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Did Ambrose overstate his interaction with Ike?

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  • Did Ambrose overstate his interaction with Ike?

    Thats what The New Yorker is being argued by Richard Rayner in Channelling Ike, linked here.

    According to Rayner:

    Nonfiction writers who succumb to the temptations of phantom scholarship are a burgeoning breed these days, although most stop short of fabricating interviews with Presidents. But Stephen Ambrose, who, at the time of his death, in 2002, was America’s most famous and popular historian, appears to have done just that. Before publishing a string of No. 1 best-sellers, including “Band of Brothers” and “D-Day,” Ambrose had made his name chronicling the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower. More than half of the thirty-plus books that Ambrose wrote, co-wrote, or edited concerned Eisenhower, and Ambrose spoke often, on C-SPAN or “Charlie Rose” or in print interviews, about how his life had been transformed by getting to know the former President and spending “hundreds and hundreds of hours” interviewing him over a five-year period before Eisenhower died, in 1969.

    “I was a Civil War historian, and in 1964 I got a telephone call from General Eisenhower, who asked if I would be interested in writing his biography,” Ambrose said in a C-SPAN interview in 1994. In another interview, he added, “I thought I had flown to the moon.”

    In Ambrose’s oft-repeated telling of the tale, Eisenhower contacted him after reading his biography of Henry Wager Halleck, Abraham Lincoln’s chief of staff. “I’d walk in to interview him, and his eyes would lock on mine and I would be there for three hours and they never left my eyes,” Ambrose told C-SPAN. “I was teaching at Johns Hopkins and going up two days a week to Gettysburg to work with him in his office.”
    Rayner then reports that according to Tim Rives, the deputy director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum:

    Rives was interested to discover that, contrary to Ambrose’s claims, Eisenhower never approached him to write his biography. By telephone the other day from his office in Abilene, Rives said, “And, I’m sorry to say, these weren’t the only problems.”

    Access to Eisenhower in his retirement years was tightly controlled and his activities were documented by his staff, particularly by his executive assistant, Brigadier General Robert L. Schulz, who kept meticulous records of his boss’s schedule and telephone calls (now part of the Abilene archive). These records show that Eisenhower saw Ambrose only three times, for a total of less than five hours. The two men were never alone together. The footnotes to Ambrose’s first big Eisenhower book, “The Supreme Commander,” published in 1970, cite nine interview dates; seven of these conflict with the record. On October 7, 1965, when Ambrose claimed that he was interviewing Eisenhower at Gettysburg, Ike was travelling from Abilene to Kansas City. On December 7, 1965, another of the purported interview dates, Eisenhower was at Walter Reed Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., and saw only General Arthur Nevins, his neighbor and farm manager; George Allen, a golf and bridge pal; and Gordon Moore, his brother-in-law. He dined that evening with his son, John Eisenhower. On October 5, 1967, rather than hobnobbing with his young biographer, Eisenhower met with General Lucius D. Clay, the former military governor of occupied Germany and a close friend, and, after Clay left, he talked politics over the phone with Walter Cronkite and called his attorney to discuss a trust fund for his grandchildren. The former President was very busy that day, but he didn’t meet with Stephen Ambrose. On October 21, 1967, another footnoted Gettysburg date, Eisenhower was on vacation at Augusta National Golf Club. He was still there on October 27th, when Ambrose claims that he again interviewed his subject in Gettysburg.

    Is it possible that Ambrose met with Eisenhower outside office hours? John Eisenhower told Rives that such meetings never happened: “Oh, God, no. Never. Never. Never.” John Eisenhower, who is now eighty-seven, liked Ambrose, and he recalled, too, Ambrose’s fondness for embellishment and his tendency to sacrifice fact to narrative panache.

    Ambrose continued to draw on his supposed Eisenhower interviews in subsequent books, including the two-volume biography, although in the later footnotes the specific dates were replaced with vaguer notations, such as “Interview with DDE.” As the citations grew more nebulous, the range of subjects that the interviews allegedly covered grew wider: the Rosenberg case, Dien Bien Phu, Douglas MacArthur, J.F.K., quitting smoking, the influence of Eisenhower’s mother, Brown v. Board of Education, and so on.
    The author concludes:

    Tim Rives, who still considers himself an Ambrose fan in spite of these discoveries and the various brushes with plagiarism that Ambrose had later in his career, said, “The discussion of so many diverse subjects in less than three hours strains credulity.” He pointed out how minutely Eisenhower’s busy schedule was documented. “He answered letters for the first hour of the day, before receiving guests,” he said. “On doctor’s orders, he napped after lunch. He greeted more visitors after his nap, or took telephone calls, which could reach more than three thousand a month. A quick round of golf might follow the workday.” He went on, “This full schedule demanded that anyone wanting an appointment with him needed to begin the process months ahead of time. His declining health also limited access, especially for scholars. He simply didn’t see that much of Stephen Ambrose.” ♦
    Assuming this to be true, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. Should Ambrose's work on Ike be disregarded? Or only the parts (or some of the parts) that he relies on his alleged interviews?

    Any thoughts?

  • #2
    Ambrose might have kissed the blarney stone.

    I've yet to meet a human that hasn't.

    I don't think him being human will ruin the worth of his works just for that though.
    Life is change. Built models for decades.
    Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
    I didn't for a long time either.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
      Assuming this to be true, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. Should Ambrose's work on Ike be disregarded? Or only the parts (or some of the parts) that he relies on his alleged interviews?

      Any thoughts?
      If true, it would call into question all of Ambrose's work, not merely that concerning Eisenhower. If he'd be willing to misrepresent himself concerning the research of his books, and research mehtodology is the most important part of them for non-fiction, I'm not sure how one could view any of his works with anything but serious scepticism. Again, if the story is accurate.

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      • #4
        I've read that some of the Band of Brothers was discounted as being accurate as well. This done by some of the members of E Company
        "Ask not what your country can do for you"

        Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

        you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by llkinak View Post
          If true, it would call into question all of Ambrose's work, not merely that concerning Eisenhower. If he'd be willing to misrepresent himself concerning the research of his books, and research mehtodology is the most important part of them for non-fiction, I'm not sure how one could view any of his works with anything but serious scepticism. Again, if the story is accurate.
          I tend to agree. I was about to say what a shame, but, if the story is accurate, then the shame is that the reading public may have been led astray.

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          • #6
            Ouch. Ambrose is a very respected historian, this kinda thing can play havoc with a reputation, especially with a dead mans reputation.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by wokelly View Post
              Ouch. Ambrose is a very respected historian, this kinda thing can play havoc with a reputation, especially with a dead mans reputation.
              I wonder why these claims didn't surface when Ambrose was still alive?
              Lance W.

              Peace through superior firepower.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post
                I've read that some of the Band of Brothers was discounted as being accurate as well. This done by some of the members of E Company
                I had read that too. While I do enjoy his books, I take them with a grain of salt and would tend to believe other sources over his where there is a discrepancy.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Lance Williams View Post
                  I wonder why these claims didn't surface when Ambrose was still alive?
                  Likely easier to walk with muddy boots on a man's name when he can't respond.

                  It's a shame he might have surrendered to some ill decisions. But I doubt his books are worthless.

                  Hey I have read some books that were clearly factually challenged, yet we still praise them at every turn.
                  Life is change. Built models for decades.
                  Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
                  I didn't for a long time either.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Ambrose has some really good reads out there. Although, with this light shed on his credibility, it is kind of difficult to them at face value. It is a lot easier to say things about a person who can't defend them self, but if it is true, then it wouldn't matter if he was alive or not.
                    "You listen to the ol' Pork Chop Express on a dark and stormy night......"

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                    • #11
                      Just because someone is dead, that does not earn them extra respect. If thier life work was other than portrayed it needs to be brought out into the open. If not jr historians take it as fact. We don't need or in my case don't want that.

                      Charles Whiting is another "well know" historian that I often question about the accuracy.
                      "Ask not what your country can do for you"

                      Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

                      you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post
                        Just because someone is dead, that does not earn them extra respect. If thier life work was other than portrayed it needs to be brought out into the open. If not jr historians take it as fact. We don't need or in my case don't want that.

                        Charles Whiting is another "well know" historian that I often question about the accuracy.
                        I'd disagree with only a part of this - I don't think junior historians ever need to take previously-written history books as authoritative. Most classics have some errors in them that get discovered from time to time. Even books whose authors pride themselves on their footnotes (e.g., Hirshson) have occasional errors in their notes. A history book is just very difficult to make perfect, due to source error, typographical error, errors in the editing and proofing process, reading the damned manuscript for the twentieth time at ten at night, etc. Journal articles are probably better, since they are shorter and there is correspondingly less that can be screwed up.

                        One of the great things about history is that there is no prohibition against double-jeopardy. Every generation gets to put its past on trial and reach its own conclusions. Hopefully, over time the conclusions get better rather than worse.
                        "There are only two professions in the world in which the amateur excels the professional. One, military strategy, and, two, prostitution."
                        -- Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

                        (Avatar: Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, Republic of Texas Navy)

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                        • #13
                          This doesn't just cast a shadow on his work about Ike, it means massive questions need to be asked about almost all his work. He made his name (and his money) as an oral historian, and interviews are the single most important source for oral historians. If it's been found he's fabricated a massive number (and going from five hours to 'hundreds and hundreds' is just that) then how can the rest of his work be trusted? To paraphrase Stephen Fry's character in Absolute Power, the absolute single requirement of a historian is that the facts upon which they speculate are indeed facts. Ambrose has already come under fire for dodgy citations and sloppy research; this seemingly confirms the trend.

                          Although, OTOH, it's been hard to take his research seriously for a while now. I loved Citizen Soldiers when I was a kid but re-reading it the problems in it are manifest. Although it'd be unfair to say he's totally uncritical, the book is basically a tribute to the Greatest Generation () and Ambrose makes no apologies for it. He leans pretty heavily on certain key works (like Closing With The Enemy) and totally plays up to existing perceptions on issues such as Montgomery's command style. I had already thought it'd be great to go back and listen to the tapes of his interviews with veterans; sadly that's going to have to be done with a far more critical ear than previously.
                          Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by thejester View Post
                            This doesn't just cast a shadow on his work about Ike, it means massive questions need to be asked about almost all his work. He made his name (and his money) as an oral historian, and interviews are the single most important source for oral historians. If it's been found he's fabricated a massive number (and going from five hours to 'hundreds and hundreds' is just that) then how can the rest of his work be trusted? To paraphrase Stephen Fry's character in Absolute Power, the absolute single requirement of a historian is that the facts upon which they speculate are indeed facts. Ambrose has already come under fire for dodgy citations and sloppy research; this seemingly confirms the trend.
                            Hopefully there are no interviews cited in his Lewis and Clark book(!)
                            "There are only two professions in the world in which the amateur excels the professional. One, military strategy, and, two, prostitution."
                            -- Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

                            (Avatar: Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, Republic of Texas Navy)

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by thejester View Post
                              Although, OTOH, it's been hard to take his research seriously for a while now. I loved Citizen Soldiers when I was a kid but re-reading it the problems in it are manifest. Although it'd be unfair to say he's totally uncritical, the book is basically a tribute to the Greatest Generation () and Ambrose makes no apologies for it. He leans pretty heavily on certain key works (like Closing With The Enemy) and totally plays up to existing perceptions on issues such as Montgomery's command style. I had already thought it'd be great to go back and listen to the tapes of his interviews with veterans; sadly that's going to have to be done with a far more critical ear than previously.
                              I posted the follwing as one of the firstthings I ever posted on the internet back in 2002.
                              Maybe it sheds some light on the Ambrose conundrum:

                              "it may have been mentioned before but how many have seen the 1970’s ‘World At War’ television documentary series Special Presentation ‘From Peace To War’ which was basically an interview with Prof Stephen Ambrose about the aftermath of WWII?

                              There he is with long hair, polo - neck jumper and subtle but pronounced anti-American under-current.
                              I remember seeing it at University when it was first released and most history lecturers and tutors recommended it as a very balanced, insightful and perceptive analysis of the end of the war. I’ve just watched it again on video after all these years and just can’t reconcile the ‘new’ Ambrose
                              (all that triumphalist cant in his nineties books) with the historian from those years.

                              In the interview he presents a strong defence of Soviet post-war actions, describes Patton’s ideas about attacking Russia as nonsense, says American manpower loses were ‘insignificant‘ and adds that having paid the least price they (the USA) gained the most out of the war.

                              He also touches briefly on the end of the Pacific War and says that in his view the Soviet attacks on Manchuria were the decisive event in Japanese decision to surrender.

                              Did he ‘sell-out’ (ie change his tune to suit US popular opinion and sell books)? Or did he ‘see the light’ and genuinely come to believe the US ‘won the war’ and should be above criticism?

                              There was an excellent review by Benjamin Schwarz of one of Stephen Ambrose's last books 'The Good Fight' in the June 2001 edition of 'The Atlantic Monthly' magazine.
                              The review was highly critical of Ambrose’s entire approach for example:
                              ‘Aiming to honor U.S. fighting men, Ambrose instead turns them into plaster saints engaged in a sanctified crusade, and so does them a disservice.

                              ‘Readers are promised on the jacket flap that The Good Fight is a "chronicle of World War II." But what young readers get is a solipsistic—and egregiously skewed—history.’ and ‘Forget for now that Britain fought the war alone against Hitler for more than a year (a fact
                              easily forgotten, since it goes unmentioned in Ambrose's account, along with the Battle of Britain and the Blitz). Without question, the main scene of the Nazis' defeat was the Eastern Front, a theater of operations that Ambrose entirely fails to assess in his narrative of "how World War II
                              was won."

                              The conflict there was the most terrible in history, ... And more to the point, Ambrose's readers wouldn't know that the struggle with the USSR accounted for 88 percent of all
                              German casualties.’

                              Amazing how Schwarz’s critique of this latter Ambrose book sounds like the young Ambrose!
                              Keep reading the good read.
                              Lodestar"

                              Amazing an eight year old lodestar post still almost perfect!
                              I do declare that my pencil shavings, sock drawers and and brand of honey are infinitely more fascinating than the entire life journeys of 97% of all humans on this planet! (I really do think this all the time. Do I need help or do ordinary people feel the same way sometimes?

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