u_topn picture
rub_wc picture

Investigating the Renaissance

An interactive exhibit shows how digital imaging can reveal a painting's secrets.

Miles Ahead

An elegant multimedia tribute to the music (and commercial appeal) of Miles Davis.

Eminent Domains

Making sense of the great Internet land grab.

Artists in Lab Coats.
Call it "the work of art in the age of scientific photography."

Armchair Activism.

Those too busy (or lazy) for environmental causes have no more excuses.

Free Truman Burbank!

For some, television's pernicious influence is no joking matter.

Alexandria's Ghosts.

As the Internet makes abundantly clear, the line between an archive and a rubbish heap is a fine one.

I Thee Web

Get me to the church online.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
July 30, 1998

Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan
From Saving Private Ryan.
Steven Spielberg's latest cinematic creation, Saving Private Ryan -- which opened in theaters last weekend -- brings new vividness to the phrase "war is hell." With its unsparing images of the terror and carnage of combat in the Second World War (the film begins with a relentless half-hour depiction of the American first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day), Private Ryan is the most prominent of several recent challenges to a sentimental view of "the good war." (Among others have been Stephen Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers and Paul Fussell's Doing Battle.) Those who want to delve into the history of the Normandy invasion or are wondering about the veracity of what is portrayed in the film should visit Encyclopaedia Britannica's extensive multimedia resource Normandy: 1944. Apparently timed to coincide with the release of Spielberg's film, the Britannica site includes a section, titled "Imagining D-Day," that allows one to compare events in the film with what really happened.

Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan
Omaha Beach, 1944.
The Normandy site centers on essays by the military historian John Keegan, supplemented by a wide array of multimedia primary sources: clips from radio broadcasts and newsreels, photographs, and newspaper accounts of the invasion. The intensity of the battles comes through in the many personal histories -- from German as well as American and British soldiers -- that accompany the essays. An American who survived the assault on Omaha Beach recalls:
I floundered in the water and had my hand up in the air, trying to get my balance, when I was first shot. I was shot through the left hand, which broke a knuckle, and then through the palm of the hand.... I was hit again, once in the left thigh, which broke my hip bone, and a couple of times in my pack, and then my chin strap on my helmet was severed by a bullet. I worked my way up onto the beach and staggered up against a wall, and collapsed there. The bodies of the other guys washed ashore, and I was one live body amongst many of my friends who were dead and, in many cases, blown to pieces.
Although the impact of such a description becomes all the more visceral when one can imagine, courtesy of Spielberg, what a body blown to pieces might look like and how the chaotic horror of battle might sound, no movie image will ever be enough. As the Britannica site reminds us, there is something to be said for learning about a war by simply reading and listening to the first-hand accounts of those who endured it.

Discuss this Web Citation in the Digital Culture forum of Post & Riposte.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
Cover Atlantic Unbound The Atlantic Monthly Post & Riposte Atlantic Store Search

Click here