told the truth on the backs of others' hard work, but they are not raising the issue of accuracy. They simply want credit where credit is due, for what seems to them solid, truthful work.

Mr. Ingrisano seems to care little where Ambrose dredged up his material, but he feels it is not accurate in telling the story of individual veterans experiences, or at least not accurate to the many layered, 55 year old memories of their experiences. (I would suggest that Mr. Ingrisano should record and/or write his specific, personal version of what happened on D-Day so that his thread of the complicated "truth" not be lost among the thousands of other threads in the complicated "truth" of that day. Surely there were frightened, untrained pilots taking part that day, weren't there? Along with cool and courageous pilots who had excellent training? It was, after all, the largest military operation in history, as of that date.)

These two interpretations present different issues, with very different implications for historical scholarship, in my opinion.

I predict that the next round of this brouhaha will bring forth a serious effort on the part of academic and commercial defenders of Professor Ambrose, detailing that those sources which have been cited as an unacceptable level of plagiarism, were in their turn also borrowed, often verbatim, from an earlier source. At the same time, there will be a further effort to document that other historians, both popular and academic, have taken similar, poorly documented sections from other sources and incorporated them into their previously accepted works of serious scholarship.

It follows from the repetitive nature of continually peeling the onion of recent historic events that this pattern develops.

I am not saying it is right, nor acceptable, but I fear it is a fact. I know that I have read passages in newer works that repeat or restate older versions, almost word for word. I notice this in WWII Naval history books, both fiction and non-fiction, as compared to the work of Samuel Eliot Morrison. I suspect that the same is true for Army and Air Force sources, but I am too ignorant of the original writings to notice the "plagiarisms" in those fields.

I sometimes notice the same pattern in Western Americana histories and novels, too.

"Lonesome Dove", by Larry McMurtry is the great American novel, in my eyes, and yet nearly the whole book is woven from a large collection of earlier frontier stories, with some of the storylines, and some of the characters, directly derivative. In some ways it makes the novel more valuable in preserving important, real life experiences and insights that would otherwise be lost in our cultural story.

This does not diminish "Lonesome Dove" in any way for me, but perhaps some of the academics would find it to be unacceptable plagiarism?

I fear that the true loser in this whole scandal will be the public image of American History. The CNN public will see that both academic and popular historians are selfish and petty in their attitudes, and go away with the feeling that whatever may be published is not accurate and trustworthy. At least, less accurate and trustworthy than they had believed to be true prior to this public scandal.

I doubt that a negative result can be avoided now, but mayhap the professionals could come up with some more serious, and realistic, standards for the future? Perhaps a peer review process for new books that actually checks the sources? Prior to publicantion? Perhaps a standard of ethics for Publishers that makes accuracy nearly as important as achieving the New York Times Bestseller list?

Surely there is something better, and more rational, than this public conflict.


Michael Ingrisano - 1/17/2002

History News Network

RE: Plagiarism and "popular" history
Reply to: David Kirkpatrick
Posted by: Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr.
Date Posted: January 17, 2002

Forgive me for intruding on the seemingly heated discussion between academics, David Fitzpatrick and Paul Ortiz on the question of the recently discovered plagiarisms in the works of Stephen E. Ambrose. But, as a veteran of World War II, I would like to add my voice because some of us who served in combat want to see, hear, and read the truth of what we did. It is the only legacy we have, and the only honor we can bestow upon our comrade who are now resting in our national cemeteries here and on the battlefields where they perished.

We do not need "Stephen Ambrose to interpret the past…" for us. Nor do we really need him to popularize that which, in not too many years, will be the history that more than just " academics do that-trophies in a bookcase" thing. "The reading public reads." True! But what are they reading if they are not reading the truth of what happened?

Is truth defined by the number of copies a publisher sells? Is truth defined by the contracted television and film versions of what happened? Is truth the names of the men on the Wall or is it the memory of the what the men did and who they were? Is truth really what Americans (or any nationality) recapture by visiting "battlefields, plantations, slave quarters, and other important place"? And is truth found in the readings by the public of "popular historians"?

Do they find the truth by reading Ambrose’s D-Day book (page 198, paragraph 5) that "The pilots were afraid. For most of the pilots of Troop Carrier Command this was their first combat mission. They had not been trained for night flying, or for flak or bad weather." Is this where I can find the truth of how these some 5000 airmen acted? And can I find the truth in the statement that they were not trained and yet were made responsible for the lives of thousands of paratroopers who jumped into Normandy? Is it the truth that only they were afraid?

Still speaking of those pilots: "They twisted and turned, spilling their passengers and cargo. They got hit by machine-gun fire, 20mm shells, and the heavier 88mm shells. They saw planes going down to their right and left, above and below them. They saw planes explode. They had no idea where they were, except that they were over the Cotentin." (D-Day, p. 199, paragraph 4.) Great storytelling but Is this where and how the American readers can capture the truth of that night?

"This has gone on far longer than I wanted, so let me sum up." You ain’t seen nor heard nor read nothing yet unless you witnessed the truth of that night. Been there. Done that. Hope you never have to!

I am not an academic. But I have had some training and experience as a historian. If I am criticizing anyone in academia, it is because some of you have lowered the standards for seeking the truth. I cannot face my dead comrades, if I allow that to continue. Why should I allow you and Stephen E. Ambrose to desecrate their graves?

Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr. WWII Troop Carrier Veteran.


David Fitzpatrick - 1/17/2002

"With all due respect"? Not hardly, but let me try to address "Mr." Oritz's sanctimonious post point-by-point.

1) "Americans do not need Stephen Ambrose to interpret the past for them." Apparently the millions of people who have bought Ambrose's books (not to mention the millions more who have read them in libraries) think otherwise. James McPherson notwithstanding (and who, though an "academic," has been heavily criticized by his professional colleagues for producing "popular" history), has any "academic" historians' work been as popular as that of Ambrose?

2) I seriously doubt that public history is "thriving" if "thriving" is defined as "popular" (which, after all, was what my original post was about). Yes, in a nation of something over 270 million people, there are probably one or two million (or even three or four!) who are deeply engaged in fields of public history (by "deeply engaged" I mean the local historians, docents, etc… to whom Mr. Ortiz refers). But Mr. Ortiz seems to believe that docents are representative of the general population. Clearly they are not. Or that visiting a local "memory wall" provides a broad understanding of the events and people that the wall honors. Clearly, this is not true either. Indeed, far too often, especially where Vietnam in concerned, exactly the opposite is true. For the vast majority of Americans, that broader understanding must come from popular historians, because academics have abandoned the field to them.

Yes, there are some wonderful public displays of history. Yes, I know about the refurbishing of the old judiciary building in St. Louis. Been there, done that-a great exhibit-don't need the lecture. But I find it interesting that Mr. Ortiz holds up the Smithsonian as an exemplar of good public history. Please! Judy Garland's ruby slippers? Why not, instead, tell the public about the allegorical significance of the "Wizard of Oz"? A tree felled by minie balls at Spotsylvania? Why not an exhibit about the trial and tribulations of the average Civil War soldier? An exhibit on the Enola Gay that does not mention Hiroshima? This is educational? On a scale of banality, it far exceeds anything Ambrose has written. Yes, the Holocaust Museum is a wonderful, thought-provoking, disturbing experience. Unfortunately, it is the exception to the far more frequently adhered to rule.

Indeed, the Enola Gay points to both the problems with public history as well as to the public's antipathy toward academic historians. Public history, because it is so often publicly funded, is influenced equally often by political whim. In its final version, the Enola Gay exhibit would have presented an academically credible account of the events that ended the war in the Pacific (as well as one that would have been understandable to the general public), but events overtook the Smithsonian (among which included a resolution in which the US Senate unanimously condemned the proposed display). We therefore now have a heavily sanitized exhibit. Sorry, but if Ambrose ever writes a book about Hiroshima, the millions of Americans who read it will learn far more about events there than those who have visited the Air and Space Museum (as they will from HBO's and Tom Hanks' "From the Earth to the Moon" regarding the space program).

Academic historians could have played an educational role here. Michael Sherry, Barton Bernstein, and Ronald Schaeffer, among others, have written some wonderful books on the subject. Michael Hogan has edited a great collection of essays. Unfortunately, these were neither written nor were they marketed with the general public in mind, so the vast majority of the public remains ignorant of a vibrant debate that has been taking place in the professional community for nearly fifty years. Americans will buy books whose ideas they don't like (witness the sale of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the antebellum South). They won't buy and/or read books that are written for graduate students and other academics.

3) Yes, Americans recapture history by visiting "battlefields, plantations, slave quarters, and other important places," but before and after those visits, they will be reading Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote, not Mark Grimsley, Herman Hattaway, or Tom Connolly. In other words, popular historians will be far more influential in how Americans interpret what they see at those sites than will academic historians.

This has gone far longer than I wanted, so let me sum up (and, if you are still reading, thanks for indulging me). There is a certain condescending attitude toward myself and toward the American public in Mr. Ortiz's post. People buy books they don't read? I don't think so. Only academics do that-trophies in a bookcase, so to speak. The reading public reads. Was I guilty of condescension in my original post, as Mr. Ortiz charges? Perhaps, but only if criticism can be construed as condescension. And, if I was not clear in my original post, let me say it here more clearly:

I am an academic by training, degree, and employment. I am criticizing those of my profession, friends and colleagues, people I know and people I have never met, for they have in many cases, failed to fulfill their professional obligations to produce works of history that inform and enlighten the general public, a general public, I might add, that usually is responsible for paying their salary.

Nuff Said.

David Fitzpatrick


Paul Ortiz - 1/16/2002

With all due respect to Mr. Fitzpatrick: The notion that, "If history were left to academic historians, few Americans would read history" exhibits the same kind of condescension that he sets out to do battle with.

Americans do not need Stephen Ambrose to interpret the past for them. They can accomplish that by themselves. For example, thousands of communities have created historical exhibits (text and photographic), museums, tours, monuments, "memory walls," publications and all kinds of new popular histories that are far more compelling than anything that Stephen Ambrose has ever created.

In his remarks, Mr. Fitzpatrick ignored the thriving worlds of public history and oral history as well as social documentary. Needless to say, academic historians and scholars, in tandem with local communities, docents, and funders, play crucial roles in many of these endeavours. Furthermore, few if any of these initiatives draw upon the "Foucauldian analysis" that Mr. Fitzpatrick alludes to.

In addition, Mr. Fitzpatrick left out the vital role that federal and state humanities councils and other agencies have played in funding popular history in the United States. Each and every day millions of Americans pass through the malls of our state capitals to learn popular history. Recently, I toured the old judiciary building in St. Louis and viewed the restored chambers where the Dred Scott decision was forged. The building was packed with primary and secondary-level school children. Academic historians played a key role in creating this wonderful exhibit.

I'd even wager that more people pass through the National Museums at the Capitol Mall in D.C. on one busy day than will ever read a book by Mr. Ambrose cover to cover. Again, Academic historians continue to play vital roles in the various venues including the Holocaust Museum, the National History Museum, etc., etc.

We don't need Stephen Ambrose to teach us about American history, Mr. Fitzpatrick. We academic historians (this writer included) take great pride in the work we do every day to help the public (that's us, after all) to recapture this histories of states and local communities, main streets, ethnic neighborhoods, battlefields, plantations, slave quarters, and other important places.


David Fitzpatrick - 1/15/2002

There are really two issues here. The first is the value of "popular" (whatever that means) versus academic history. The second is the question of plagiarism. The two should not be conflated.

First, regarding plagiarism. Clearly, Ambrose has used material from other people's works in an improper manner. Yes, if he were a student in one of our classes and had done this on a research paper, he would have failed the paper and might even have been expelled from the college. The key issue we should be concerned with, however, is intent. Did he intend to use another person's work without proper citation. Frankly, I doubt it, because, as I understand it, the passages are properly footnoted. If one's intent was to use someone else's EXACT words and pass them off as your own, why footnote them and tell readers exactly where to find those words? It makes no sense to me. Egregiously sloppy scholarship? Absolutely! Plagiarism? I doubt it. And, as much of my research parallels that of Ambrose in his early career, I can attest to sloppiness and carelessness in those works, as well (albeit, nothing that remotely resembles plagiarism).

Second, regarding "popular history". "Popular" history is a favorite whipping boy for "academic" historians (I am, by the way, one of the latter), and I think unfairly so. If history were left to academic historians, few Americans would read history. Far too many academics write about arcane topics that most Americans find of little value, and/or they write in an academic code that even the well-educated cannot decipher. Whatever the academic value of Ambrose's work (and that of many other "popular" historians-McCullough, McPherson, and Keegan immediately come to mind), he has provided millions of Americans with an understanding of such disparate events as Lewis & Clark, D-Day, and the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Lacking Ambrose's books, does anyone truly believe that millions of Americans could have found comparable books, written by an "academic," that would have been as engaging and as accessible? No, they don't take into account a Foucauldian analysis, but why should they? They perform a valuable educational role, and should be appreciated for that.

David Fitzpatrick






Jeff Powell - 1/15/2002

I is sad that Ambrose is more interested in "story telling" than historical research. He should know that passing along the same view/interpretation reduces the field of history to the level of highschool textbooks. New thought not carbon copy please !!! Maybe Ambrose is hoping his books will be the only "story" on the topics needed.


Pete Dunlop - 1/14/2002

The sad part of this is that Ambrose's practices are generally accepted in the mainstream of American thinking. Except for a few holdouts in the academic community, a lot of people feel it's okay to cut corners and "borrow" from others if you can make a few bucks by doing so.


charles shields - 1/12/2002

Simply put: Mr. Ambrose has turned a profession into a business. He has moved from erudition and learnedness to mass production, corner cutting, and from looking at results in terms of honest learning of his students or readers to gazing at the bottom line. So what else is new?

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