Magazine article America in WWII

Under a Darkening Sky: The American Experience in Nazi Europe 1939-1941

Magazine article America in WWII

Under a Darkening Sky: The American Experience in Nazi Europe 1939-1941

Article excerpt

Under a Darkening Sky: The American Experience in Nazi Europe 1939-1941

by Robert Lyman, Pegasus Books, 332 pages, $27.95

The first Americans in Europe during World War II were not the liberators of Sicily or Italy or France. Rather, they were journalists, diplomats, attaches, writers, and businessmen, often embedded and always observant of a continent lurching into war. In Under a Darkening Sky, Robert Lyman recounts their experiences watching invasion approach as they be came refugees and sought in vain to draw their own nation into the struggle against Nazism. Lyman grounds his history in excel lent accounts of Austria and Czechoslovaia succumbing to Nazi invasion, abandoned by the rest of Nazi appeasing Europe, and in the widely varying responses of their populations, from grudging acquiescence to frenzied cheering to improvised escapes.

As Germany's luckless eastern neighbors succumbed, Britain fretted in panic at the failure of placating Adolf Hitler, loath to rearm and acknowledge the failure of its principle-driven appeasement. The inevitable outbreak of war with England and France seems peculiarly understated: in Berlin the studiously nonchalant British embassy staffers speak of their dogs, while incredulous Germans vow that they will not be the ones to fire the first shot and then watch their tax rates rise to 50 percent. When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned, Germans cheered at rumors of peace. This was not war the way anyone on either side had expected.

Though Lyman covers all the early, unwilling adversaries of Germany, he has a special insight about the French. Long before the first bombs fell, the Germans had won the mind game against the French. One American observer discovered that the French people, though at war, were squabbling not about tactics and strategy, but about governance, a curious preoccupation. Mobilized troops were sullen and apathetic. Leftists sowed a servile defeatism. In Paris, jewelry sales were brisk and cultural life surged as the citizens waited for Hitler's next move. In CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid's account of the first night of the war, isolated events formed a mosaic of mayhem as German forces surged toward the futile Maginot Line of defenses built by France in the 1930s and as the civilian population abandoned the border regions. Sevareid further recounted the universal chaos of panicked civilians and conflicting accounts as the Germans drove toward the English Channel, impervious to French defenses and British counterattacks.

The German forces seem unfamiliar to us. A fleeing journalist, no admirer of theirs, admits that they showed a level of professionalism far superior to their adversaries. There was no class division between their officers and men, who ate together. …

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